Let me start off by making it clear that I am no coffee-making expert, and that the information I attempt to provide here is a product of many other people's advice and experience. Moka pots are a completely new thing for me, but I wanted to try a method of making coffee that would allow me to travel wherever I wanted with it, without the restriction of a mains socket. I also quite liked the primal appeal of doing everything manually.
So this is a meticulously engineered piece of kit, without a shadow of a doubt. For me, it has proven to be well worth the £40, considering decent espresso machines arguably start at around 10 times that. Bialetti really have left no stone unturned, but then I guess they did invent the moka pot, and are Italian, purveyors of the finest coffee in the world. I bought this along with the Bialetti Tuttocrema milk frother - La Cafetiere Bialetti Tuttocrema Frothing Jug, Teflon Non Stick Surface and Double Filter For Extra Frothy Milk
, which I have been making fantastic lattes with just recently. Next I will buy the Bialetti espresso cup set to make it a perfect matching collection - Bialetti Man with Coffee Bean Set of Espresso cups and saucers pack of 6
Before and the first week after I bought it, I spent a huge amount of time researching coffee forums, scouring review sites and studying YouTube videos, trying to find out what other people thought to it, and the results they achieved with it. There seemed to be a lot of controversy, namely people complaining about a "burnt after taste", that the crema it produces is "only fake" and is short-lived, and even people claiming that the valve was "sticking" and had to be released by hand on occasion. Just lately I discovered the causes for these problems. However, I too was experiencing problems in the first week. The coffee was coming out very weak, and totally undrinkable; a million miles away from the stuff I'd made and drunk in cafes. I too found that the crema I was getting atop the espresso was very thin and short-lived. I was seriously beginning to think I had wasted my money.
That was until a thought occurred to me and I discovered the issue. I had bought myself a manual burr grinder to greatly enhance the whole coffee making experience, yet was lost when it came to adjusting it to the appropriate grind setting for a moka pot. Without thinking, off to Google I went. People seemed to be saying that for moka pots the best grind setting is medium to coarse, and that anything finer would "clog up" the filter. So for the first week I followed their advice. But then I had a few people tell me the opposite of their advice in coffee suppliers; that the grind setting for any espresso, whether made in a moka pot or an espresso machine, should be fine. It suddenly clicked. Maybe the first lot of people hadn't a clue what they were talking about. So I went ahead and adjusted the grinder to a fine setting. That was it. Suffice to say my espressos are now delicious, very strong, and often trump ones at the cafe. I can now achieve a nice thick "authentic" crema (as if there was such a thing as a fake crema), just like I get in the cafes, that lasts.
I believe that so long as you stick to the above tips, and remember to clean the pot with nothing but hot water and a sponge, you shouldn't go far wrong. Also worth remembering is that you need to make a few "throw-away" espressos - ideally with cheap coffee - to start with, to get rid of the metallic taste and help season the pot. I also towel dry mine after use to avoid corrosion and limescale buildup.
I think it's important to remember though that no matter how much you master making espresso with a moka pot, it seems it will always be different, to a greater or lesser degree, to espresso made with an espresso machine. And that fact is down to physics, not lack of skill. Illy sums up the cafe espresso perfectly: "A jet of hot water at 88°-93°C (190°-200°F) passes under a pressure of nine or more atmospheres through a seven-gram (.25 oz) cake-like layer of ground and tamped coffee." So essentially, espresso machines use 9 bars or more of hydraulic pressure to force water through the coffee grounds, and can control the temperature of the water, whereas moka pots rely on steam pressure, which on the Bialetti Brikka only produces 2-2.5 bars. The downside to steam pressure is that it requires boiling water to generate, and therefore can overheat and even scorch the coffee if you are not careful to remove the pot from the stove as soon as the coffee begins to emerge, which on the Brikka is very rapidly. Another reason why the coffee will burn and become "over-extracted" is if you grind it *too* fine. Though you don't want it coarse or even medium, there is a fine balance. And if you don't get it right, 2 bars just isn't enough torque to force the water through the coffee properly, and the coffee will effectively create its own "tamp", creating more and more resistance for the water. You will then either see the pressure release valve open, or your coffee will come out looking like black treacle.
Nevertheless, all this isn't to say that espresso made in moka pots isn't "real" espresso. Espresso is simply Italian for expressed, or fast, and is really just an intense coffee made by forcing water through coffee grounds at pressure. Though moka pots take 2-3 minutes to make an espresso, as opposed to 20-30 seconds with an espresso machine, I still consider this fast enough for me. I myself enjoy the ritual of making it this way, and it seems to make the coffee all the more worth it.
Finally, please forgive me if you think this "review" has provided completely irrelevant and trivial information, but I just felt a lot of things needed to be cleared up where this product is concerned, and people's confusion needed to be cleared. I feel this thing deserves more respect and attention in the coffee world than it's often given.