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One in a European city I was befriended by a lady who used one of the kitchen appliances most familiar to Italians: a moka pot, otherwise known as an expresso maker. If you’ve never seen one, it’s a fairly simple device that looks somewhat like a coffee pot, but it is octagonal in shape and narrow at the waist. The top half unscrews and you pull out a circular container from the moka’s bottom half – that’s what holds the ground coffee. If you want to make expresso, you pour water into the bottom half of the moka, then insert the circular container into the waist of the moka, fill it with ground coffee, and then screw on the moka’s upper compartment. The ground coffee is inside the moka, in the middle. You then put the moka on an oven burner and heat it until the water boiling inside it creates pressure and steam begins to exit from a small valve on the pot located near the waist. The steam indicates the coffee is ready.
The moka is not an ancient development. It was invented in 1933 and became popular in the 1950s, and is a common feature of Italian households. It is a kitchen appliance you will find in every Italian kitchen. The early ones were made of aluminum, but the moka has undergone an evolution and is now available in larger models and more often made of stainless steel. You can order mokas from Italian manufacturers in fairly large sizes that serve 10-15 or even 18 cups of coffee. These larger, stainless steel versions of the moka have lost the octagonal shape and are usually round in shape, but they have often retained the traditional Bakelite handle.
If you are an expresso lover then the moka is perfect for you. You can take it everywhere, even camping. The only thing you can’t do is use an aluminum moka over an induction heater. But the stainless steel versions can be used over any flame or heat source. I have grown attached to my moka. It brings back memories of that Italian lady who was the most gracious of hosts, and served me expresso coffee from her moka, pouring the coffee carefully into a porcelain coffee cup. The charm of the moka is often understated. It is one of the most easy-to-use and versatile of all kitchen appliances.