We are in the year 2023 and the entire coffee world seems divided between those who make coffee with capsules and the “specialty coffee makers”… Everything? No! A small device resists, still and as always, the invader: the Italian coffee maker.
The question is how can we get the most out of this miraculous gadget that is about to turn 100 years old?
The two great current coffee trends. The world of coffee, like almost everything related to food in recent years, is undergoing very intense changes. On the one hand, technology is making it laughably easy to consume coffee with almost finished products: the examples are countless, from capsule coffee machines to ready-to-drink coffees or hybrids such as Coca-Cola with coffee.
On the other, “specialty coffee” has led to a revaluation of a drink that in the ‘Spain of roasted’ was especially mistreated. With it, not only new varieties of quality coffee have arrived, but also numerous devices for making coffee in the strangest ways have appeared. Thus, the world of very coffee growers has been filled with terms such as ‘cold brew’ or ‘aeropress’.
Between both sides, the Italian coffee pot (or moka) survives the passage of time as one of the simplest systems for preparing coffee. Simple, yes; but not obvious. Science has a lot to say to make this coffee maker compete face to face with the rest of the new devices.
How does an Italian coffee maker work? As we are used to them (and a forgotten one always turns up in any kitchen cupboard), we forget very easily that Italian coffee makers are a little genius of 20th century engineering.
At a constructive level, this type of coffee maker is made up of three parts: a base or tank chamber (where the water is placed), a funnel or ladle (where the coffee is placed); and an upper chamber in the shape of a jug with a lid that has a finer filter and a rubber at the bottom (and it is where the already prepared coffee ‘appears’). However, on a functional level, it is usually easier to think of it as two large compartments (the bottom and the top) connected by a narrow tube (in the middle of which is the coffee tank).
The general idea is that as the water in the lower compartment heats up (and turns a part of it into a gaseous state), the pressure inside the coffee maker increases significantly. Above all, if we compare it with the pressure inside the tube (which is normal atmospheric). This pressure differential is what ends up causing the water to rise up the tube, infuse with the coffee, and end up in the upper container).
An all-terrain coffee maker, but with problems. It is a simple, affordable and fast system to make espresso coffee. A heat source is enough to start it up, it is easy to balance the amount of water-coffee and the same system warns that the coffee is ready (when the water in the lower container runs out, bubbles and a characteristic sound are generated).
However, this off-road character causes it to present quite a few problems that do not make it a good option for coffee lovers. In espresso machines, the water has a certain temperature when it is infused with the coffee. In the Italian ones, and although the physical mechanism reduces the range of possibilities, there are so many factors at play (the hardness of the water, the strength of the burner, the ambient temperature, that of the liquid in question…) that it is very difficult to control the exact conditions in which the water is infused with the coffee.
And bad conditions can destroy the drink (or, in the best of cases, worsen its organoleptic properties). As our DAP colleagues remind us, “the high temperatures reached by the Italian coffee maker have a tendency to extract bitter components.”
Sorry to splash you. This is why many baristas recommend making coffee with the lid up. And it is that if we review the physical mechanism used by the Italian coffee maker, we will realize that the lid only has one function: that it does not splash. The process is based on a set of pressures and no, the lid is not involved in it.
For this reason, the defenders of lifting the lid explain that seeing how the coffee comes out of the duct is the easiest indicator to be able to adjust the temperature of the burner, adjust the final result and remove the coffee maker from the heat when there is no more water.
It is worth remembering that the recommendations always tell us to use a low heat and lower it even more when the liquid begins to come out. Without visual feedback, adjusting the temperature is more difficult.
Doesn’t the scent go away? That is what some detractors of the technique maintain: that if we use it with the lid open, part of the aroma can be lost. It could be the case, I’m not going to deny it: but the loss (taking into account that, ultimately, the lid is not closed to vacuum) is almost anecdotal.
That is, if it is done correctly, there are no big differences (if not any) in the final product. For this reason, considering the benefits of exercising good control during the coffee brewing process, the open lid seems like an excellent option.
Tips to get the most out of Italian coffee makers. “Power without control is useless”, but once we learn to control the coffee maker, we must think about how to enhance the drink. And, in this case, there are a handful of tips that help us generate a perfect coffee.
The ground point is a good example. It must be medium; that is, neither as fine as for a super-automatic espresso, nor as thick as in a filter coffee maker or cold brew. To make sure the point is correct, a good heuristic is that the coffee “should take about a minute to finish coming out.” If it takes less, the grind could be too coarse, and if it takes longer, it could be too fine.” By the way, buying coffee beans and getting a grinder guarantees a “freshness” of the product that is very difficult to find in already ground coffees Another good piece of advice is related to water: experts usually recommend heating a quality mineral water (non-carbonated) until it starts to boil and filling the coffee maker tank with it to just below the valve. allows much better control of the temperature, time and infusion of the coffee. And, finally, not to compact the coffee in the tank: due to the influence of the espresso machines in coffee shops, many people tend to compact the ground coffee. But in this Not only is this type of coffee maker not necessary, but it’s counterproductive. Just add the coffee and fill it to the brim. One of the best ideas is to cool the Italian once the process is finished to nip it in the bud. That is, when it starts to beep , the lid is closed and it is placed under the tap of cold water. Immediately afterwards, ready to consume.
I emphasize something that, obviously, is often forgotten: all this is important, but it is not the most important thing. At a physical-chemical level, it does not offer substantive improvements. All these tricks are still behavioral techniques that make us be more aware of the extraction process and make us not neglect the process. The determining factor, if we want to drink good coffee, is to buy good coffee. Natural, whole grain and, of course, never roasted.
With these tips and good control, the coffee should come out in optimal condition. It would be enough to remove it from the heat as soon as it begins to emit its characteristic sound, integrate it with gentle movements and serve it immediately. To preserve its organoleptic properties, it is advisable not to reheat it.
Image | Brent Ninaber – Alborzagros
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