Drinks

My Ode to the Moka Pot & the Man Who Made it Popular

February 26, 2016

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.

Part of my parents' moka collection.

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.

8 Comments

KSDB April 25, 2016
I didn't realize Alessi was related to Bialetti! In any case, I now have a La Pavoni level machine for my daily shot of espresso. But before the La Pavoni, I spent years with an old aluminum Bialetti before branching out to various stainless steel moka pots. If someone can tell me why the aluminum Bialetti always tasted so much better than any of the attempted stainless replacements, please let me know! Maybe Alyssa's family has a guess ....
 
Alyssa April 26, 2016
Katherine,<br />We have also tried many different types of "non-Bialetti replacements", mostly because they are easier to find. I have NO idea why the aluminum Bialetti is the best?!?! Despite my initial urge to credit a hypothetical magic force, I think it may have something to do with the gasket/seal. With other moka pots, I always ran into some leaking which I believe compromises the whole espresso. Just a guess...
 
KSDB April 26, 2016
Thanks Alyssa. Will continue my investigations with the benefit of your analysis. At the very least, after all these years I feel better having heard from someone with the same experience! Cheers<br /><br />(My post has a typo, by the way: meant to say "lever.")
 
Alyssa April 25, 2016
This is all we use at home to make espresso, we have Biatletti's in 3 sizes. My husband is Italian and his espresso ritual borders on neuroticism. The author of this article did a great job of capturing the essence of making an espresso with a Bilaletti and what makes it so special.
 
kimikoftokyo February 27, 2016
Lovely. I have one and I love it. What a great history lesson.
 
Traci S. February 26, 2016
After you make coffee with this, you will consign your Keurig to the dustbin where it belongs.
 
Dana V. February 26, 2016
Loved this ChefSteps video with tips on how to make the best coffee in a moka. Note: He strongly advises scouring out the patina. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpyBYuu-wJI
 
HalfPint February 26, 2016
My husband loves this coffee pot. LOVES IT. I got him a new one for Christmas after the old one finally died (after 10 years of excellent service). I think he got teary-eyed when he found it on the stovetop on Christmas morning.