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Moka vs Espresso: What’s The Difference

Espresso is a staple in coffee shops around the world, and it’s a particularly tasty way to drink coffee, whether you chug a double shot or whip up a latte.

If you’re an espresso fanatic, you’ve probably looked for a way to make it at home, and more than likely, you’ve discovered the moka pot. Many stores tout the moka pot as an espresso maker, but it actually isn’t!

That’s right––despite what you may have heard, the moka pot simply makes strong coffee. If you want to make true espresso at home that’s on par with coffee shops, the moka pot won’t cut it.

So what are the differences between moka pot coffee and espresso? What should you do if you want to make espresso at home?

I’ll answer these questions (and many more) in this article, so let’s get started.

The Basics

To understand the differences between moka pot coffee and true espresso, you first need to understand what espresso is.

Many people simply think it’s strong coffee, which is true, but espresso actually has specific parameters that need to be followed.

According to the Italian Espresso National Institute, espresso is “the drink obtained by forcing adequately pressurized hot water through coffee powder.” Specifically, that pressure is usually 9 bars (or 130 PSI).

That’s an extreme amount of pressure, so it has to be compensated for by creating a compressed puck of extremely fine coffee grounds.

But more fundamentally, to get this level of pressure, you need a machine capable of generating it.

Now, let’s move on to the differences between the actual devices: moka pots and espresso machines.

Moka pots go on the stovetop and force boiling water through a puck of coffee. Espresso machines do something similar; they force boiling (or sometimes below boiling) water through a puck of coffee.

So what’s the difference?

First, moka pots cannot reach 9 bars of pressure. These brewers use steam to force the boiling water upward, so there’s a lot less pressure available than what you need for espresso.

This is the main reason that a moka pot cannot produce true espresso.

Second, the grind for a moka pot is coarser than you’d grind for espresso, so the coffee will end up tasting different on that basis alone.

The Taste

Even though moka pot coffee isn’t espresso, it’s not the end of the story. If you’ve ever had moka pot coffee, you know it tastes different from coffee brewed with pour over or immersion methods.

So what kind of coffee does the moka pot produce, if not espresso? Basically, a moka pot gives you really strong coffee.

The forcing of water through fine grounds (but not at 9 bars of pressure) creates a result that’s halfway between coffee and espresso. It’s not technically espresso, but it’s much stronger than regular old drip coffee.

Moka pots typically bring out more roasty, robust notes, so coffees with notes of nuts and chocolate often do well as moka pot brews. On the other hand, fruitier and more floral coffees don’t fare so well in the moka pot.

Espresso has a much different taste than moka pot coffee. There are many aspects to the taste of a good espresso shot, but overall, it should taste rich and slightly bitter yet sweet.

If you taste the same bean as coffee and espresso, you might find that the tasting notes come out differently in espresso. That espresso is only shot-sized will also create a different drinking experience.

Espresso is generally more difficult to get used to than coffee. You might not get a strong sense of any flavor notes if you’re new to espresso.

However, if you get acclimated to the taste and experience, you’ll have access to a completely unique coffee drinking experience.

How to Make Moka Pot Coffee

If you’re interested in trying out moka pot coffee for yourself, you’ll need a moka pot. These are super cheap and easy to use.

You’ll also need a good grinder that’s capable of grinding somewhat fine. Here are our picks for moka pot gear:

Bialetti 6-Cup Stovetop Espresso Maker

BIALETTI Moka Express 6 Cup

First, the title of this product is misleading––remember, moka pots cannot make espresso. However, this Bialetti is easily the most famous moka pot in existence.

It set the standard for moka pots everywhere, and it can produce some delicious coffee. This is the 6-cup version for when you want to make larger servings or a couple of cups at once.

If you won’t be making a lot of coffee at once, you can opt for the 3-cup version of this moka pot.

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

Baratza Encore Conical Burr Coffee Grinder

You can’t go wrong with the Baratza Encore for moka pot coffee. While the Encore cannot grind fine enough for espresso, it can grind fine enough for the moka pot, and it’ll deliver incredibly consistent results.

The Encore is also electric, so you don’t have to grind your beans by hand. Together with fresh beans, the Encore and a moka pot will give you some amazing coffee.

How To Make Espresso With An Espresso Maker

Fair warning––making espresso is a much more involved process. You might be out to recreate your favorite coffee shop drinks at home, but you’ll have to spend quite a lot of money and time to get it all right.

Having said that, you’ll need a legitimate espresso machine and espresso grinder. Here’s what we recommend:

Gaggia Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker

Classic Semi-Automatic Espresso Maker Pannarello Steam Nozzle for Latte and Cappuccino Frothing. Brews for Both Single and Double Shots 220V

The Gaggia Classic is widely considered to be the go-to espresso machine for beginners or espresso lovers on a budget.

At under $500, the Classic will give you genuine espresso and milk steaming abilities so you can recreate not only coffee shop level espresso but also milk drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.

The machine is also user-friendly and easy to modify, and there’s a large user base out there that can help you make some neat upgrades to the Classic.

There are all kinds of espresso recipes, and you’ll need to do a lot of experimentation. For a good starting point, check out this blog post by Square Mile Coffee.

Baratza Sette 30 Conical Burr Grinder

Baratza Sette 30 Conical Burr Grinder

Not all grinders are able to grind super fine for espresso. One of the most affordable and easiest to use is the Baratza Sette 30, a new inclusion to the company’s line of grinders.

The Sette uses the same conical burr set that Baratza uses for their higher-end Sette 270 grinder.

The Sette 30 is only $250, and while it’s not built like a tank, it’s definitely durable for regular home use.

Final Thoughts

Some of the shootouts we write about end up being rather subjective, but for moka vs. espresso, there are some obvious differences to take into account.

Moka pot coffee is not espresso, and the two are really quite different.

In short, moka pot coffee is really strong coffee, and espresso is even stronger coffee that requires  9 bars of pressure to make.

Both can be delicious, so try out both!

image: Unsplash

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