Search This Blog

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Moka Pot Espresso (and Cafe Latte)

I used to have a fairly nice all-in-one coffee maker / espresso maker and milk steamer thing.

It was big and clunky, as the coffee and espresso functionalities were completely separate, despite the whole contraption being attached.

I used the coffee maker almost every day, and the espresso maker maybe once a week.  I loved the milk steamer... it was super cool - you basically just shove your milk up into the steam wand and it and pushes hot steam through the whole thing, giving you perfectly-steamed milk in seconds.  Handy if your wife likes hot flavoured milks like vanilla or nutmeg.

Anyway... as with most all-in-one contraptions like this, and similar to much kitchen junk intended to make your life easier or more convenient... it broke.  The coffee functionality still worked, and we used that right up until we replaced it 6 years ago with a nice new coffee maker we got as a wedding present.  But the espresso and steamer functionality requires a 'pressure chamber' kind of dealie.  The thing will not work without a proper seal (in order to accumulate and build pressure) and that is what broke.  Lame, right?

So, since then, I have been espresso-less.  I can't say I really missed it.  I mean, I drink really dark coffee for the most part, and brew it pretty thickly; in fact - when I first started drinking coffee I used to actually brew with espresso beans... not sure what that would be called, but yah... we used to drive out to the Italian market on 95th street (in Edmonton) just to buy huge bags of imported espresso beans and family- (Italian family-) sized vats of olive oil and tomato paste!  Good stuff.  I miss their deli counter.  

Besides, if I ever truly want one - there are about 6 places to get a decent espresso or americano within 50 metres of my front door.

Needless to say it hasn't been a priority for me to get a home espresso maker again.

Now... I've always seen, and have sometimes heard of, these Italian 'pot' style espresso makers.  

Mako pots I've since learned they're called.

I always just called them 'percolators'.  They reminded me of the old stove percolator my parents used to just place right over top of a firepit when we'd go camping.  Of course that one was 70s green.  And had years of soot blackening its bottom and sides.


But I always dismissed these Mako pots.  I thought they were too cheap to produce anything decent, and that they would be a lot of effort to clean / maintain / use.

Well, this weekend, we visited this kitchen 'superstore' way out in the boonies (I believe the quaint community was called Thornhill, or something like that?) and - you guessed it!!! - we bought one.

It wasn't because I'd never seen them before this large megalokitchenmart, nor that I had a premeditated desire to pick one up.  It was just that they had a huge wall of Mako pots.  They had big ones, little ones, fancy ones, cheap ones, and ones which were so excruciatingly Italian they had pictures of sports cars and supermodels on the box.  Just joking.  Barely though.

So, I spent a few minutes doing box-research.  You know - that highly subjective, rarely informative, type of research which involves reading the marketing blurbs on boxes and hoping that your opinion of the products will still come out informed but objective?  Yah.

In the end, we decided to opt for a cheap version, which would basically only be for casual and very intermittent use.

I believe our mindset at that point in time was a resounding, and unilateral, 'why not?'

So, the next day, I decided to give it a try.

The mako pot is actually very simple, and pretty efficient in terms of its design.

This particular version was made out the cheapest possible metal (the insides looked like solder), but I imagine the higher-end ones would be quite nice.

Now, the very first thing we did (see above 'cheapest possible' metal construction) was wash the thing thoroughly.  I scrubbed the whole thing, ran a 'dry run' (not dry, in fact, but without beans - so just clean water), scrubbed the whole thing again, and then did another clean water run.  I'm a clean freak.  The thought of dissolvable metal ions, or strange man-made particles, leaching into something I plan on drinking... makes me crazy.  Like spine-tingling, hand-tremor crazy.  I'm sure there are still some nasty things happening in this entry-level mako pot, but at least I can tell myself that I tried.

So, it is essentially three parts.

The water reservoir on the bottom, with a filter for the coffee (or whatever, I suppose) in the middle, and then the percolator on the top.

Water heated up in the bottom, rises through the beans, and up a central piston/tube-y kind of dealie to collect in the top.  So, it kind of is like those old camping percolators, except instead of dripping down through the beans, this steams up through them.

Super simple concept.

So, after thoroughly cleaning this bitch, I packed a full chamber of espresso beans.  the top part does a nice job of automagically "tamping" the beans in, but I still like to make it pretty compact and flush.

So, that goes in the bottom piece, which has been filled - to the 'valve' position - with water.  Then on to the stove it goes.

Not surprisingly it takes much longer (2-3x) to complete the process when using beans, as opposed to just running water through it cleanly.  So, on medium-highish, it takes about 6 minutes.  You'll know it's done when it stops making noise.  I'd advise against lifting the lid to 'peek' in there while it's still on the stove.  Just trust me.

So, that's it.  It makes about 2-3 espresso-sized cups.  Or one long shot for someone (like me) who likes it.

We have a couple of cute little espresso cups with saucers.  Just a couple, but they're fainsee!

Now... the taste test.  My first thought was that I could taste the newness of the pot a little still.  But immediately afterwards I was hit with the familiar warm and nutty, rich flavour of espresso.  It was very thick and dark, but still incredibly smooth.  There was almost no sedimentation (I get more sediment in my coffee pot), and it was piping hot.

So... on the whole, not bad for $15.  Not bad at all.

My first cup I had as-is, but for my second I added a spoonful of brown sugar.


Now comes the cafe latte.


There are countless pieces of junk out there to help you steam, froth, or sing florid lullabies to your milk.  Do they work?  Sure... I imagine most do, anyway.  Are they necessary?  Absolutely not.

Of course the best way to get lovely steamed, frothy, milk with perfect microfoam is to use a steaming wand like I described above.

The next best way to get decently steamed milk with foam (macrofoam), is simple and easy to do.

  1. Heat milk.  
  2. Whip.
  3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 if necessary.
It sounds glib, but really you just have to whisk hot milk.

If you have a mixer with a whisk attachment, go for it, otherwise a hand mixer (egg-beaters) can also work.  If you do not have any fancy machinery, you can still do it with a hand-held wire whisk... just be prepared to put a lot of effort into it.

Myself, I pulled out my trusty cusinart and go-go-gadget-ed the whisk attachment.

Then I poured 2 cups of milk (this was about 1 3/4 cups skim, and 1/4 cup homogenized... so probably ended up being around 1% when all was said and done...) into my large liquid measure, and popped it in the microwave for a couple of minutes.  One of the only things I pop in the microwave.  If you care to, it would be better by stove-top... but ... meh.

So, after a couple of minutes in the microwave, and about a minute or so of heavy whisking, the milk ended up being very nice and frothy.

Now, in a cappuccino mug, or latte bowl, pour your desired shot (or three) of espresso into the bottom, and then add your steamed milk.  

Using a spoon, "hold" the foam (which is just resting lightly on top at this point) back while the milk pours.

After all the milk has been poured in, now spoon the foam out on to the surface.  If you were awesomer than I, and a supadoopa star, you could make some killer art if you used microfoam.  Not me though.  I just dump the foam on top.  :)

If you had wanted to add some sugar, you could have done so either first off before adding anything, or else to the espresso, before adding the milk.  It wouldn't be the end of the world to add it now... but stirring this puppy will wreck the floating foam on top.

You can however add a variety of spices on top.  Some freshly ground nutmeg perhaps, or a pinch of freshly shaved cinnamon?  A lot of coffee shops offer cocoa too... but that just seems weird to me.  :)

Cinnamon Okay.  Cocoa Nokay.