In casa, un espresso come al bar!
Image by ilmungo
Italians love coffee, it’s no secret.
Well, for the overwhelming majority of Italians, coffee means a Bialetti Moka Express coffee maker. I was supremely confused by the fact that in the U.S. "moka" means coffee with chocolate. For Italians, moka is synonymous with home-made coffee. According to Bialetti’s website, more than 90% of Italians own at least one Moka Express coffee maker.
I have four.
They come in different sizes, so I have a 1-cup, a 3-cup, and a post-drinking binge hangover curing (or alternatively all-nighter pulling) 6-cup giant — although some will scoff and scorn, and point out that it is merely the half-way point of Bialetti sizes, because the moka comes in a 9- and even a 12-cup size. And, because there is nothing worse than waking up in the morning in a strange place and not being able to drink a decent cup of caffé, a Bialetti Elettrika, a 2-cup moka with a heating base that plugs into any 110 v to 240 v outlet (and can even work with a car’s cigarette lighter outlet, provided you buy the appropriate adapter, which I feel might be a little excessive, like bordering on an OCD-ish need to have coffee that I’m not comfortable indulging, and therefore I do not own) for a perfect coffee on the go.
As advertisements for the machine have pointed out since the early days, the original Bialetti Moka is only the one with l’omino con i baffi ("the little man with the mustache"). He’s vaguely coffee pot-shaped, a little large in the belly, and always pointing up, in the typical gesture of someone ordering a coffee at a bar (in Italy, bars are where you get coffee — and wine and beers and croissants and snacks and so forth, but principally, really, bars are defined by the fact that there is an espresso coffee machine. Pubs are a newfangled import from Ireland and England, characterized by the presence of beer and other spirits but not coffee, and generally nobody under 35).
Apparently, Bialetti was founded by Mr. Alfonso Bialetti, who had worked in an aluminum factory, and one day, while watching women wash clothes in these round washing machines, had the inspiration to build a better coffee machine, that would use steam to force water through the grounds. Until then, there was no real choice but to go to a coffee bar, where coffee was made via pressured "espresso" machines. In 1933, Alfonso came up with the Moka Express.
The great advantages of this new machine were that a) it was exceedingly simple to use; b) it made really good coffee, a valid substitute for what you could get at a bar (in fact, their slogan was a casa, un espresso meglio che al bar, "in your home, a better espresso than at the bar"); and finally, strangely, c) that they were made of aluminum instead of steel. Supposedly an inferior material, Bialetti claimed that the advantage of aluminum is that it absorbs the flavors from previous brews, so that with successive coffees the pot becomes "seasoned", and the quality of the product keeps improving with use. This is why you should never ever clean your Moka with soap, it will just get rid of all that loving seasoning that’s been accumulating.
Alfonso, however, was not a good marketer, and sales stagnated until his son, Renato, took over the company after World War II. He started a massive marketing campaign, which, combined with the post-war economic boom in Italy, pushed sales of Moka machines to 4 million units per year! And he came up with L’Omino, apparently a caricaturish portrait of his father.
Now they sell all kinds of new and complicated coffee makers, some that make "american style" coffee, some that guarantee the presence of crema (the little layer of froth on top of espresso), but for me, all I need is a good old Moka Express. After all, it will just keep getting better the more I use, right?
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