The Little Man With the Mustache

This story originally appeared on the Gents Cafe Newsletter. You can subscribe here.

By now, my love for Italy can come as no surprise; the same can be said about my love for coffee. But again, with coffee and Italy it seems like you can’t have one without the other.

Many of us know him – It might sound crazy, but I can say that he lives in the vast majority of Italian homes – L’omino coi Baffi – “The little man with the mustache”. He is the little guy that helps us kickstart our aging corpuses in the morning. He is synonymous with the iconic Moka pot – probably the most iconic coffee brewer in the world.

Quick history sum-up: invented by Alfonso Bialetti, the first prototype of the Moka Express sees the light of day in 1933. Now, even though it was a prototype, only very few changes have been made to the original design and the main idea is still the same – not many things can boast of being nearly untouched for close to 100 years. And this is not only a coffee maker – it is culture. Actually, saying that the Moka Express is an essential part of Italian culture might be something of an understatement – research shows that the Moka Express is a part of 9/10 households in Italy, and Bialetti has sold between 200-300 million Moka pots. That is a lot!

To me, the Moka Pot sums up so many of the things that I value – not only in coffee making but also in general. There is a ritual to it – the process that you need to go through, and all individual units need to merge into a higher entity and when doing so, the result is strong, pitch black, hot and heavenly. It is an icon in its field. It only gets better with age and patina – and call me old-fashioned, but I love how the industrial design of a proper gas stove and the original designed Moka Express fits so perfectly together. That alone gives me huge satisfaction.

Now, the process itself. It’s easy, no doubt: water, coffee, and fire. However, it does require some fiddling, adjustments, and fine-tuning. There are numerous guides out there, and here’s mine:

  • Put on Toto Cutogno to set the Italian mood
  • I always use whole beans, ground for the purpose – grind must be somewhere between espresso and drip
  • Fill grind in filter/funnel – no tamping!
  • Pre-heat the water before adding it to the bottom – if you do not, the heat, while waiting for the water to boil, will start roasting your beans, giving it a bitter taste
  • Place over open fire/gas stove/induction/trangia
  • When the water tank has emptied, cool down to stop the boiling immediately

Serve! With a side of Fernet Branca.

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