Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bialetti Mukka Express Review

The Bialetti Mukka Express is a stove top cappuccino / latte maker. I've always wanted to buy a real espresso maker, but my priorities haven't allowed me to spend more than $1,000 on a machine and $400 on a grinder so that I could come close to making a cup as good as a local coffee house. That math just doesn't add up in my head. $3.50 for the best latte money can buy or spend $1,500 on equipment to come close?

That's why this device intrigued me. It's cheap. The selling price is $89. I've got a decent burr grinder at home that I figured would be good enough to complement the Bialetti. The Mukka Express has received some decent reviews and its estimated that nearly every household in Italy has one type of a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker.

Last weekend I was running some errands at Target and was browsing through the small appliances section and saw a few boxes of the Mukka Express on the endcap. I saw one of those little red stickers that are the markdown stickers, so I ran over to check out the price. It was marked down to $22. That was too good of a deal to pass up so it came home with me.

This device, like any other coffee maker, requires some trial and error to get things right. Here are a few tips:

-Like any other coffee making, buy fresh beans and grind them just before making the coffee on the finest setting on the grinder.
-When filling the coffee into the receptacle, make sure that the area around the threads are wiped clean. Any coffee grounds will mess up the seal and coffee will leak out.
-Tighten the top down onto the bottom very snugly. Don't be a wuss here. If you wuss out, bad things will happen.
-Use the small gas burner on medium heat. This is critical. If you use the large burner and the flames wrap around the sides of the maker, bad things will happen. Trust me.
-Once the valve opens and the milk is done frothing (about 15 seconds), leave it on the flame for another 30 seconds. If you pour the coffee right after it is done frothing, it won't be warm enough.
-When cleaning, run cold water over the maker to eliminate any built up pressure remaining in the lower part. This will help you seperate the unit. For those of you that have cooked with pressure cookers, its the same thing.

The factors that will affect the coffee the most are the quality of the beans and the amount of heat you give it. Each stove is slightly different, so vary the flame until it hits the sweet spot.

The instructions recommend making 3 pots of coffee and discarding them before drinking. Today, I finally got around to doing that and made a few different pots to sample the capuccino. Again, this is about expectations. If you've sampled coffee from some of the good independent coffee houses in Seattle, the Mukka Express isn't going to compare. This unit will definitely make a capuccino as good as Starbucks. I should cut Starbucks a little slack. They do make acceptable coffee drinks. Its hard for them to be able to compete quality wise to the smaller shops that roast and brew the same day.

If you want to make some decent capuccinos / lattes at home and don't want to break the bank, head over to Target and see if you can get a marked down one. Even at $89, its a worthwhile purchase, but at $22 its a steal.

Edit: I've done a bit of tinkering around with the Mukka Express and have another tip to report. When grinding the coffee, do not grind it as finely as used in espresso. With espresso, the hot water will only be in contact with the grounds for 30 seconds or so. With the Mukka Express the water will contact the beans for 2 minutes or so, so the ground needs to be more coarse. If the grind is too fine, the coffee will be overextracted and taste bitter and/ or burnt.


Luo Yang said...

I've been using it for a couple of years, and there are something that I could not agree:

1) If using it correctly, the drink will be consistently much better than virtually any Starbucks that I've tried in Seattle and the Eastside, though still not as good as some best local shops. I am not even using high-end beans: normally freshly roasted beans from Whole Foods (Allegro) and sometimes even Starbucks itself.

2) However, it is not as cheap as it looks like. Normally after 1 years with 2 drinks everyday, it starts to become uncontrollable, with failure rate as high as 50% sometimes. That's why I finally decide to spend part my next year's bonus on Espresso machine.

Finally, it is really nice to see a coffee blogger focusing on the Eastside. Gread job!

Mike Rupp said...

My normal coffee at home is French Press coffee. I haven't had the long term experience you've had. I use it about 1-2 times per week. So far, it has worked well and I haven't had any failures with it. Like a French Press, the variables of the brewing process need to be dialed in to get a good cup of coffee out of it. For me, I like to use a grind that is just slightly less coarse than French Press grind using a slightly past medium flame. I've found that if the heat is too low, the milk ends up tasting scalded.

All things considered, it is a nice piece of equipment especially considering the price. I'd love to get an espresso machine one of these days, but that is in a completely different category when it comes to price. Even with a Rancilio Rocky grinder and Silvia Machine setup it's over $1,000.

The Monk said...

I'd recommend this machine especially to anyone inclined to 'tinker' because it takes an afternoon of trial and error to get things absolutely perfect.

I use the Mukka Express twice or three times daily, seven days a week. I don't like use anything called an "espresso roast" for the reason that the coffee is made in a percolating fashion, and I find the finished product tastes uncharacteristically bitter or burned. I'm having nice results with Peet's Major Dickason's Blend which is naturally sweet. I continue to grind the coffee as finely as possible, and the taste is still very good. Starbucks Italian Roast, French Roast and Espresso Roast blends all ended in abject failure, so I'll stick with using those in the French press (or not at all..)

I fill the top pot to approximately 1/4 inch below the 'full' line to avoid a cup that is too light or the possibility of a stovetop eruption if I am not careful with the heat on the stove.

When the machine is new and you're learning how to use it, watch your procedure carefully each time to note exactly how much water, milk, heat, and time are used. Then compare the quality of the results, and adjust those items as needed.

A bead of olive oil around the threads every five or six pots helps the two halves screw together tighter and makes a better seal to prevent leakage. Clean with water only.

Haven't had any problems yet, but I hear after time they begin to get a mind of their own... we'll wait and see. I made 5 pots to break it in and a month later, every cup is tasting better.

Mike Rupp said...

Thanks for the input. I do agree about not using really dark roasts, or should I say burnt roasts. :)

Peet's Major Dickason's Blend is really good coffee. I use it when I can't make it into Seattle to get some Stumptown beans. For a coffee that is available in grocery stores, it is one of the absolute best.

On the grind: I've found that if the grind is too fine, the coffee ends up being overextracted in the Mukka Express. For my tastes, I just set the grind in the middle of my grinders settings.

I'll try changing the level of the milk. I'm not sure why I've never thought of it. :) Since I prefer lattes that have a minimal amount of milk, I'm sure that this will get me closer to my ideal Mukka Express cup.

KimBethW said...

Thanks for this. Gotta love the internet! I am making tiramisu and wanted to use our Bialetti Mukka to make the coffee/espresso component. We haven't used it for almost a year so were just dusting it off to re-learn how to use it. To appease some decaf relatives I am using Cafe Musetti Decaf espresso grinds, but the coffee keeps tasting a bit flat. Thanks for your suggestions, I may go and try to find some grounds that aren't as finely ground.

Alwyn Smit said...

I've been researching the comments on the net in regards to the Mukka Express. It seems that many people have an issue with the valve in the top breaking after extensive use.

Would one not be able to produce the same effect when you combine the normal Mokka Express coffee with the milk from a Bodum Milk frother for example?

bala murugan said...

What an exciting experience!/Hilarious! Delightful! True!/wonderful stuff! thank you!

Coffee Equipment

Rynt said...

We've just bought a new Viking gas range...I can no longer make capuccino with my Mukka! It makes the frothing sound but I end up with a caffe' latte! Help! I used to have a beautiful capuccino every morning from my Bosch flat-top range. What am I doing wrong?

Mike Rupp said...

We'll assume that nothing changed other than the source of heat. You just need to identify how the heat changed. I've found that my best results were when I used my small burner on low-medium heat. Experiment with different burners and heat settings.

Did the change happen immediately after changing the cooktop? The only other thing I can think of is that the valve is on the fritz. If it releases when the pressure is too low, it would create the latte instead of getting a good foam.

Good luck.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Mike. Before I read your post, I went to Bosa (an Italian supermarket in Vancouver) and bought a new valvola (valve) and imbuto (filter). They did the trick! You were right.

Back to fantastic, beautiful capuccini. But the reason I didn't suspect the valve originally is that I had bought a new one (in Puglia, Italy) last year in April. Do they last just a year and 4 months with daily use? I must be a real brute! The new valve cost 12.95 before tax! In Italy, at the Bialetti outlet, it was half the price. However, far cheaper than buying a new one at Bosa (for 69.95).

Also, I've noticed people complaining about quality of taste with the Mukka. I usually use Lavazza gold, preground (because I'm lazy and it's easier than grinding early in the morning!). I also love Illy, when I can find it at a good price.

Mike Rupp said...

I only use my Mukka occasionally, so I'm not sure how long the valves last. I have read about people having problems with the valves, though. Either way, it's good that you found the problem.

If people complain about the Mukka, it's because they don't give it enough time to figure out the way to a good cup. It does take a little experimenting do make good coffee out of it. Once you do, it is pretty remarkable how good the coffee can be for such an inexpensive device.

Đỗ Nguyên Thùy said...

Thanks for your useful information. I have some Bialetti stovetop at home, but it makes coffee like drip one, not espresso. If you want to enjoy true Italian espresso, you should choose a coffee machine with double boiler

Teri said...

I am having problems with the pressure relief valve on the bottom portion releasing. I have changed filters, screens and the valve. Its happening with both my machines. Any sggestions?

Anonymous said...

We've been using our Bialetti Moka Experess for 4 years or so. Still going strong. I've seen knock offs around that are not the same quality. I like the idea of a stainless steel one as ours is aluminum. But it sounds more fragile. I would recommend it.

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