Moka pot: A renowned Italian coffee maker with a timeless design

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Milica Sterjova
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One of the most familiar coffee brewing methods in history is the Moka pot, invented by Luigi di Ponti and produced by Alfonso Bialetti. The Moka pot was invented in 1933 and is revolutionary for more than one reason. First of all, it was one of the first kitchen items to be made from aluminum, which was highly advertised by the Italian government at the time and proclaimed the “national metal.” Secondly, before the Moka’s invention, espresso was drunk in cafes or restaurants – outside the home. It required huge, expensive machines for preparation until the small aluminum coffee pot arrived and offered the possibility of home-prepared espresso that everybody could enjoy.

Bialetti had gained experience working in France before opening his own metal workshop in Italy. The story says that he used to watch his wife do the laundry with the help of a primitive washing machine consisting of a bucket and a lid that had a tube on it. The bucket would be filled with water, closed with the lid and placed over a fire. The pressure would cause the water to be pushed through the tube. This gave him an idea to try the same thing with coffee. The final result was the famous stovetop Moka pot.

The octagonal shape was inspired by silver coffee services used by the rich Italian families. In the first several years he marketed the product locally and sold about 70,000 pieces until 1940. During the war, due to rising prices of both coffee and aluminum, production and sales declined. In 1946, Renato Bialetti, Alfonso’s son, took over his father’s company and immediately concentrated on a single product – the Moka Express.

Bialetti Moka pots. Author: Arek Olek. CC BY 2.0

Renato started a huge marketing campaign using billboards, newspapers and the radio. He also created some impressive installations at the annual Milan Fair where a huge Moka pot sculpture was placed. The enormous coffee pot was suspended in the air and it looked like it was pouring coffee into an enormous cup. The famous company slogan was “An espresso at home just like the one at the coffee shop.”

Making coffee in the Moka pot. Author: Mingo Hagen. CC BY 2.0

Renato’s ideas were crucial to the evolution of the Moka pot from a locally sold product to an internationally renowned one. He modernized production, opening a new factory in the 1950s. He combined machine made parts with handcrafted ones, which preserved the quality of the product. The company even had a cartoon advertisement running from 1950 until the late 1970s, which became one of the most popular commercials on TV at the time.

Components of a Bialetti Moka Express pot. Author: Jcmontero. CC BY-SA 4.0

Other companies appeared after the war, producing similar products. In order to distinguish the brand from the competitors, Bialetti introduced a mascot whose appearance was based on Renato’s father. Since 1953, every Moka pot produced has had a caricature of Bialetti as a mustached man ordering a cup of coffee.

The mustached man is the famous mascot of the pot. Author: William. CC BY-SA 2.0

This coffee maker’s popularity has survived for decades because of its simple construction and ease of use. It consists of three sections. The lowest piece holds the water, while the finished coffee goes to the top section. Between these two there is a metal funnel holding a perforated disc where the ground coffee is placed. The boiled water goes through the ground coffee forced by the pressure and into the pot on top.

Two generic Bialetti Moka Express stovetop coffee makers. Author: El Grafo. CC BY-SA 4.0

As the years passed, Bialetti introduced new designs of the pot as well as new materials. Some of the Moka pots were made from stainless steel and a new, more efficient pressure system was introduced. The development of new technology gave the possibility of electric Moka pots.

A selection of Bialetti Moka pots. Author: Takeaway. CC BY-SA 4.0

Many have argued that the aluminum changes the taste of coffee, but this doesn’t change the pot’s impact on revolutionizing coffee-making on a global level. From the 1950s until present day, more than 300 million pots have been sold around the globe. It is estimated that about 90% of Italian homes own a Moka pot. It is one of the best Italian designs in history and world-famous museums have it as a part of their collections. When Renato Bialetti died in 2016, he was cremated and his ashes were put in a big Moka pot and then placed in the family cemetery.