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The Moka Express is an icon of design and the Italian lifestyle. This is both true universally and personally, as I am the latest in a line of generations who consider the Moka Pot to be as essential as the stove itself.
For my parents, their morning coffee routine is central to their days: I swear I developed my compulsion to wake up early just to watch my parents make it.
Every day is the same, beginning with a slow swell of the morning cappuccino ritual. The bottom of the Moka Pot is unscrewed, bottom basin filled with water. Distinctly rich-hued ground espresso is carefully spooned in and the top of the pot is spun tightly into place with a series of rhythmic "whooshes" and "clinks." Each step is paired with a singular sound, and somehow the metal against metal is made human. The click of the gas stove is followed by the deliberate clank of the pot touching down onto the burner. Milk is heated and foamed with the battery-powered whiz of the aerolatte.
Then comes the impatient hissing of the espresso as it spits and sputters, trying to escape the confines of the upper chamber of the pot. That leads to the final assembly of the cappuccino: Coffee is poured, diluted with milk, and finally the foam is coaxed from its vessel to lie quietly on top. A sprinkle of coarse sugar and the final sound of ceramic on the marble countertop ends the daily ritual, like an “amen” at the end of a prayer.
Renato Bialetti died on February 11 of this year, in Ascona, Switzerland, at the age of 93. Though he was not the inventor of the Moka (his father Alfonso is responsible for that), Renato was instrumental in popularizing the Moka Express through an incredible advertising campaign after WWII.
The Moka Express was invented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti. It is octagonal in shape, referencing design and art traditions like Futurism and Art Deco. It was (and still is) produced in aluminium. The aluminum itself, in theory, is tainted and flavored by repeated use and should not be washed too thoroughly, for fear of sterilizing it. Whether this is a widespread espresso folktale, I can’t be sure.
His son Renato popularized, even canonized, the Moka Express through the slogan, “In casa un espresso come al bar” (“An espresso at home just like the one at a coffee shop”) and the signature caricature of his father, illustrated on each Moka Pot to distinguish it from copycats and knockoffs.
The family tradition continues to this day with Alberto Alessi, grandson of Alfonso, who is at the helm of the kitchen and housewares company Alessi and responsible for the design of products that continue to articulate and represent the Italian identity and sensibility today.
Renato Bialetti’s ashes were placed in a large model of the Moka Express that was placed in the family’s tomb in a cemetery in Omegna.
Rest in Peace Renato. Addio.