Using & Enjoying my Bialetti Moka Express
This year's Christmas was rich with coffee related gifts, including a Bialetti 'Moka Express' stove-top coffee pot and an Arabica coffee plant (Coffea arabica). The former has already provided many hours of tasty coffee enjoyment, while the latter should be ready to provide a brew in about 4 years!
The Bialetti Moka Express coffee maker uses espresso-ground coffee and provides a rich espresso-like brew. Ground coffee is placed in a funnel and hot water forced through it from a reservoir in the base as steam builds pressure when heated on a stove. The resulting coffee bubbles through to a separate upper chamber to avoid recycling through the grinds multiple times (apparently this is a problem with normal percolators). Bialettis are very popular in southern Europe, particularly their homeland of Italy where they are known simply as a macchinetta, 'little machine' in Italian.
According to the Bialetti instructions, the ground beans should not be packed tight into the funnel; just allowed to settle with a gentle tap. After some experimentation, I've found that a closer approximation to true espresso including crema can be made by gently tamping the grinds, like one might with an espresso machine. Conversely, a weaker but completely acceptable brew can be made by using coarser cafetiere-ground beans -- not what it's designed for perhaps, but more easily bought (in the UK at least).
Whether or not to wash the Bialetti with soap or detergent seems to be a contentious issue. Made from aluminium, the pot is coated with a naturally occuring thin layer of aluminium oxide. This prevents the pure aluminium beneath from reacting with your coffee and tainting the flavour. Popular opinion states that washing the Bialetti with detergent removes the oxide layer and will affect the flavour of future brews. No knowing the science for certain, I trust this enough to wash the Bialetti without detergent when it's used regularly. However, bear in mind that residual coffee oils in the pot are non-water soluble and like any fat will turn rancid over time. So I'll certainly be using soap to wash it before first-use if sits unused for more than a week or two.
My cafetierre has sat unused since receiving the Moka Express - it's been a definite upgrade!