Amidst the recent proliferation of at home electric espresso machines that use ready-made capsules, there is a whole other Italian coffee scene of which most foreigners are not aware. The Moka! That (non-electric) generally silver aluminum coffee pot that is a fixture in most Italian households and (according to a recent article in the Turin newspaper La Stampa) used by some 70% of the Italian population . Despite George Clooney, in fact, capsule machines still only account for some 3.5 % of the market and have their primary success in offices, hairdressers and hotel rooms where espresso (or the Moka) is not available.
Speaking of espresso, you might be surprised to learn that for the majority of Italians, this is an “extra”, a tiny beverage you drink mid-morning or, in any event, once you have left the house. Unless you are like me and have it “lungo”, which means with extra water added, espresso allows you only a few sips, while with Moka coffee you can happily fill your cup. Moka is pronounced like mocha of Starbuck’s fame but has nothing to do with chocolate.
The Moka is a three-piece coffee machine with pressure valves inside. The water is put in the bottom part, the coffee is put in the middle part, called the filtro, or filter (and should NOT be tamped down), and the top part is then screwed back on and the whole thing is put on a low flame. What happens next? According to Italian coffee lore, as soon as the coffee starts spurting into the top part, you must open the lid, and lower the flame. Remove the pot from the fire as soon as it is filled; you do not want it boiling. Some people stir the coffee before pouring it out. Another major rule to be followed. Never, never wash your caffettiera with soap. Rinse it and basta!
-The major producer of the classic Moka, Bialetti, has sold, worldwide, some 270 million caffettiere. But there are many other manufacturers so that a total of seven million pots are produced every year.
-Most Italian households own at least two. I own six of various sizes (One cup, two cups, six cups, ten cups).
-Per capita annual consumption is 5.7 kilos of coffee.
-The average Italian has a cup of coffee as soon as he or she wakes up.
-Almost 70% of the total amount of coffee sold in Italy (about 320,000 tons a year) is consumed at home, and 57% of that is drunk in the morning at breakfast, or as it is called here, colazione.
There a dozens of brands of packaged coffee for Moka coffee, the best known being Illy and Lavazza, although personally I prefer a brand named Kimbo. Some Italians prefer to have their coffee ground at the local “torrefazione“, but these days reportedly there are only about 700 in the country.
The Moka has also been made in ceramic – in all sorts of primary colors – in copper, steel, silver and brass. But according to experts, coffee made with those will taste differently than when made in aluminum. Of course some Italians prefer another type of pot, the “napolitana” (see picture) which at the end of the process has to be turned upside down, making it more of a drip coffee pot then a percolator (remember them?)
But that, too, is used at home and is – like Moka coffee – still not your classic espresso.
P.S. Recently, I answered the phone and the caller was a representative of Lavazza offering a purchase arrangement for a Lavazza home espresso pot. “No thanks”, I said. “I use the Moka”. “Va bene”, she said, “thank you for your time”.