How to use a stove top espresso maker?
November 9, 2011 4:24 PM   Subscribe

Should all the water "empty" out of the bottom of a stove top espresso maker? If so, what could I be doing wrong, because half of the water remains in my espresso maker? I put the pot on medium, I don't over stuff the maker with espresso, and I don't fill the water over the valve. Thanks in advance!

By the way, here's the first draft of a poem that I'm writing partly about espresso:

Espresso and the “Final” Draft
by The Writer Mo Ibrahim

Black espresso made on a white stove in a Moka espresso maker
Black espresso in a white demitasse cup
Black letters on white MacBook keyboard
Black letters in a white Google Docs screen
Black letters printed on white paper
Black letters written on white envelope
Black letters printed on white rejection letter
posted by lrnarabic to Food & Drink (24 answers total)
Mine is always empty when it's done. How are you deciding your coffee is done? I wait until the boiling/gurgling is done.
posted by advicepig at 4:27 PM on November 9, 2011

Yes, ours is empy. How's your gasket seal?
posted by peachfuzz at 4:30 PM on November 9, 2011

Mine's empty. Check the seal.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:31 PM on November 9, 2011

If the seal was bad, how would water stay in the bottom?
posted by advicepig at 4:32 PM on November 9, 2011

Not enough pressure buildup to force all the water through the grounds and into the upper chamber
posted by peachfuzz at 4:48 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Really half of the water, or just "a noticeable amount" ?

As I understand stovetop espresso makers, the steam generated by boiling water pushes the hot water from the bottom chamber up the funnel, through the grounds, then up the stem tube.

The funnel doesn't reach the bottom of the pot, so once the water level reaches the bottom of the funnel, steam starts going up the funnel instead of water, thus the steamy/frothy/crema action you get when the coffee is done.

I notice about a centimeter of water in my Ikea-made MOKA pot when I'm done. I've never actually measured the depth of the pot versus the length of the funnel but now I'm going to.
posted by Kakkerlak at 5:10 PM on November 9, 2011

This sounds dumb, but are you leaving it on there long enough? I put mine on with the stove on high, and first there's a burbling noise, then a lot of burbling, then it's quiet for a while.

That's when I peek, and inevitably there is still foam coming out the top of the tube. So I close the lid and leave it for a few more minutes until I'm really sure.
posted by ErikaB at 5:34 PM on November 9, 2011

I wonder if you're putting *enough* water in the bottom. You can fill past the valve and extra water will exit via that very valve ie no dire consequences.
posted by lulu68 at 6:24 PM on November 9, 2011

One thing that made a huge difference to my Moka pot coffee is adding hot water to the bottom rather than cold. Using a coarser grind than fine espresso, not tamping, using a low medium preheated element, and removing the pot at the first sign of a gurgle all help as well. There is usually a small amount of water at the bottom, but that's the price for not overcooking the coffee.
posted by jade east at 6:35 PM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

Mine gets pretty much empty when I use it but it takes a long time of kind of underwhelming sputtering to get there.
posted by ghharr at 6:35 PM on November 9, 2011

Yes, make sure you fill up to the line, have enough grounds and they are firmly compacted enough (but not overly compacted) and then leave it on the burner until all the water is out of the bottom (i.e. absolutely no more comes out of the bottom into the top).
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:36 PM on November 9, 2011

I'm not familiar with the Moka, but with the Bialetti occasionally the filter needs to be replaced along with the gasket.
posted by francesca too at 6:49 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Are you starting with hot water or cold water?
posted by rockhopper at 7:53 PM on November 9, 2011

Okay, so the Ikea MOKA pot has a 77 mm funnel, and it's about 84 mm deep, so I ought to have a about 6-7mm of water in there when I'm done. Adjusting for expansion, carry the two... sounds right.
posted by Kakkerlak at 8:20 PM on November 9, 2011

More measurements, a Bialetti with 100g of water to 11g of coffe has 14g of water remaining in the bottom chamber post brew. This was using boiling water on a medium heat and removing at the first sign of gurgling.
posted by jade east at 8:42 PM on November 9, 2011

I've used many, many different stovetop espresso machines and never once has anyone suggested starting with hot water and never once in all the many, many times with many, many different machines into which I put cold water to start has the water not happily forced its way through the grounds and into the top. I don't know what is going on with your device, but I can 100% guarantee you that it has nothing at all to do with starting with hot or cold water. If you start with cold water the stove will heat it and it will become hot. That is what stoves do.

My guess is you're just taking it off the stove too early. You do know that you can lift the lid and check to see if water is still coming through, right? It doesn't fly up and hit you in the eye or anything. It takes a while for it all to come through (and as others have pointed out the noise is not always a reliable indicator of what stage you're at). There should be a small residue (equal to the distance between the bottom of the funnel and the bottom of the pot) of water left in the bottom chamber, but nothing remotely like "half."
posted by yoink at 8:43 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, a p.s--what kind of stovetop do you have? If it's one of those ceramic ones it might not be recognizing that there's a pot on there if the espresso maker is small diameter. It may be shutting off too fast on each heating cycle to really get the water up to the proper temperature.
posted by yoink at 8:46 PM on November 9, 2011

One more thought: what happens if you do just leave the pot on the stove? If the problem is some kind of blockage then eventually steam should shoot out of the safety valve. If the problem is with the seal, then you should have steam/water shooting out around the join between the top and bottom sections. If neither of those things is happening, then you're just taking the pot off the heat too soon or the element isn't getting hot enough.
posted by yoink at 9:40 PM on November 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it depends a lot on the size of the machine, the brand, and even the specific machine itself. I've had several same-sized Bialetti Brika pots work very differently on the same stove at the same time, for example.

If the grind is too fine, and/or the tamp to tight, then it may be difficult for the water to come through. Does the steam valve open (loud whistling) without any water coming through? Try a different grind, try tamping it differently, try a different machine...

When I grind myself, I use a slightly coarser grind than for a professional espresso machine. I don't tamp too hard. I use cold water. I put the element on maximum. I have machines that I know work well.
posted by FrereKhan at 2:45 AM on November 10, 2011

seconding replacing filter and gasket. ~$3 or so. I use a Moka quite regularly, use precise measuring of the grounds, and fill the lower chamber with cold filtered water to just under the safety valve. Set it on a mostly high gas flame and wait for the gurgling to stop. I never have more than a drop or three left in the bottom chamber.
posted by kuppajava at 6:34 AM on November 10, 2011

I have over half the original amount of water still left in the bottom. I purchased a smaller one, to see if I would get any different results, but I'm still getting a significant amount of water left over.
I'm using a gas stove and I'm leaving it on the stove for over 15 minutes - way beyond the time that I hear the boiling stop. I checked the seal too and it seems to be fine.
This is really frustrating, but I'm determined to get over my dependence on instant espresso!
Thanks to everyone for the help thus far!
Thanks again!
posted by lrnarabic at 7:26 PM on November 10, 2011

FYI, keeping the heat on medium low and taking it off as soon as you hear the first noises (it will keep flowing for a bit) makes much better coffee. Took me years to learn that.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:35 AM on November 11, 2011

"Not packing the espresso in enough"? That makes no sense at all. The more you pack it in, the more of a barrier it creates for the water. If you run a stove top espresso with no coffee in it at all, the water will all merrily make its way into the top chamber.

Is it possible you just bought coffee with a different (coarser) grind?
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on November 12, 2011

@yoink I used the same grind. It could have been a combination of not packing the grinds in too much and/or making sure that the seal was fully in place. I'm only going by what I read and what I tried. I've made over seven successful pots since my adjustment!
posted by lrnarabic at 4:44 PM on November 13, 2011

« Older Latin, should we teach it to our son?   |   If I acquire a pilot's license in the US, where... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.