My espresso should be a ninja because the taste is kickin
July 7, 2007 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Why is my espresso nasty all of a sudden?

Let me paint a picture for you. I get up, longing for the delicious espresso I made earlier this summer. I wash out my Bialetti Moka Express, one of those stovetop ones. I note that the rubber gasket is NEW- I just replaced it. I fill the bottom part with filtered water. I grind fresh beans in a burr grinder, to extra fine, and fill the little part that goes on top of the bottom part- to the top, and then I gently tamp down. Then I screw on the top and set it on the stove. I set the heat low, and wait. As I wait, I remember the slow, velvety crawl of the espresso down the tube into the carafe- how slow, how silent! I remember the rich flavor and aroma. And then....SPT SPT SPT SPT!
Instead of the silent slow exodus of primo bean juice, the espresso is spitting out of the nozzle into the carafe, a thing that usually happens only after the carafe is mostly full! And what comes out- burnt, painful to drink! What am I doing wrong? Too much heat? Too little heat? Too much grounds? Too finely ground? These questions HAUNT me. Please, hivemind, release me from this brakish hell! What can I do to return to the espressos of old?
posted by 235w103 to Food & Drink (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Just a theory. The old gasket was making a poorer seal, so you began to grind finer and tamp harder to compensate. Suddenly the new gasket is making a more effective seal. You need to back down a little on the grind and tamping because, as things stand, you're blocking the flow of water and creating a volcanic espresso hazard on your stove.
posted by zadcat at 11:19 AM on July 7, 2007

I think zadcat's right - the pressure in your top compartment is too high. Not only does this make the espresso spurt out, but it also increases the temperature of the liquid water that's touching (and presumably scalding) your grounds.

Try putting less espresso in - leave a headspace - and use a little less heat.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:26 AM on July 7, 2007

Yes, what zadcat said. In my experience, the mokas tend to do better with a less-fine ground, and I've never had to tamp mine at all. All that condensed fine-ground coffee is blocking the water from getting through.
posted by occhiblu at 11:27 AM on July 7, 2007

My Bialetti Mukka Express has had to have 3 valve replacements. I don't know what sort of valve the Moka has but they have a good customer service line for diagnosing these issues. They have sent me my replacement valves for free because it is under two years old and the latest one is slightly different and seems to work a lot better.

800-421-6290, not open until Monday.
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 11:28 AM on July 7, 2007

Best answer: Also, it doesn't sound like the heat is currently the problem, but for future reference and so you don't worry about it: One is supposed to put the heat up fairly high until the coffee begins to come out, then when you see the first bit of coffee coming out, immediately turn it down as low as possible but high enough to keep the coffee running out the spout.
posted by occhiblu at 11:39 AM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the answers! I'm sure that tomorrow's brew will be both delicious and robust!
posted by 235w103 at 12:02 PM on July 7, 2007

Burnt flavour is a sign of overextraction- and that is often accomplished by filling a portafilter too much or grinding too fine. You don't have a portafilter, but the same standards would apply.

Moka pots only produce something like 1.2 bars of pressure, so you can't tax it as you would with a pump- or piston-powered espresso machine- in fact, you're not actually making "espresso" at all, which entails extraction at 8-9 bars and must be mechanically assisted- so if you're grinding "extra fine," which I am assuming is near the zero point of your burr grinder, you need to back off and make it a little coarser. You should LEVEL the grounds in a moka pot- they CANNOT handle a tamp.

Try a slightly coarser grind and level grounds, wipe off stray grounds around the edge, and see if that improves your coffee.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:34 PM on July 7, 2007

Zadcat basically hits the nail on the head: as the seals start to go (and coming from a professional cafe background, also pumps and heaters), you steadily lose precision in your grind and pulling methods because things become, well, sloppy.

That fudge factor goes out in the trash with your old gasket (and, for my shop, our machine) and you need to again super fine-tune grind, and start really paying attention to your temperature and pull time, etc.

Good luck getting back on the horse, and trust that it will be worth the effort!
posted by coolhappysteve at 5:20 PM on July 7, 2007

coolhappysteve, 235 isn't "pulling" anything, s/he is using a moka pot. A moka pot isn't a Linea. It shouldn't need "super fine tuning." Fine tuning, maybe. "Pull times" is not a working concept for this device.

Coarser grind, no tamp. No need to read a La Marzocco manual for this one.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:17 PM on July 7, 2007

ethnomethodologist, you say that as if you expect me to read the FPP closely.

[hangs head]
posted by coolhappysteve at 9:12 AM on July 10, 2007

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