Bialetti Moka Express

Bialetti Moka Express

It's rise:

Bialetti Moka Express, the original product name of the moka pot designed by Alfonso Bialetti in Italy, is a symbol of 20th century ingenuity.

It is in the Museum of Modern Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and other temples to design.

It is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most popular coffee maker, and was for decades commonplace, not only in Italy but in Europe,  Cuba, Argentina, Australia, and the United States.

Until the late 19th century, Italians drank coffee in pretty much the same way as the Turks. Coffee and water are combined in a long-handled metal pot called a cezve and held over a heat source.

The mixture combines as it boils, and is poured into espresso cups, where the grounds settle to the bottom. Italy never really left behind the idea of small amounts of very strong coffee. The thinner, lighter, larger cups of coffee were more a northern European and North American thing.

Italians started coming up with their own gadgets for brewing coffee in the 19th century, but the biggest by far was the idea of applying pressure to coffee in order to create a strong, and more importantly fast, drink.

The first known patent for a machine we now recognize as an espresso machine was registered by Angelo Moriondo, who created a giant complicated steam-driven machine in 1884, but who never put it into production.

Luigi Bezzera, from Milan, modified the Moriondo patent, with his design was further modified by Desidiero Pavoni, whose La Pavoni introduced the world to espresso in 1906, at a world’s fair held in Milan.

La Pavioni

The La Pavioni was a large complex metal contraption that had a compartment of water at the bottom of the device, which was heated by placing the entire thing on a flame.

A tube leads up to a circular puck of ground coffee and as the water boiled, pressure forced steam and hot water up through the tube and through the coffee grounds.

The pressure brews coffee much quicker, with the strong coffee flowing into a chamber, ready to be poured into cups, which is indecently, the exact same way a moka pot works, though on a smaller scale.

It was a huge hit, but it was very expensive and cumbersome, not suitable for use at home, which was fine for a few decades because coffee had never been a beverage consumed at home.

Based on Pavoni's device, Bialetti, in 1933 patented his Bialetti Moka Express. It uses steam power to force hot water through the coffee, like the La Pavoni. The characteristic hourglass shape, with the eight-sided chambers, was in the design from the beginning.

Post-war Italy had a surging economy, a growing middle class and the same access to the world’s products that the rest of Europe boasted. Alfonso Bialetti’s son, Renato took over his father's workshop in 1946 and decided to stop making everything except one product: the Bialetti Moka Express.

The by then, low price of aluminum and of coffee, plus a growing middle class of people who could afford products like this, made the moka pot a perfect device for the time. The Bialetti Moka Express was the first way Italians could realistically make coffee at home and it was a huge success.

It spread to countries with large Italian immigrant populations, becoming common in the Italian-American communities in and around Philadelphia, New York City and Chicago. Also Argentina and Australia, both of which had large waves of Italian immigration in the 20th century.

It's fall:

The moka pot’s use went into a huge decline in the 1990s, continuing into the 2000s, fueled by espresso bar culture, with companies like Starbucks changing the entire concept of coffee in North America.

It's rebirth:

However, in the last decade and especially the 2020s for obvious reasons, North American coffee culture is again changing, coming to embrace coffee at home, with people interested in home brewing methods and the good old moka pot is making a big comeback, as people realize the moka pot can make a great cup of coffee, recognizing the moka pot for what it is: A very clever, very simple and very economical way to make a good espresso, cappuccino or regular coffee at home.

The actual word 'moka is named after the Yemeni city of Mocha.