Most of us grew up with one of these in the house. Cubans adopted the Italian Moka coffee pot and transformed it into the Cuban cafetera to make Cuban coffee. We saw it every morning on the kitchen stove as well as at lunchtime, in the afternoon, and after dinner. They are simple, easy to use, and durable.
Some older Cubans, like my grandmother, preferred the old world style of making coffee. She used a colador.
As a child it always looked to me like a sock hanging from a rack. She would fill the sock with ground coffee and pour steaming hot water into it, letting the coffee drip through into a tin cup. I was too young to drink straight Cuban coffee back then, but it tasted just fine in my cafe con leche.
But it was with a cafetera where I learned to both make and drink Cuban coffee. And with all the modern technology of today, they have not been able to match it in simplicity or taste.
Here is a brief history of the Moka coffee pot, aka the Cuban cafetera (via Atlas Obscura):
The Humble Brilliance of Italy’s Moka Coffee Pot
Bialetti, the Italian maker of the moka pot, a stovetop coffee machine and one of the most iconic kitchen appliances ever created, announced recently that the company is in major trouble—tens of millions of Euros in debt, unpaid salaries and taxes, revenues that are way down and look to be staying that way. In a press release, the company said there are “doubts over its continuity.”
The moka pot is a symbol of Italy: of postwar ingenuity and global culinary dominance. 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 to the point of ubiquity not only in Italy but in Cuba, Argentina, Australia, and the United States. It’s also widely misunderstood and maligned, with approval in the modern coffee world coming perhaps a bit too late, in only the past few years. Get one while you can.
Jeffrey T. Schnapp outlines the history of the moka pot in a 2001 paper called The Romance of Caffeine and Aluminum. In 1918, he writes, a Piedmontese metalworker named Alfonso Bialetti returned home after a decade spent working with aluminum in France. Industrial production of aluminum was new, then; methods for working with it at any real scale had only been developed in 1886. He opened a shop, crafting strong, lightweight aluminum versions of pots and pans that had previously been only available in iron.
Legend has it that the idea for the moka pot came from a laundry boiler, though that’s not confirmed. What is known is that the La Pavoni device was very trendy, and there was also a precedent for a smaller coffee machine: the napoletana. The napoletana is a small metal device with three sections: a chamber of water, a small puck of coffee in the middle, and a chamber on the other end for brewed coffee. Water is heated up with the water chamber on the bottom, and then the entire device is flipped upside-down, allowing the hot water to drip through the coffee beans and gather as coffee in the previously empty chamber. No pressure is involved.
Bialetti worked on some combination of the La Pavoni and the napoletana for a few years and in 1933 patented his Bialetti Moka Express. It’s three-chambered, like the napoletana, but uses steam power to force hot water through the coffee, like the La Pavoni. The characteristic hourglass shape, with the eight-sided chambers, was there from the beginning.
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