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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A medium flame beneath the assembled macchinetta begins to heat the water.
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.
This isn’t quite the frothy crema that you get with an espresso machine, but that’s because the macchinetta generates much lower pressure.
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.
I prefer to add some sugar and milk to my coffee.
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.
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:
Update 2: Edited diagram