A moka pot brews very rich coffee over direct heat using pressure derived from rising steam, whereas French press coffee is prepared by steeping course coffee grind in hot water for 3-5 minutes before filtering the grounds out. Both styles of coffee are unfiltered. Moka more closely resembles espresso while pressed coffee more closely resembles drip.
In many homes both of these methods of making coffee are preferred because neither involve the use of a machine that uses electricity.
Likewise neither are fully automatic. They both require manual inputs, control, and monitoring.
When the moka pot is ready you must be ready to remove the pot from the heat source or to turn the heat off completely while the french press needs to be manually pressed and the coffee needs to be removed so as to prevent over-extraction and bitter coffee.
The manual brew is appealing because it means you can fully control how great or bad the coffee is… although it’s hard to really make it bad without walking away from it or using the wrong inputs.
Please use the following links to jump to sections you are interested in.
How To Use a Moka Pot
- Fill the lower water chamber to the fill line.
- Add medium to medium-fine grind to the filter basket but do not tamp down.
- Place the filter basket inside the water chamber.
- Screw the upper coffee collection cup to the lower water chamber.
- Place the moka pot over a direct heat source set on medium to low.
- Monitor the moka pot while brewing.
- Remove the moka pot from the heat when it is done and is making it’s final gurgling sounds.
Of all the steps in making moka coffee the hardest is always monitoring the pot. If you step away and don’t heat the pot start to gurgle then you risk keeping the pot on the heat too long.
When you keep a moka pot on the burner too long then you will decrease the life of the rubber gasket that separates the upper and lower chambers. You also risk boiling your finished coffee which can ruin a lot of the desired flavors.
Moka Pot Grind:
The coffee grind used in a moka pot should be medium-fine. Particle sizes should be larger than that of espresso grind but smaller than that of drip coffee. Grind shape and size consistency will help moka taste it’s best and that can usually only be produced by a quality burr grinder.
It’s tempting to pre-ground medium grit coffee designed for drip coffee makers in a moka pot because it’s easy but the coffee in pre-ground packages is usually already fairly stale and the grind size will be a bit too large.
Because moka is brewed with a very short water-to-grind contact time of only 30-seconds to a minute the particles need to be small to be able to extract the flavors correctly. This is completely opposite to french press coffee.
French Press Grind
French press coffee grind should be of a uniform shape and size that is much larger than what is used for drip coffee. Described as coarse the grind used in coffee presses touches water directly for four minutes while brewing. If the particle size were too small then it would over-extract the bitters and not taste as good.
The larger size is also used a french press for better filtration. Although we call pressed coffee unfiltered it is somewhat filtered. The grind is filtered out of the coffee but the oils are not.
Coarse grind coffee won’t leave fines in the coffee like medium or fine grind does.
Similarly in a moka pot using grind that is too small, say for an espresso machine or for Turkish coffee, will yield coffee that doesn’t pass through the filter screen correctly. More small particles may end up in your coffee cup than you like and over-extracted bitters may again be an issue.
How Does a Moka Pot Work
Moka pots work by heating water to a boil and allowing steam to rise through a funnel to the grind basket which has small holes in the bottom of it. The small holes allow steam to enter the grind, condense, and brew highly concentrated coffee that is then collected in the upper chamber.
The heat forces steam to rise because of the pressure created and the grind serves as a barrier causing pressure to reach roughly 1.5 bars. This is why coffee brewed in a moka pot is reminiscent of espresso which is also potent coffee brewed under high pressure.
Once coffee is brewed the pressure that has built in the lower chamber forces the brewed coffee to pass through a metal screen above the grind and through a thin funnel that leads to the upper collection chamber.
Moka pots will sit on a burner seemingly doing nothing for minutes and then all at once when the pressure gets high enough the coffee will emerge in the upper chamber within less than a minute.
Obviously this is fundamentally different from the way french presses work. With a press the coffee is constantly brewing through a steeping process. The longer the water touches the grind the stronger the coffee gets. With a moka pot however it’s all science.
Moka Coffee vs Espresso
Moka coffee is very similar to espresso. It is brewed with a short water-to-grind contact time. They are both brewed under pressure and served in 1.5-ounce portions. Espresso is different because it is brewed under much more pressure than a moka pot is – enough pressure to produce crema, a byproduct absent in moka coffee.
Some people believe they can produce crema in a moka pot but no matter how you try espresso will always have dramatically more crema because you ca’t get the pressure high enough in a moka pot to produce it.
If you were to use a fine grind and tamp it down into your moka pot you could increase internal pressure but this still won’t rival the pressure generated by espresso machines and it will usually result in a moka pot that never actually brews or burns the coffee.
With a french press you never have to worry about burnt coffee or damaged equipment because the water is never any hotter then when you put it in the carafe.
In fact the opposite can be problem.
A french press can lose enough temperature during the brewing process to affect the taste negatively if you aren’t using the right equipment.
Small coffee presses made from glass can cause hot water that starts out suitable for making coffee to cool off too much and too fast in only four minutes. By the time you press the coffee the water may be far too cool for quality flavor extraction.
The remedy for this is to brew slightly larger batches of coffee in bigger carafes and to use thermally insulated french presses which will retain the correct temperature longer during the brewing process.
One other common alternative to using a moka pot or French press coffee to manually make strong concentrated coffee is to use an Aeropress. It’s basically a bit like the moka pot and a bit like the coffee press at the same time.
Aeropress vs Moka Pot
An Aeropress can make very strong coffee without a machine but it is usually filtered through a paper filter. The coffee is brewed under no pressure like a french press but pressed through a paper filter disk. The final coffee tastes more like french press than moka but it is stronger and more concentrated than french press is.
Basically if you like moka but don’t want the oils or as much of the body (fines) then the Aeropress is going to be right up your alley.
Likewise, if you like French press coffee but wish it was stronger but not bitter then using the Aeropress to brew will make for a great experiment.
The only problem is that the Aeropress can’t make as much coffee at once as a large french press can so you’ll probably have to brew your coffee one cup at a time which can be a drag if you like having 2-3 cups of coffee every day.
Best Moka Pots
Traditional moka pots are made from aluminum but the best moka pots are made of stainless steel which makes them safer, more durable, and easier to maintain. The best moka pots for sale today include:
- The Bialetti Venus 6-Cup Stovetop Espresso Maker
- The BonVIVO Intenca 4-Cup Italian Moka Pot
- The Cuisinox Roma 6-cup Stainless Steel Stovetop Moka Pot
These are our favorites because they are all made from high quality parts and have easy to find replacement pieces such as screens, filter baskets, and gaskets for the inevitable misplaced or damaged piece.
Best French Press
The best french press coffee makers are slightly larger and made from insulated stainless steel which helps in maintaining a good brewing temperature from start to finish. The best French presses for sale today include:
- The Espro P7 Insulated Stainless Steel French press
- The Frieling USA Double Wall French Press w/ Dual Filtration Screen
- The BNUNWISH Vacuum Insulated Borosilicate Glass Coffee Press
You’ll also notice that each of these coffee presses have double filtration built into the plunger which will reduce the fines that make it to your cup. This is just another feature that cheap french presses typically don’t include.
Making Coffee on the Stove
There are only a few ways of making coffee on the stove. The moka pot is probably the best method but percolators and Turkish coffee are excellent alternative methods. Turkish coffee will be the strongest options and percolators will be the easiest to make.
A small amount of people may also enjoy boiling water and coffee grind and pouring the coffee out like they did in the old-west over a campfire but I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody with the amount of quality camping friendly and direct heat coffee makers these days.