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Can You Really Compare the Moka Pot vs Espresso Machine?

Talk to an Italian grandmother and they’ll argue that the best espresso is made on the stove with a Moka pot. Talk to a professional barista, and they will tell you the only way to make true espresso is using a large, and somewhat expensive, espresso machine.

So who are you going to listen to? ​

Today’s showdown: Moka Pot vs Espresso Machine. Which one makes the better coffee? What’s the better bang for your buck?

Defining The Espresso

Before we venture into the brew methods, it's important that we define and explain what exactly an ‘espresso’ is.

According to Scott Rao, a premier voice in specialty coffee, “espresso is produced by the percolation of pressurized hot water through a tightly packed bed of finely ground coffee” (1). This forced pressure reduces the brew time to less than 30 seconds and produces about 1.5 ounces of ultra-rich and concentrated coffee (2).

espresso extraction book

Coffee aficionados praise their espresso because of its ability to highlight the beans' unique flavor profile that can get lost using longer brew methods. But besides the promise for a rich cup of golden liquid, there's one more detail that truly makes an espresso stand out: the "crema"

The crema of an espresso is like a Sundae's cherry - just a bit more delicate - and we all know it wouldn't be the same without that little extra on top. Some might go as far as to say the taste and perfection of an espresso can be determined by the quality of its crema. But, in actuality, if and how much crema sits on top of your espresso greatly depends on the beans you use. 

"...although it’s [crema] often been considered a sign of a good espresso, it really depends on the beans. The presence of crema shouldn’t be relied on as an indicator of quality." - Danielle Kilbride

To produce an excellent espresso, one must learn the proper technique, have access to good equipment, such as a quality grinder (3), and put in the time to get it right.

For an in-depth conversation, check out Intelligentsia's mini-education video course:

Moka Pot vs Espresso Machine

Now we’ll take a look at each brewing method, head to head, to find out which one is the one for you.

The Moka Pot

Moka pot in stove

The 'Moka Pot' is often referred to as a stovetop espresso maker. It's been a staple in many households for decades due to its ease of use and potential to produce a delicious cup of coffee.

How it works

The Moka pot consists of three chambers and brews espresso using the basic principles of physics. Its bottom chamber is reserved for water, the middle chamber, or filter basket, holds the coffee grounds, and the top chamber is where the brew is collected.

"Place finely ground coffee within the chamber, add water, and put the brewer on the hob: it’s really that simple." Tanya Newton

Once prepared and assembled, the pot is placed over a heating element bringing the water in the bottom chamber to a boil. The resulting steam then increases pressure in the chamber forcing the water up and through the filter basket (4). While the hot water travels to the upper chamber aka serving vessel, it extracts the coffee grounds quite literally "on the way". This process is marked by a gurgling sound indicating that the top compartment is now filled with concentrated and delicious coffee. Make sure you don't miss it because these few seconds can either make or break your brew.

If you wanna get this right and avoid over or under-extracting your espresso, check out our guide with detailed instructions here.

PROS

  • Makes a very rich and thick coffee
  • Aluminum body helps to retain heat
  • Very easy to clean
  • Portable

CONS

  • Requires a costly grinder to produce a fine texture
  • Difficult to control quality from brew to brew
  • Does not create authentic espresso with crema and vibrant flavors

The Espresso Machine

Double shot espresso pouring from portafilter

By comparison, an espresso machine is a much more complex coffee making apparatus. Whereas the Moka pot uses nothing but a stovetop to heat water, an espresso machine uses motors, heating elements, and electronics to brew espresso.

How it works

An espresso machine has three main components. The water boiler, grouphead and portafilter. The water boiler is self-contained and used to - you guessed it - boil water and build pressure. The grouphead controls the water flow and pressure that is pushed through the portafilter. And finally, the portafilter, which is a handled basket holding your coffee grounds in a compressed puck (5).

Some espresso machines are fully automatic whereas others allow for more control over the extraction process.

We’ve taken a closer look at some of the best rated espresso machines, if you’re in the market for one: Here are our favourite ones.

PROS

  • Extracts a super concentrated coffee with crema and complex flavors
  • Water boilers also build pressure for the steam wand used for steamed milk drinks
  • Can make multiple drinks quickly

CONS

  • Requires special training for consistency
  • Requires the purchasing of extra equipment including scalestamps, and grinders
  • VERY COSTLY range from $300 to $1000+
  • Machine can take 20-45 minutes to warm up depending on water boiler volume

THE VERDICT: Which is Right for You?

There is no easy answer to this question. Although they are similar in the sense that they both brew a strong cup of coffee, the Moka pot comes nowhere near to the espresso machine in consistency, quality, or control. Because of the grouphead valve, a consistent and steady stream of pressure flows over and through the grounds. This helps produce an even extraction and a full flavor. The Moka pot, on the other hand, has no pressure consistency which can result in a bitter or watery taste.

The only flaw with an espresso machine, and this is a major one, is that espresso machines are extremely costly (in comparison) and require extra equipment (and often, know-how). But if you want an authentic espresso, you have no choice. See the best rated home espresso machines in this buying guide.

In my opinion, you shouldn't be trying to compare these two coffee makers. The espresso machine is good for brewing espresso, and the Moka pot is good for making a strong cup of brewed coffee on the go, without the investment in time or money. See this list for the best rated Moka pots.

Moka Pot vs Espresso Machine

FAQs

Should you tamp a Moka pot?

No, you shouldn’t tamp a Moka pot. The Moka pot simply doesn’t work with enough pressure to push water through the grounds if tamped. Although the water will eventually make its way through, it’ll be moving too slow and over extracting the coffee as a result.

How long should a Moka pot take?

A Moka pot should take between 5 - 10 minutes. The brew time can vary depending on the initial temperature of the water in the bottom chamber, and how much heat you apply. Don’t rely on setting a timer though. Listen out for the gurgling sound the pot starts to make once the water is boiling and pushing its way up to the serving vessel. That’s a safe indicator that the brew is ready.

How much coffee does a Moka pot make?

A Moka pot can make up to 12 cups of coffee. The Moka pots from Bialetti, for example, are available in different sizes ranging from a 1-cup to a 12-cup pot. Remember that Moka pots produce a concentrated brew, too. So most people choose to dilute the coffee with hot water or serve it over ice.

How do you pull a perfect shot of espresso?

You pull a perfect shot of espresso with the right technique and equipment. You’ll need a decent espresso machine that works with at least 9BARs of pressure. Use fresh and finely ground coffee and tamp the grounds evenly to create a compressed puck. The brew time should be around 25 seconds for a single shot (6).

Are cheap espresso machines good?

Cheap espresso machines are good enough to start your home barista journey. You can get a budget machine for as little as $100. But if you take home brewing seriously you may want to consider spending a little more for a decent machine. 


References:

  1. Rao, S. (2013). Espresso Extraction: Measurement and Mastery
  2. (n.d.). Produce Great Espresso. Retrieved from https://www.stumptowncoffee.com/brew-guides/espresso
  3. (2018, April 4). The Right Grinder for You. Retrieved from https://blog.bluebottlecoffee.com/posts/the-right-grinder-for-you
  4. (n.d.). Moka Pot Brewing Guide - How to Make Moka Pot Coffee. Retrieved from https://bluebottlecoffee.com/preparation-guides/bialetti-moka-pot
  5. Prinsloo, M. (2018, November 17). How Do Espresso Machines Work? Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/11/how-do-espresso-machines-work/
  6. Aupiais, S. (2018, March 22). Barista Basics: How to Make an Espresso in 14 Steps. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2018/01/barista-basics-how-make-espresso-14-steps/
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Scott
 

Hi, I'm Scott, and I've traveled extensively through North America and Europe, exploring food and drink pairings around the world. My Love of coffee began during my teen years when a friend's family introduced me to the glories of the classic Italian Moka pot. That technology got me through too many early-morning final exams in college and eventually led to a manual espresso machine after graduation.

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