At the risk of becoming the queen of single-cup alternatives to Keurig or Nespresso brewers, here is a review of yet another device which will produce one serving of the sustainably-grown coffee of your choice, rather than a questionably-sourced coffee in a wasteful capsule. This is a Mini Moka pot, made by the Italian company Top Moka and provided by the Moka Pot Company.
About the pots
Moka pots are steam-based, stove-top coffee brewers, invented in the 1930s. Hot water is forced through ground coffee in a filter basket. While some steam pressure is involved, it isn’t much and even though moka pots are sometimes called “stovetop espresso makers” they do not produce true espresso, but rather a dense or richly brewed coffee.
The extremely cute Mini Moka pots come in both one and two cup models (the cup in this case being demitasse-size) and in various colors. The Moka Pot Company sells sets that come with cups, as well, not to mention a large variety of other types of moka pots. Based in the U.K, they ship to the U.S.
Typically, moka pots have two chambers. Water in the bottom chamber is forced through coffee in a filter basket, and brewed coffee collects in the upper chamber, from which it is poured. In the Mini Moka, there is only a bottom chamber for water and a filter basket. When the water is heated, it is forced up through the grounds in the filter and is dispensed directly into cups via a spout or spouts.
I received the two-cup Mini Moka version. These are made in Italy of aluminum, including the cup platform, and they are very sturdily built. There is a fair amount of debate regarding whether aluminum or stainless steel is best (see the Coffee section below) ; aluminum seems to be more common overall.
Making coffee in the mini moka
The Mini Moka brews four ounces of coffee into two small cups (although each might not contain exactly the same amount),
or you can swing around one of the tubes and dispense all four ounces into a single cup (the manufacturer has informed me NOT to do this as it can cause a loss of pressure and failure of the device; both tubes should be stationary). Use care in the latter case, as a four-ounce cup can be hard to remove from under the tubes without spilling out some of the coffee; it may be easier to brew into two cups and pour it into one.
Making coffee seems relatively foolproof. Place water, four ounces or less, in the bottom chamber up to the release valve. Place coarsely-ground coffee in the basket. It holds about a third of an ounce (just under 9 grams). Don’t try to use instant coffee, espresso grind, or some other fine grounds. I just used drip grind. You can tap down the grounds, but don’t pack them. Screw on the top chamber and place over low heat. The Mini Moka pot can be used on any type of heat source, including gas, electric, and ceramic, but ideally a flame heat source should not be wider than the bottom of the pot. Place a little cup on the platform under each spout. It takes only about 5 minutes from the time you put the maker on the heat before it begins to dispense into the cups, and it finishes in just a couple minutes. I turn off the heat when the pot begins to make sputtering noises.
Coffee from the Mini Moka
As for the coffee, it was perfectly acceptable. The filter basket has fine perforations, of course. There is also a similar screen acting as a filter between the grounds and the top chamber. Despite the fact that very fine sediment ends up in the cup, this makes an extremely smooth shot of coffee. It doesn’t have the creaminess of espresso, but depending on the coffee you use and the amount of water, it can have a similar intensity. It clearly makes a stronger cup than any K-Cup I’ve tried. If you’re satisfied with the strength of a K-Cup, you could just dilute a shot from your mini moka pot, and have fresher, better quality coffee to boot.
This isn’t the brew method you’d use to get the most out of special, high-quality beans, but the taste was certainly fine if good coffee was used. Although aluminum has been accused of imparting a metallic taste, I did not detect this. I’m sure that you could experiment a bit with water temperature, roast level, grind, and heat level, but honestly — we’re talking about a few ounces of decent coffee here. I really didn’t think I’d have a whole lot of use for a device like a Mini Moka, but I have found myself using this for a quick pick-me-up after work, when I want to have just a little hit of coffee, but not a whole cup. This is yet another low-tech, less wasteful, simple alternative for making a small amount of coffee.