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Feb 27 2011

I Like My Macchinetta

I didn’t like coffee until I was in my mid-twenties. I loved the aroma, but simply hadn’t developed a taste for it. One of my co-workers at the time was an avid coffee drinker (and former police officer). He worked diligently at getting me to drink coffee, and eventually succeeded.

I’ve always been a fan of strong or bold flavors, and coffee is no exception. If I can actually see the bottom of the cup it’s because I’m finished, or the coffee is too weak. Of course, this means that I enjoy espresso.

Coffee shop prices are fairly high, and I’d like to drink strong coffee at home. I don’t want to spend an outrageous amount of money on a professional espresso machine. What should I do?

I found my answer, quite by accident, while shopping at a local department store. I came home with a macchinetta.

macchinetta 01

What’s a macchinetta?

A macchinetta is a stovetop coffee maker that produces strong coffee very much like espresso. The word ‘macchinetta’ is Italian, and means ‘small machine.’ Coffee makers like this are sometimes called a ‘Moka pot’ or ‘Italian coffee pot.’

Though it produces coffee with an extraction ratio similar to that of espresso, a macchinetta does not generate the amount of pressure that a professional espresso machine generates.

How does it work?

The base of this machine is made of fairly heavy stainless steel. This is where the water boils, creating the pressure wich drives the boiling water up through the ground coffee. The integral safety valve insures that it won’t explode if the pressure gets too high because of a blocked filter. Water is poured into the base up to the level of the safety valve.

macchinetta 02

The filter funnel has a perforated metal plate above a tube that reaches the bottom of the boiling water. It fits into the base with its tip at the very bottom.

macchinetta 03

Ground coffee is poured into the filter funnel. Unlike a standard espresso machine, the coffee is not packed tightly into the filter. The coffee should be finely ground for the strongest flavor, though a regular-grind coffee can be used.

macchinetta 04

The top of the unit has a filter plate held in place with a rubber gasket. This gasket creates a seal when the two halves of the macchinetta are joined. Replacement gaskets are available at a relatively modest cost from the manufacturer.

macchinetta 05

Inside of the top of the unit you can see the stem which carries the coffee up from the base and keeps it from draining back down again.

macchinetta 06

A medium flame beneath the assembled macchinetta begins to heat the water.

macchinetta 07

When the water begins to boil, the pressure generated forces it up into the funnel and through the ground coffee. Rich, thick coffee is forced through the stem from the pressure below.

Espresso flowing

This isn’t quite the frothy crema that you get with an espresso machine, but that’s because the macchinetta generates much lower pressure.

Crema at the end

This particular macchinetta is marketed as a four cup espresso machine. This equals a single mug for myself. Now I can pour a mug of fresh, steaming coffee.

Pouring my espresso

I prefer to add some sugar and milk to my coffee.

Add a splash of milk

The result: a caffè macchiato that I can enjoy at home, and at a much lower cost than I would ever expect at a coffee shop.

My caffè macchiato

If you happen to encounter me online or out and about, and I seem a little bit hyper, don’t worry; it’s only the coffee.

Update: A diagram

Here is a diagram illustrating the macchinetta’s workings:

The bottom chamber (A) contains water. When heated, steam pressure pushes the water through a basket containing ground coffee (B) into the collecting chamber (C).

Update 2: Edited diagram

Macchinetta Diagram

8 comments

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  1. khan

    Please elaborate further.

    There is a funnel tube under a filter with sides.

    Does boiling water go up tube or up filter and down tube?

    Yes, I am mechanically deficit.

    1. Dan Johnson

      Not a problem! There are basically two “filter plates” that have ground coffee sandwiched between them. The bottom plate is above a tube that goes down into the boiling water. The top plate sits below a tube that goes up into the coffee “reservoir.” Does that make sense? I think I may need to make a diagram. I’m geeky like that.

      1. khan

        I still don’t understand.

        Diagram would probably help.

        1. khan

          I still don’t understand: what is the path of the water?

        2. Dan Johnson

          I used my mad graphics skillz to edit the diagram to give a better idea of what goes on when the water starts to boil. I hope it’s a little bit better.

  2. Namnezia

    I’ve had mine for about 20 years! The nice thing about them, especially if you get one of the stainless steel ones is that they are unbreakable, you just have to change the gasket every so often. Enjoy your coffee!

  3. khan

    Thank you.
    Now I understand.
    You have to understand I didn’t figure out how to tie my shoes until I was 7.

  4. coffee maker

    Hi Dexterityunlimited,
    I just stumbled across this and, A macchinetta is a small car that can be driven from the age of 14 in Italy. I am 16 and have a Canadian license.
    Thanks

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