Stove-top espresso makers are probably the closest way to enjoy espresso at home on a budget. Whilst they don’t produce true espresso, as they brew coffee under much lower pressure, they do make a strong, thick and rich coffee that has many similarities to espresso.
Unlike espresso machines, stove-top espresso makers are simple to use. The inventor of the first espresso maker, an Italian called Alfonso Bialetti, said of his invention that: “without requiring any ability whatsoever one could enjoy an espresso in the home just like in a bar”.
Stove-top espresso makers are also now known as espresso pots and Moka pots.
Stove-Top Espresso Makers vs Percolators
Stove-top espresso makers are often confused with percolators, with their names frequently being used interchangeably. This is quite understandable, as they’re both used on a stove and from the outside they look quite similar. However, they are in fact two separate ways of brewing coffee and the results are noticeably different.
There are two key differences between these two types of coffee maker. Firstly, whilst they both use steam pressure, only an espresso maker uses this pressure to extract flavour from the coffee. In an espresso maker, water is pushed through a bed of coffee grounds, whereas in a percolator water simply drips through. Secondly, in an espresso maker water only passes through the bed of grounds once. Whilst with most variations of the percolator the liquid (which starts off as water then changes to a coffee solution) is re-circulated; passed through the grounds several times. Because of this re-circulation, percolators usually over-extract from the coffee and this is why percolator coffee tastes very strong, flat and bitter.
Stove-top espresso makers are usually made from one of two materials: aluminium or stainless steel.
Aluminium is the traditional material for stove-top espresso makers, and ones made from this material are usually cheaper than their stainless steel counterparts. Aluminium, however, will react slightly when brewing coffee and so the inside of the pot will slowly discolour with use.
Stainless Steel is a much tougher and more durable material than aluminium and is usually dishwasher safe. It will also not discolour with use.
The capacity of stove-top espresso makers is measured in cups. However this can be a little confusing, as a cup equates to one serving: which is approximately 45ml/1.5fl oz or, in layman’s terms, a half-filled espresso cup. So a 6 cup espresso maker will make 270ml or 9fl oz of coffee, which would be enough to fill 3 average sized espresso cups. Our table below is a rough guide to help you choose which size of espresso maker to pick:
|No. of Full Espresso Cups
|No. of Persons*
*This is only a guide – If you’re planning to add lots of milk, like for a cappuccino or latte, then you may find a 3 cup is enough for 3 people, etc.
Moka pot espresso makers work optimally at full capacity. However, they do still work with less water and coffee, so you’re not restricted to brewing at full capacity all the time. However, from a taste perspective, we recommend not to use one at less than 2/3 capacity.
Dan is a former competition barista and has been honing his knowledge of coffee for over two decades.
He has worked in coffee farms in Peru, as well as roasters in Australia. He now trains new baristas and hosts cupping experiences in Austin.