11 Moka Pot Mistakes To Avoid For Better Coffee


Why doesn't my moka pot brew good coffee header image

Not getting the delicious coffee you were expecting from your moka pot? Here’s what could be going wrong.

There are several reasons why your moka pot produces less than perfect coffee. The choice of beans, roast and grind size are big factors but there can also be some things going wrong with the pot or process like leaking seals, using too much heat and not breaking in your pot properly.

Below you can find a list of mistakes you can avoid or changes you can make to your moka pot brewing process so you can get the coffee you like.

1.    Wrong Grind Size

One of the big parts of making good coffee with any method is using the right grind size. Every method requires its own grind size for optimal results. The grind size is the size of the coffee particles. Different sizes make a huge difference in taste.

For a moka pot you want a grind that’s a little coarser than for espresso. Espresso grounds are super fine and can clog up the filter or over extract causing a more bitterness. On the other hand, if it’s too coarse, the moka pot can’t create enough pressure and the water will extract less from the grounds resulting in sour coffee that’s not as strong as you’d like.

A medium-fine grind is a good size for a moka pot.

If you’re using pre-ground coffee, it’s probably a bit too coarse. Try a bag that’s ground for espresso and see if you get better results. I know I just said above that espresso grounds are too fine but pre-ground espresso powder is usually slighlty coarser than ideal for an espresso machine which means it’s in the range for a moka pot.

Getting a simple hand grinder and a bag of fresh beans will greatly improve your coffee whatever brew method you use. Check out the Hario Slim if you want to try out grinding your own beans but don’t want to spend too much money. The TimeMore C2 is a good option if you are serious about grinding your own coffee but don’t want to break the bank.

Untamped grounds in a moka pot

2.    Bad Coffee Beans

The choice of beans or ground coffee has a big impact on the taste of the final brew. This is the case for any method of coffee brewing and a stovetop espresso maker is no different. What you can get your hands on is different for everyone and what is “good”  is also different for everyone. There are so many different types of coffees and even the process how they’re treated makes a big difference in the final result. Some types of coffee work better for certain brew methods though.

Whole beans

If you’re not happy with your moka pot results and you’re using pre-ground coffee, switching to whole beans and grinding your own coffee will massively improve the taste. However, since you’re here, you’re probably not happy with the taste. The point still stands though, freshly ground beans will almost always taste better but it’s a bit more work.

Taste wise, it’s hard to recommend one type just because there are so many types of beans and tastes. Experimenting is a good idea to see what you like.

A good place to start is to buy coffee that is 100% Arabica and at least mentions where in the world it came from. Arabica beans are naturally quite fruity and have less bitterness than Robusta. The origin does say something about the taste but it mostly says something about the quality of the beans. Many supermarket coffees are a blend from around the world which is most likely not the best quality there is.

If you’re looking for a bold, strong, bitter and dark taste, try a coffee blend with some Robusta type beans in it. This will give you a bolder taste and more caffeine although you lose some of the fruitiness of Arabica.

wooden spoons with increasingly finer ground coffee

Roast

Even more important for a moka pot than the type of beans might be the roast level. Coffee beans are roasted to different levels of darkness which has a huge impact on the taste and texture of the coffee.

Light roasts preserve the most of the origin flavors of the beans. Often lightly roasted coffee is of higher quality (because you can taste the original flavors) is more fruity, has a bit more acidity but also less bitterness.

The darker a bean has more dark, burnt, bitter flavors since you’re caramelizing more and more of the sugars in the beans. Dark roasted beans provide the taste most people associate with coffee. The bitterness and dark flavors are what most people expect from coffee and especially from a moka pot which makes coffee that’s close to espresso.

Dark roasted coffees work better in a moka pot but that doesn’t mean light roasts can’t work. If you want more bitterness, darkness and a thicker mouthfeel from your coffee, going darker is a good option. On the other hand if you want to reduce bitterness, going for a lighter roast is the right way to go.

Some brands don’t actually display roast level on the bag. However, usually they will not a ‘strength’ level. The strength level usually correlates with a roast level, stronger being darker and vice versa.

3.    Grounds To Water Ratio

To brew good coffee, you need the right ratio of coffee to water. When the ratio is way off, it’ll result in coffee that just doesn’t taste good. Depending on which way the ratio is off, the taste can go off in different directions. Too little grounds could lead to harsh bitterness while too much can cause coffee to be sour. (Yes, I wrote that the correct way around, it’s a bit counterintuitive)

A good ratio to start out for a moka pot is 1:8 (coffee grounds to water in grams). If you’re not happy with the taste, try adjusting the beans and grind first. In a moka pot, usually you can just fill the water up to the safety valve and the filter basket to the rim and you’re in the ballpark for the right ratio. However, if you want to make sure you’re getting it right, measuring is the best way to find out.

Read more about moka pot coffee ratio here.

Weighing both the grounds and water helps you to find out where you are and what to adjust. If you just eyeball it every time you make coffee, you can have a slightly different ratio every time and you don’t know if a change in taste came from changing the ratio or any other change you made.

To get the same cup of coffee every time, you’ll get the best results with a scale. A coffee scale might seem over the top but it’s the best way to get the same ratio every time.

4.    Tamping The Grounds

Don’t tamp the grounds in the filter basket. While you do this in an espresso machine and a moka pot is also know as a stovetop espresso maker, you shouldn’t do this.

A moka pot works with much lower pressures than an espresso machine (1-2 bar vs. 8-10 bar.) This means that if you tamp the grounds, your moka pot probably won’t create enough pressure to push through the grounds.

This can have several likely effects;

  • The water channels through the weakest part of the coffee bed, resulting in a very watery brew
  • The safety valve activates to relieve the pressure.

Both situations leave you without a cup of coffee. Just pour the grounds into the basket and flatten the mound without any pressure.

5.    Dirty pot

Moka pots always get a bit dirty after a while of use. However, you don’t want to have a lot of nasty stuff living and growing in your pot. Of course boiling water will sterilize most things but if you have mold spores, rust flakes or other things in your pot, get rid of them.

Cleaning with water and vinegar will get rid of most bad things in your moka pot. Boil all the parts of a moka pot (except the silicone gasket) in a big pot with water and vinegar and you’ll be fine. After you use vinegar you should go through the break in process again though to prevent metallic tastes.

After normal use just cleaning with water and letting all the parts air dry will be sufficient.

Click here for more information about cleaning a moka pot.

6.    Not Breaking In Your Moka Pot

That leads to the next point, the break in procedure. If you have a new moka pot or it has been cleaned with a detergent (not advisable), in a dishwasher or vinegar, you should go through the break in process.

That break in process basically means you brew 2 batches of coffee you don’t drink but throw out. This will coat the pot in the natural oils of coffee which prevents the coffee from touching the metal which can cause a metallic taste.

Suggested: How to break in your new moka pot

7.    Starting With Cold water

Starting with cold water in the boiler makes the brew time significantly longer. You have to put the moka pot on the hot stove for longer. This can cause the heat to transfer through the metal into the coffee grounds. This can burn the grounds and cause a burnt/bitter taste. You’re almost roasting the grounds again.

Suggested: Start with hot or cold water in a moka pot?

Starting with hot water reduces the time you have to put your moka pot on the heat which reduces the amount of heat transferred into the grounds. It’s an easy change to make to your brewing process. Just turn on the kettle before starting the other preparations and you can use hot water when ready.

8.    Setting The Stove Too hot

If you set the stove too hot you can get a similar problem as starting with cold water. The coffee can burn and start tasting bad. the most likely result is excessive bitterness.

Also if the stove is set too high, the water can flow through the grounds too quickly which might not do the taste any favors. It reduces the amount of time the water is in contact with the grounds and therefore has less time to extract all the taste from it.

If your moka pot produces excessively bitter coffee, set the stove to a medium-high heat with the aim of having the coffee flow but not shoot out of the tower. Conversely, if you would like more bitterness, turn up the heat.

Click here for more information: How hot should you set the stove for a moka pot?

You want to limit the amount of time the moka pot is exposed to heat but at the same time it’s necessary to get the water boiling. Finding the right balance here is important.

Also, if you have an electric stove, pre-heat the hob about 30 seconds before you have to put the pot on it. Electric stoves take a bit of time to get up to temperature. Putting the moka pot on a cold hob will increase the amount of time the coffee grounds are exposed to heat.

moka pot mountains

9.    Deformed Basket/Lid

It’s possible your moka pot filter basket or filter lid is deformed. If this is the case, the water could pass by the filter without flowing through the bed of coffee. If that’s the case, it’s obviously not going to produce good coffee. It will be very watery.

Often, baskets get deformed because of the way they are emptied. After a pot is cooled down, do you take the basket out and bang it on the side of the sink to get the grounds out? There is a large chance you will damage the basket by doing so. Maybe not the first time but over time it will happen.

Just use your finger and running water to scrape the spent grounds out. This might get your finger a little dirty but is much safer for your filter.

The basket is made of very thin aluminum which is not that hard to damage. When the basked is deformed it doesn’t fit in the boiler as it should anymore. That allows the water to pass by the filter and so not brew any coffee.

The filter lid can also be a problem although it’s less common to deform. You can easily buy replacement filters on Amazon for little money.

Check out the filter for any dents and see if it fits in the boiler without gaps. If you have a damaged filter, you can get replacement parts easily so you don’t have to throw the whole moka pot away.

10. Losing pressure

It’s also a good idea to check if you’re losing pressure along the way to the collector somewhere. The water in the boiler turns into steam. That steam forces the water through the grounds and into the collector.

However, you could be losing some of that pressure along the way. This loss of pressure can cause the extraction of the grounds to change and you’ll likely leak some liquid where you don’t want to. Pressure will take the way of least resistance so if there is another way out, the pressure will likely take it.

There are a few ways you can lose pressure in a moka pot;

Gasket

The silicone gasket that sits between the filter lid and basket could be old and degraded. Many heat cycles and time will make these seals harder and brittle. When this happens, the pressure can push the liquid past the seal instead of through the grounds and into the collector.

Inspect the gasket and see if it’s still intact, flexible and undamaged. If it looks like it should be replaced, get a new one. They’re cheap and readily available since it’s the part that wears out the quickest.

Suggested: Why does my moka pot keep leaking?

Screw thread

If there is liquid leaking through the seam, it could be the gasket but the first thing to try is to just screw the parts tighter together. Often when there is a leak there, this will fix it.

However, be careful not to tighten it too hard. Moka pots are usually made out of aluminum which isn’t a super hard metal so it’s not too difficult to damage it.

Also check the threads themselves for any damage. Because aluminum isn’t too hard, debris in the threads while screwing the parts together can damage them. If there is a small nick in the threads, this shouldn’t really impact the seal as long as it’s tight enough and the gasket is in good shape.  

11. You Just Don’t Like The Style Of Coffee

If you tried all the above things and you still don’t like your moka pot coffee, you might just not like it. Don’t give up too early though playing around with the ratio, grind size and beans can get you to the result I want.


However, if you’ve tried some things and you don’t get anywhere close to a cup of coffee you like, it’s possible you just don’t like the style it brews.  Everybody has a different taste and that’s fine. If you want a cleaner cup of coffee, try a paper filter like a Hario V60. If you want something even stronger you probably want a ‘real’ espresso.

If you expect a moka pot to brew coffee that’s the same as a good espresso, you’ll be disappointed. It’s just not the same. You can get close but if you’re expecting the same coffee from a $25 moka pot as from a $2500 espresso machine, you’re not going to get it.

Suggested: Does a moka pot brew espresso?

Favorite Moka Pot Products

You don’t need many things to brew good coffee with a Moka pot. Here are the few things you need to make the best possible coffee.

  • Moka Pot: Just buy a high quality Moka pot from the get go. The cheaper ones can be messy when brewing. Bialetti is the original and still one of the best with it’s classic looks. They cost a bit more than the cheap ones but these can last for decades and the parts that wear out are easily available for the Bialetti Moka pots. The 3 cup size is good for a single person (Amazon)
  • Beans: Good coffee starts with good beans. You can’t make bad beans taste good. Espresso roast beans are good for a Moka pot and will get you closer to that typical espresso taste. Peet’s coffee does a great 100$ Arabica espresso roast. Give it a try, you can get it here on Amazon
  • Grinder: Using whole beans means you need to grind them at home. This improves the taste because the grounds are much fresher. A Hario Slim (Amazon) is a great starting point for the starting home barista. If you want a good hand grinder for a good price, check out the TimeMore C2 (Amazon)
  • Scales: To get consistent results, a set of accurate scales is essential. Check out this Apexstone scale (Amazon). I’ve been using it for more than a year and while it doesn’t look the sleekest, it’s cheap and just as accurate as more expensive coffee scales. It just reacts a little slower.

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