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Cheap Moka Pots- any real difference?
March 5, 2014 6:05 AM   Subscribe

Are all moka pots made roughly equal? Does a real Bialetti produce any discernible difference compared to a cheap knock-off?

As a life long drip drinker I have recently switched to moka pots...and, my god, I haven't slept in days. I'm kidding, but I'm never drinking drip coffee again. I've been rocking a 2-cup Bialetti Moka Express (and yes, freshly ground beans and everything), but now I want to be able to make just 1 cup, or 4 cups when I have company...etc. But that's a lot of money for me. There are numerous stores in my area that sells store brand versions (kind of like IKEA's, but with uglier packaging) for much cheaper. Should I get a real Bialetti? will a knock off produce the same coffee?
posted by redwaterman to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
or...should I wait and save up for an entry level espresso machine? I really love the simplicity of the moka pot though
posted by redwaterman at 6:10 AM on March 5


In my experience, the knock-offs produce the same coffee but don't last anywhere near as long.
posted by jeather at 6:25 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I have an unbranded, ancient moka pot and it seems to work fine. If it's not urgent, Moka Pots seem to be one of those kitchen things you can end up getting for free. Every one of my six aunts offered me theirs.
posted by BabeTheBlueOX at 6:25 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


I bought a 6-cup Bialetti, and discovered that even though it produces the volume of coffee that fills a mug, boy howdy, that is not a good amount of coffee for me to regularly drink. Woo! Woo! Woo!

So I bought this cheap knockoff as a first step in properly calibrating my coffee consumption (since, you know, I can always make more! more! more!).

And, well, it's totally fine. The metal casting isn't _quite_ as nice as the Bialetti; but the gasket seems to be made of silicon, which is waaay better than the Bialetti one in terms of not clinging to coffee.
posted by ambilevous at 6:54 AM on March 5


I think the main choice is whether your moka pot is made of aluminum or stainless steel; this may cross-cut brand. People report that the aluminum ones can lead to a metallic flavor, and anyways I figure there's no reason to seek out extra aluminum in one's diet (though the alzheimer's connection seems to have been untrue, or at least not ever successfully established).

or...should I wait and save up for an entry level espresso machine? I really love the simplicity of the moka pot though

I much prefer actual espresso personally, I find that in comparison, coffee from moka pots tends to have burnt notes that I don't like. However, you might consider getting an aeropress; this produces an espresso-like substance (as with a moka pot, not actual espresso) that is (IMO) far superior to what a moka pot produces, and at a much cheaper price point than an entry-level espresso machine.
posted by advil at 6:54 AM on March 5 [4 favorites]


I agree that if you are getting a moka pot it should be stainless. I see them all the time in thrift stores in Chicago for $2-3. You may want to try looking there if you have any nearby.

But I gave mine up for this when I discovered one in a second hand store in Switzerland. I cannot tell you how much I love this little delight.

On edit: You may have to find one second hand, though. I just looked for it on Amazon and found out that they are wildly expensive. I had no idea.
posted by Tchad at 7:10 AM on March 5


Looking after them properly is key regardless of brand. Wash it as soon as you've finished using it and don't ever leave the coffee grounds in the basket accidentally then go on holiday for a week...

Seconding that stainless is better than aluminium, and look for one that feels solid and heavy.
posted by goo at 8:01 AM on March 5


I have a couple of cheap Bialetti knockoffs, a real 8 cup Bialetti (good for 2-4 people, not so great for solo drinking), and an electric one that plugs into the wall instead of sitting on the stove. They all work fine, but there is a definite difference in smoothness of operation in the Bialetti. It's easier to get the filter basket out, it's easier to unscrew, the handle is more ergonomic, it's just built to finer tolerances than the others.

That said, they all work just about the same and produce pretty much the same coffee-flavored-drink. IMO, the coffee you put in it is far more important than how it is made. The electric one has the advantage of not scorching your beverage if you leave it too long, but that's the only real difference between them.

All of mine are aluminum, so I can't speak to how well the stainless steel ones work (or don't). I would think the increased thermal mass would make the process a bit slower, but probably also makes it less likely to scorch your coffee.
posted by wierdo at 8:02 AM on March 5


What jeather said. Whether you go for the Bialetti or the knock-offs, get the larg(er/est) size that you want first. You can always make cafe freddo and granita from whatever is left over.
posted by romakimmy at 8:15 AM on March 5


I did a taste comparison between coffee from a stainless steel and aluminum moka pot. Both pots were seasoned, and both were mid-priced from a "gourmet" store. The coffee from the aluminum pot tasted like molten metal compared to the stuff from the stainless. So I'd go for a stainless pot, regardless of brand.
posted by ceiba at 8:44 AM on March 5


So, the question surrounding Mokka pot v. espresso machine is going to sort of be a difficult one to answer. While a mokka pot can produce pretty good coffee if done correctly, it brews coffee in a fundamentally different way than an espresso machine, and their yields are pretty different as well. Mokka pots are just small percolators that don't brew with any notable pressure; espresso machines run 8-9 bar of pressure through coffee.

As far as mokka pots go, the stainless steel ones are better than the brand name Bialetti's (which are brushed aluminum). They hold their heat a little better, and are much easier to clean. As far as cup quality, they're a little better because they don't have a metallic aftertaste. Construction quality on Bialetti's aluminium has fallen in past years, and the gaskets are shallower than they used to be…vintage ones are nice and all, but Bialetti even makes a stainless steel version, that's not quite as iconic, but way easier to keep clean and work with. The hardware is effectively the same as the aluminum model.

If you have an aluminum mokka pot (or a stainless, this works well for any type), one trick is to preheat the water in a separate kettle, then pour it into the mokka pot, assemble with coffee, and throw it back on the heat so the coffee spends as little time in contact with the aluminum as possible, and the entire unit doesn't heat up as much, preventing the coffee closest to the edges from scorching a little bit. This can improve cup clarity, and in the aluminum versions, minimizes (but doesn't eliminate) the metal taste.

That said, some people like that metalic roasty taste in their coffee, and that is a totally legit way to prepare and drink coffee. If you like it that way, go nuts.

Real espresso is a whole other ballgame. If you're going to go the full on entry level espresso route, I would suggest sinking the most money into a really good grinder. Do some research, and spend some alot of time hunting on craigslist. You can pick up quality espresso grinders for half their retail value if you hunt for them. They might need new burrs, they might not, but budget accordingly. Real espresso is a rabbit hole, and even as a coffee roaster I don't make coffee at home that way…it's really hard to get something good, and you have to dedicate a ton of time an effort to get something good at home.

I've worked (and currently work!) for specialty coffee roasters, and we've done some fun trials by picking up shitty home epsresso machines off thrift store shelves for like 40 bucks, but using out commercial $2k espresso grinders with them…the results were way better than we would have expected, not as good as a prosumer/commercial espresso machine, but pretty damn fine, and totally passable at home.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:52 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


The 6-shot IKEA one is stainless, I believe, and worked fine for the time that I used it. (A previous housemate owned one and it left with him when we parted ways.)

Regarding aluminum ones - I believe the guideline is not to clean them with soap. That way a veneer of coffee oils build up on them like a seasoning and you won't get an aluminum taste in your coffee.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:47 AM on March 5 [1 favorite]


Short version of everything that can be said: no aluminum.

Stainless steel is what you need, for the pot itself as well as the inside filters (watch that closely, there are cheatos on the market with aluminum sieves), and other than that, the quality and state of the seal is what's really important.
You also need to learn to know your specific pot; the optimal water level, for example, seems to be different for most of them, and they all appear to heat up in different ways.
What you need is a water temperature high enough to push the water through the coffee, but not nearly as steaming-boiling high as many people have it routinely, as this ruins the taste.
Just enough water to extract well, but not as much as to finish your nice coffee off with a tablespoon of scalding, bitter and rubbery-tasting water.
posted by Namlit at 9:51 AM on March 5


Whaever you do, don't put an aluminimum one in the dishwasher. I made that mistake!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:24 AM on March 5


Once upon a time, I bought an unbranded aluminium moka pot. Everything was fine until the gasket began to disintegrate. Replacement? The store I bought the pot from sure didn't have one. So... I bought a pack of replacement gaskets, online. Good plan, eh? It would have been if the new gasket fitted. It didn't. End of moka pot.

Something you may want to consider before making a purchase...

Me? I then went out and bought a Bialetti. Aluminium. And am one happy person.
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:25 AM on March 6


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