moka pot vs. moka pot vs. French press

My wife has a moka pot (also known, erroneously, as a stove-top espresso maker), capacity four ounces, she picked up at a yard sale about six years ago. I recently got rid of my moka pot—prettier than hers (I say), like modernist sculpture, really—eight ounce capacity. But, it was a pain in the ass to clean (poor design, for functionality), and the coffee it made wasn’t as good. As hers.

I think this is a little known fact. You see, in your banging around the internet, and in books, people giving opinions. They paint these little pots with one brush. Mostly, the serious people seem to brush them off. I forget why. But I’ve never seen any discussion of variable functionality, of how different design features or capacity affect quality, or, to be less autocratic, tastes. Qualities.

And I can’t give you that comparison. Because I gave away my beautiful pot. And I have a questionable memory. Instead, I use a twelve-ounce French press. Because I like the extra four ounces, and because it’s easier to clean, and because the coffee it makes is just as good, or better, than that old pot made.

And some days I like the coffee my press makes more than I like what comes from her pot. The odd thing is that, usually, I don’t. This either makes me a philistine, or a poor French press user, or means that her pot really is much better than the average run of pots. Maybe it is a little of all three.

In fairness, the grind I use for both pot and press is probably more suited to the pot. I use a Turkish-style brass hand grinder, probably seventy years old, and it is best at turning out a middling grind. Using this same grind, same beans, same water, same day, and in my press near-boiling water, three to four tablespoons of coffee for three to four minutes, typically, here is the usual result:

Her pot makes a cleaner, brighter, nuttier and thicker coffee than my press. My coffee often tastes muddy by comparison. Though still lighter in body. It’s a little frustrating, really.

Still, my coffee’s been good enough, more than occasionally sublime, it seems to me, that I haven’t been too anxious to try to improve it, to best this upstart pot on a more regular basis. But now my curiosity aroused, maybe I’ll start fiddling at my technique.

2 Comments on “moka pot vs. moka pot vs. French press”

  1. matthew says:

    All other factors being balanced on the same day they will each produce coffee with a different flavor profile. Grind is a critical factor since it changes surface area in the [ideal] brewing pressure-temperature-time curve for any given roast. As the two devices have vastly different brewing pressure, thermal mass, and brewing times a roast well suited to one may be dull or nupleasant in another. I would say that your grind for the press pot is far too fine; a Turkish hand mill does not produce an even coarse grind, leaving too many fine particles though it may be that the burrs are dull and it is crushing rather than cutting.

    Between moka pots my guess is that the traditionally shaped cone base produces the best pressure while modern designs change both the pressure curve and other metals result in a different thermal mass of the pot.

    I will look forward to reading a post or two about your efforts to make an ideal roasts for each device Unless that is you start measuring temperatures [“Experimental analysis of the Italian moka coffee pot” by Concetto Gianino]

  2. Will Huenink says:

    By the traditional cone-shaped you mean the Italian hexagonal ones, usually made out of aluminum? I’ve always admired them, for their relative ease of cleaning, and their minimalism. I imagine if I ever feel the need to buy another, larger pot, I’ll look first for one of those, if I can find it in stainless.

    Thank you for your comment. I hadn’t really thought about it in those terms, and to see it written out is illuminating. I’d be curious to take a look at that article if I could get at it for free. Unfortunately I think it’ll be a long time before I start toying with tailoring roasts to devices——at the end of the day I’m quite easily satisfied by good-enough coffee, and have yet to really get a good grasp of the effect of such more basic factors as grind.

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