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Moka Pots

Published January 2012

How we tested

Often referred to as poor-man’s espresso machines, Italian moka pots are small, inexpensive (under $100) coffee makers that use steam pressure to force hot water from a bottom chamber up through coffee grounds. That pressure isn’t high enough for true espresso extraction, but the coffee they make is stronger and more complex than anything brewed in a drip machine.            

Of the eight pots we tested—three traditional 3-cup stovetop designs and five electric models with capacities twice as large—the electric mokas were universally disappointing, as they failed to deliver enough power and produced flat, characterless coffee. Conversely, two out of three of the stovetop devices, including our favorite, brewed rich, full-bodied coffee—once we mastered subtle techniques like gently tamping the grinds and immediately removing the pot from the heat.

Methodology

Moka pots are simple to use, but getting great coffee from them takes some finesse. After some trial and error, here’s what we learned.

• Use a medium grind coffee (slightly coarser than espresso grind).

• Fill the bottom chamber with room-temperature water until the water barely touches the bottom of the safety valve. (Some recommend using hot water to brew faster, but when the two halves of the pot are at different temperatures, the metal expands or contracts; this can lead to worn threads and leaking.)

• Tamp the coffee gently. It’s not necessary to firmly pack the grounds as with an espresso machine, but gentle tamping helps to produce a full-bodied brew. Fill filter basket until coffee is slightly mounded and then lightly tamp it until flat and even with the rim.

• Keep the chamber threads and rim of the filter basket clear of coffee grounds. This ensures a tight, leak-free seal.

• Use the highest possible heat and the shortest possible brew time. If the heat is too low, the coffee tastes flat; too hot, and it burns. On a gas burner, the flame should be as high as possible without extending beyond the diameter of the pot. (This also prevents the bottom from scorching and the handle from melting.)

• Watch the pot. Do not allow the coffee to boil (the extraction will be bitter) and take the pot off the flame as soon as about two-thirds of the coffee is in the upper chamber. The spout will start to gurgle and bubble when the last of the coffee is emerging. Brewing should take no more than about 5 minutes.

• Do not use detergents to wash the pot. A paste made from water and baking soda will clean without stripping or damaging the finish.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*