Bringing Europe Home

Budget Barista Series: Espresso

Espresso is the foundation for many popular hot and cold Italian beverages, so by rights it should have gone first in my “Budget Barista Series.”  But cappuccino’s more fun, and one of my all-time favorite drinks besides, so it got top billing.


The Italian cousin to Turkish coffee, espresso is strong, dark, and not for the faint-hearted.  It is made from a dark-roasted bean and served in precious little cups in portions usually of about 1 ½ ounces.  It is produced in expensive espresso machines or in humble stove-top espresso makers.  The serious espresso drinkers will use words like “tamping” and “crema” (and perhaps insist that the stove top maker does not produce true espresso), but not me!  The humble Bialetti is what sat on the stove of the Italian family I lived with and made their after dinner espresso every night.  If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for me!


Bialetti has been in the stove-top espresso maker business for about 75 years, and they know what they’re doing.  Although they have added to their line, the Moka Express is their original stove-top maker and readily available in stores across the U.S.  It comes in different sizes, from 1 cup to 12 cup; I have the 6 cup version.

The stove-top maker consists of three parts.  Water goes in the base (there is a fill line inside to guide you).  Coffee goes in the filter section.  You should use a dark, espresso-roast coffee in a fine grind (but not too fine!)  The finer the grind, the denser the coffee.  The finest espresso grind would be used for an espresso machine (this is where “tamping” comes in), but a slightly coarser grind would be appropriate for a stove-top maker.  You don’t need to pack in the grinds—they will pack in the process.

Screw on the top of the maker, and set it on high heat on your burner.  If you preheat the burner while you’re filling your espresso maker, your coffee will brew faster.  The espresso is made when the water in the bottom portion is heated to a point that it is forced up through the coffee filter into the top chamber.  In a few minutes, you will hear the espresso bubble and steam, and at this time, it’s about done.

You can view the results for yourself if you take great care with a pot holder, because the top chamber is now full of hot, steamy, burn-potential liquid.  (You see what I risk for the sake of this blog?) 🙂

Serve immediately, as a base for your lovely Italian breakfast beverage, or a stiff afternoon pick-me-up, or as an elegant after-dinner digestivo.


  1. Great information. Espresso is my favorite coffee.

    • Thank you, Konstantina! So, how do you make your espresso??

      • With the same espresso old machine, like yours.

        • Okay! It’s encouraging to know that even in Greece, the stove top method holds!

          • I was working in a company with many cafe outlets and I had the chance to educate my self a little bit more about espresso, we used Illy which is under my humble opinion the best.

            • Well, I thank you for your humble opinion, Konstantina! I’ll have to try the Illy and compare. 🙂

  2. Thanks you for stopping by. I think we now agree: I need a Bialetti. Happy day to you!

    • I’ll look forward to your Bialetti post when you get one!

  3. Gina

    I love espresso! Even mediocre espresso tastes divine compared to mediocre coffee. At home, Jura makes the BEST coffee I’ve ever tasted; I’ve enjoyed it at the home of friends, family and kitchen store samples 🙂 Alas, their price tag is out of our budget so we settled on the Nespresso machine and have enjoyed the same machine for 14 years. The convenience is awesome!!! I can make a latte in 90 seconds. I order the pods on line and they deliver in 2 business days. Your stove top method is the most economical. cheers!

    • I’m glad that Nespresso machine has been faithfully churning out great espresso for you after all those years! Quite a nice endorsement.

  4. So, is it true that Cappuccino is only ordered in the morning during breakfast and that after lunch you go with an Espresso? That otherwise, it is just considered gauche?

    • I’m not the authority on Italian idiocyncrasies, but my understanding is that they do make a habit of having their milky coffee drinks before noon and consider it a bit gauche to order them after noon. The twist though, from what I hear, is that it’s acceptable for an Italian to order, say, a latte macchiato after noon, but if an American does that, it’s accepted with stifled chortles from Italian waiters.

  5. My Bialetti makes the best coffee ever. Every now and again I consider getting a Nespresso machine as I would have my coffee in seconds and not minutes, then I remind myself of the ritual of making on the stove. LOVE IT!

    • Good for you, little piggy, to consider it a ritual rather than a hassle! Personally, I think the Bialetti beats the Nespresso in the taste test, anyway 🙂

  6. We LOVE stovetop! It’s our only coffee now, we even choose it over espresso from the cafe. Cute blog – look forward to looking around 🙂

    • Thank you, Cristinajane! And I’m glad to know there’s another vote for the stovetop out there!

  7. Hmmm, an authentic Italian Espresso set would be a lovely souvenir! I can’t wait to have coffee in Italy! Soon. Soooooon. 🙂

    • I’d LOVE to have coffee in Italy again! Buon viaggio!

  8. Che bello!

  9. You can’t beat real live Italian coffee. I remember when I moved there for my studies and looking everywhere for the kettle in the kitchen. They then told me they rarely use kettles because they only really drink coffee so only need one of those percolator things!

    • Yes, a good jolt of the real thing is one of the pleasures of living there, isn’t it! Where did you live when you were studying there?

      • I lived in Bergamo near Milan, travelled around during the year then stayed in Puglia at the end of my time there and taught English. E stato benissimo! It definitely taught me a lot about food, the importance quality of ingredients etc 🙂

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