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There’s a lot of confusion about whether moka pots make espresso.
But there’s also a good reason for that confusion.
Moka pots do not make espresso as we know it today. However, the definition of espresso has evolved since the drink was invented. And in the moka pot’s early days, it did make what was then known as espresso. That’s how it became known as a “stovetop espresso maker” and it’s a name that persists to this day.
The reason people still call it that has more to do with marketing than anything else, but I’ll explain that in a moment.
First, let’s look at why it’s so hard to get a straight answer online to the question of whether moka pots make espresso.
Do Moka Pots Make Espresso? What the Internet Says
If you Google “do moka pots make espresso”—which you may have just done—you’ll get some contradictory answers.
Here are four examples from Google’s search results. Two of these fall into the “yes” column, and two fall into the “no” column?
The Moka pot consists of three chambers and brews espresso using the basic principles of physics.Homegrounds
There’s a clear European sensibility to the process, yielding nothing but a pure, smooth shot that is sharp, strong and precisely what espresso is supposed to taste like.Salon
This way an Italian stovetop coffee maker brews a thick and rich Moka coffee. Also commonly known as Italian espresso.Grosche
Despite being marketed as ‘stovetop espresso machines’, moka pots don’t actually brew true espresso.JavaPresse
In fact, the Moka Pot does not create authentic espresso that is super concentrated coffee with crema and complex flavors.Special Coffee Italy
The Moka Pot has earned the nickname Stovetop Espresso Maker, but its final brew can’t technically be considered espresso.Little Coffee Place
How could these websites differ so much on what seems like a pretty straightforward question? To understand, we need to know the history of espresso coffee.
Espresso’s Evolution Through the 20th Century
The espresso machine was invented around the turn of the 20th century. As James Hoffman explains in the video below, what made it special was its use of steam to brew coffee. At the time, steam was powering trains and making them go faster. Now it could also power coffee brewing and make it go faster.
Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni introduced their new steam-powered machine and its beverage, caffe espresso, at the 1906 world’s fair in Milan.
And then from 1906 to 1948, an espresso machine was simply a machine that sped up the coffee brewing process by using steam.
Which is exactly what a moka pot does.
The moka pot came along in 1933, invented by Luigi De Ponti and marketed by Alfonso Bialetti. Because it was doing the same thing an espresso machine did, people called it a stovetop espresso machine. That was reasonably accurate. After all, they made the same beverage—a strong, dense cup of coffee.
That all changed around 1948.
As Hoffman describes in his video, Achille Gaggia gets most of the credit for introducing the world to a new lever espresso machine that could brew in less than 30 seconds using a pressure level that, until then, was unheard of in coffee brewing.
This machine is the ancestor of the espresso machines we know today. They brew at a minimum nine pounds of pressure—well beyond anything that the early espresso machines and moka pots could match. Those machines typically brewed at around 1.5 bars of pressure.
The resulting beverage—rich and syrupy with a thick crema on top—was also different than anything that had come before.
It is what we know today as espresso.
Definition of Espresso Today
The Specialty Coffee Association is probably the most authoritative source you can find when it comes to espresso. In 2017, they surveyed baristas all over America to learn exactly how they brew espresso and came up with their current definition:
Our research suggests that the average barista uses a 1:2 brew ratio when extracting espresso and uses weight for output measurement. The average shot of espresso starts with an 18–20 gram dose, has an output of 36.5 grams, is extracted in 25–30 seconds, at 9 bars of pressure and 200°F, using pre-infusion, through an 18 gram basket.Specialty Coffee Association
So by that definition which specifies nine bars of pressure, it is clearly inaccurate to say that a moka pot brews espresso. It would have been perfectly accurate to say so the 1930s or 1940s, but that’s where the confusion comes from. And the moka pot has never been able to shake the name “stovetop espresso maker.”
Why People Still Call the Moka Pot a ‘Stovetop Espresso Maker’
The people who make and sell moka pots ought to know better than to call them stovetop espresso makers, but they still do it.
Why is that?
Well, it’s all about maximizing sales.
Take a look at this Google Trends data showing the number of searches per week for the term “stovetop espresso maker” in the U.S. over the past five years:
Search trend for ‘stovetop espresso maker’
The term typically gets searched 25-75 times per week, with an average of just under 50.
Now let’s look at the search data for “stovetop coffee maker,” which is a more accurate description of the moka pot.
Search trend for ‘stovetop coffee maker’
It gets only 25-50 searches per week, with an average of about 35.
So, if you’re selling moka pots online and you want website traffic from people searching for them on Google, you are better off using the inaccurate term “stovetop espresso maker” than the more accurate “stovetop coffee maker”.
As long as marketers keep calling it that, customers will keep searching for it using the wrong terminology. It’s a bit of a vicious circle that makes the name very hard to shake.
Search trend for ‘moka pot’
I would argue that marketers should just start calling it a “moka pot.” As you can see above, that search term has been rising steadily over the past five years and is now ahead of “stovetop coffee maker” in popularity.
I imagine it will overtake “stovetop espresso maker” in the next five years as well.
How to Make Espresso Without an Espresso Machine
If you’ve been researching moka pots in hopes that they would make you an espresso without having to invest in an espresso machine, by now you should know that you’re out of luck.
However, there are a still a couple of devices on the market that will allow you to brew espresso using nothing more than the device and hot water from your stove. Perhaps one of these is what you need.
The first is the 9Barista. It’s built a lot like a moka pot with a lower chamber that boils water and an upper chamber that collects the coffee, but there’s much more going on in the middle.
The 9Barista’s innovation is a lower chamber that doesn’t release any water until it reaches nine bars of pressure, then sends the water through a cooling coil and heat exchanger which cool it to 93 C while still maintaining the pressure. This is what passes through your ground coffee.
It’s real espresso, made on your stovetop just as easily as you would brew with a moka pot.
The Flair Espresso Maker is actually a real lever espresso machine. It just doesn’t have any plumbing, or even a water reservoir. Every time you use it, you need to boil water and fill a chamber with it. Then you use the lever to apply pressure and extract espresso straight into your cup.
It’s absolutely genuine espresso and it will give you great practice at pulling a shot the old-fashioned way.
These are the two best moka pot alternatives I can think of if you’re looking for a way to make real stovetop espresso.
A moka pot could make espresso during the Second World War. But today it cannot.