There is no espresso pot like the original Bialetti Moka Express pot. Made in Italy, a Bialetti is identifiable by the smartly dressed triangle man painted on the side, wearing a painter’s moustache, bowtie, and double-peaked hat, pointing to the sky with his arm extended above his head. Each size of pot, ranging from single to six espresso shot capacity, is an enlarged clone of the smaller, such that side by side the collection looks like a cartoon family as a six-year-old would conceive of it. An espresso pot consists of three parts: the boiler base that you fill with water up to the safety valve (there to relieve pressure in case a poorly maintained pot malfunctions), the center basket filter that you fill with your choice of coffee grounds, and the upper collection chamber into which the brewed espresso bubbles after passing through the coffee grounds and a central, vertical tube whose shape mimics that of the painted man. The basket, a shallow cylinder dotted with small holes and a tube protruding from the bottom, nests comfortably inside the boiler. The collection chamber, with its black, half-attached, silicon or wooden handle, black gumdrop top handle, and angular spout, screws onto the bottom, unifying the trio as an eight-sided, stainless steel hourglass. Like the pointing man, the pot stands at attention, the pinnacle of durable Italian aesthetic and design.
I purchased my first Bialetti Moka Express pot when I moved to Hoboken the summer after my freshman year of college, while I was interning and working in the City. I’d never had my own, but come to rely on stovetop espresso toward the end of high school for my daily caffeine, brewed each morning in one of seven or so different pots. After searching for a Moka pot at several Jersey Italian delis and even the Museum of Modern Art (they only had four-shot pots stocked), I resigned to ordering one from Amazon.
The aroma of Lavazza espresso is the smell of weekday mornings and my parents sitting at the kitchen table, my dad in his white bathrobe and my mom in her matching, flannel pajama set, decorated with a whimsical print of jumping dogs or valentine envelopes. I relished the smell of espresso long before I could bear its bitter taste, and I have gradually eased myself from disgustingly sweet mocha, to latte, to cappuccino, to pure espresso. A cortado with equal parts milk and espresso is my happy medium now.
My own Moka Express has been my relief from Nestle instant espresso powder mixed with boiling water each morning in my miniscule, New York University dorm room, made drinkable by milk warmed and foamed with my electric milk frother. My Bialetti now lives between the back two burners of the kitchen stove in any apartment I call home, there each morning to ground my day in ritual.
Whenever I visit one of my two older sisters, I wake up knowing that I may place an identical Moka pot on their stove and listen for that spitting gurgle of stray espresso droplets and steam that announce the brewed espresso. The brewing process of stovetop espresso is different from that of espresso machines used in coffee shops, which means that home – whether at my parents’ house, my sisters’ apartments, or my current residence – is the only place where I can drink real “coffee.”
You should never use soap to clean a Moka pot. Like a cast iron pan, years of use season a Moka pot until it infuses your daily espresso with the essence and longevity of that ritual. My Bialetti turns a year old this June. Still a young pot, its outside is almost as spotless as when I first removed it from its box. On the inside, the crevices where the panels intersect around the inside of the upper chamber are beginning to stain, and the base chamber is spotted with white mineral deposit. But the smartly dressed man on the side remains as crisply printed as ever. The collection of Moka pots at my parents’ house present a spectrum of wearing and aging, including one with a deformed handle melted and hardened after a close call with a stovetop flame. They document my family’s history, one espresso brew at a time, and one day mine will do the same.