How to use a moka pot to make great coffee

Are you a coffee lover? Sure, buying coffee from a cafe or making instant coffee at home before work gets the job done, but there’s an amazing alternative. If you want quality, concentrated brewed coffee in the comfort of your own home, learn how to use a moka pot. 

Originating in Italy, moka pots are stovetop coffee makers that brew with pressure. Invented by Alfonso Bialetti in the 1930s, the moka pot is a popular device around the world and particularly in its home country. 

It’s not just a great brewer—it also has a unique design that’s fun to have around.

The moka pot’s classic design looks great on any stovetop.
The moka pot’s classic design looks great on any stovetop. (© Bean Poet)

Moka pots are typically made of aluminum, but they also come in stainless steel. 

The amount of coffee you want determines the moka pot size to purchase. There are four moka pot sizes, including one, three, 9-10, and 12 cups. It’s important to understand that moka pot cups don’t translate to a standard drip brew cup. Moka pot cups are closest to espresso shot cups, because moka pot coffee is dense and intense, like espresso. So the more espresso shots you like, the higher number of cups you need. 

In case you were wondering, a moka pot does not steam milk, so you’ll have to do that separately for your lattes and cappuccinos. However, we know of one very handy person who converted a moka pot into a milk frothing device. Check it out!

How a moka pot works

Moka pots allow you to get a good amount of caffeine with less water, not unlike an espresso.

The device has three chambers. The bottom chamber holds the water. The middle chamber holds your coffee grounds. The upper chamber holds the coffee, after pressure from the heated water has passed through the grounds and performed its extraction. 

Parts of a moka pot, from left: The bottom chamber heats the water, the top chamber collects the coffee, and the middle chamber holds the grounds.
Parts of a moka pot, from left: The bottom chamber heats the water, the top chamber collects the coffee, and the middle chamber holds the grounds. (© Bean Poet)

Right before the water begins to boil, the pressure forces the water through the grounds and boom, you have concentrated coffee. 

Moka pot instructions

The moka pot is often overlooked because of its unusual appearance. Once you understand how to use a moka pot, however, it’s relatively simple. Follow the moka pot instructions closely if you’re new to this method of brewing.

1. Preheat water

Boil your water.
Boil your water. © Bean Poet

Start by preheating your water. Most people use a stovetop kettle for this. Once your water nearly comes to a boil, take your kettle off the heat. 

2. Grind the coffee

Grind your beans.
Grind your beans. © Bean Poet

Next, you need to grind your coffee. If you aren’t able to grind your own, buy coffee that has been pre-ground for drip coffee. 

3. Fill your basket

Try to get the grounds level with the top of the basket, but do not pack them in.
Try to get the grounds level with the top of the basket, but do not pack them in. (© Bean Poet)

Add your coffee grounds to the basket until they are level with the top, and level it off. Do not tamp it down. If you own a four-cup moka pot, you’ll need about two and a half tablespoons of coffee grounds to fill your basket.  

4. Fill the bottom chamber with water.

Fill to valve.
Fill to valve. © Bean Poet

Once you’ve filled your basket with coffee, it’s time to fill the bottom of your brewer with the preheated water. The bottom chamber should have a pressure valve near the top. 

That little knob on the right side is the pressure valve. In the photo above, you can see that the water is filled to just below the valve on the inside.
That little knob on the right side is the pressure valve. In the photo above, you can see that the water is filled to just below the valve on the inside. (© Bean Poet)

You don’t want to fill beyond this valve, for safety reasons. Just below it is great.

5. Insert the basket

Basket inserted.
Basket inserted. © Bean Poet

The coffee grounds basket fits snugly into the top of the lower chamber, with its tube dangling in the water.

6. Screw on the top

screwing on top.
Screwing on top. © Bean Poet

Your bottom chamber is probably still quite hot, so use a towel or something to protect your hand as you screw the two pieces together. 

7. Heat the water

burner on medium
Try not to be in a rush. Medium-low heat on the burner should give you a steady extraction. (© Bean Poet)

On medium-low heat, put your brewer on the stovetop and flip the lid open. Also, try to make sure your handle isn’t directly over the heat source. This will keep it from melting, and help you avoid burning yourself when you grab it.

8. Watch the upper chamber

moka pot brewing
In these sequence of images, you see the empty top chamber, then the first drip of coffee, then the chamber beginning to fill, and finally a chamber that’s nearly full. (© Bean Poet)

This is where you have to pay attention. The pressure created from the heated water causes it to rise through the tube and through your grounds. Coffee will begin to bubble out of the chimney and drip down into the upper chamber. When the chamber is nearly full and the chimney begins to spit and spurt, your coffee is done.

9. Remove and cool

Cooling on towel.
Cooling on towel. © Bean Poet

Take the brewer off the flame and set it on a cool damp towel to settle everything down again. When it’s no longer sputtering, you can pour it into your cup and enjoy. 

pouring moka pot coffee 0826
Pouring moka pot coffee. © Bean Poet

Troubleshooting moka pot coffee

If you follow the instructions, brewing your coffee should go smoothly. When it comes to getting the perfect taste, however, this can be a bit tricky. A lot of different factors can affect the taste of your brew. 

Metallic taste

If your coffee tastes metallic, you may simply have overcleaned your pot. 

That sounds odd, right? Why would cleanliness ruin your coffee’s taste? Well, when you overclean your moka pot, you actually remove the lingering coffee residue from previous brews, which is a little bit like seasoning a cast iron frying pan with olive oil. When your brewer heats your coffee without this residue, you’ll get a more metallic aftertaste. 

Bitterness

What if your coffee is too bitter? This can be for a couple of reasons. 

You may have over-extracted. And since the brewing time and temperature on a moka pot are quite consistent (the volume of both water and grounds is dictated by the size of your pot), then your only recourse is to change your grind size. Bitter flavors reside in the center of a coffee granule, and the smaller the grounds are, the easier those bitter flavors are to pull out. So try a slightly coarser grind next time and the bitter flavors might stay inside. 

Another option is to pull the pot from the heat and get it cooling a little earlier, so the grounds spend slightly less time in extraction.

Bitterness can also arise because of your beans. Over-roasted or poor-quality coffee beans give off a naturally bitter taste. Stay on top of the freshness of your beans. When you brew stale beans, it’ll give your coffee a funky taste. 

Weak coffee

If your coffee is too weak, either your grind is too coarse or you just haven’t used enough grounds. We recommend always filling to the basket’s fill line, but not over. 

Strong coffee

If your coffee is too strong, don’t change how you brew it but dilute it with hot water before drinking. 

Other potential problems

Aside from taste, you may experience some technical difficulties. For example, if steam is coming out of your lower part of your moka pot, you likely have a clog. Take apart the entire pot, rinse it, and wipe any leftover grounds from the filter. If this doesn’t solve your problem, you may need a new moka pot. 

If you’re only getting trace amounts of coffee, you either have a filter blockage or you’re not sealing your pot correctly. Try unscrewing and rescrewing your pot. Make sure those threads are lined up and screw together snugly as you attach the chambers. If the problem persists, check your filter and remove anything that’s blocking proper flow. 

How to properly clean your moka pot

Cleaning your moka pot the right way can save you from having to troubleshoot brewing mistakes. A lot of people struggle with their technique for cleaning a moka pot.

All you need is warm water and a washcloth. Although it seems counterintuitive to clean a coffee pot without soap, soap can negatively impact the taste of your coffee. As mentioned before, overcleaning a moka pot removes leftover flavor from the residue of past brews. So, even when your machine appears stained, fight your desire to scrub it. You’ll also want to avoid harsh abrasive scrubbers. 

After your moka pot cools down, dump the grounds from the basket. Get rid of as many as possible. Separate all the pieces. Then, rinse off any leftover grounds using warm water. Use your fingers if necessary to get rid of remaining grounds. Once everything is thoroughly rinsed, take your dry washcloth and dry each piece of your moka pot. You can also air dry it. 

Once it’s dry, you can either reuse it or put it away. Be sure it’s fully dry before reassembling. Water droplets leave mineral deposits that can eventually cause erosion of the metal.  

Moka pot FAQ

Moka pots come with many questions, even if you know how to brew a standard cup. This section highlights common questions and provides moka pot tips so you can brew according to your personal preference. 

How do I make an espresso with a moka pot?

Unfortunately, you cannot get espresso-strength coffee with a moka pot. You can, however, get a relatively concentrated espresso-like brew. The pressure from the bottom chamber shoots water through a funnel, producing an espresso-like shot of coffee. 

What type of coffee should I use for moka pot?

This is completely up to you. It’s possible to brew everything from light to dark roast in your moka pot. If you’re sensitive to caffeine after a certain time, consider brewing decaf or a weaker roast to avoid adverse effects. 

Should I buy ground or whole bean coffee?

If you have your own coffee grinder, it’s better to buy whole beans. Whole bean coffee stays fresher than ground coffee because you only grind what you need. If you can’t afford a grinder, ground coffee works fine, but buy in small quantities. If possible, get a specific moka pot grind to avoid clogs. 

How long do moka pots take to brew?

The length of time it takes to brew your coffee depends on the size of your moka pot as well as your brewing temperature. Bigger moka pots require longer to heat the water, so consider that when choosing your size. 

Brewing your coffee at a lower temperature usually tastes better, but takes much longer. A lower temperature can take up to 15 minutes to brew, where a higher temperature might only take five. Experiment to find your personal preference. 

Moka pots are a classy, relatively easy way to get a great concentrated dose of caffeine. The strong, bold coffee it produces mixes wonderfully with milk and cream. Whether you like it straight or in latte form, this is an affordable brewer worth trying. If you’re interested, we have a post that runs through the best moka pot coffee makers.

Leave a comment