Bialetti’s Brikka: only one extra piece!

All coffee lovers know the classic Italian “Machinetta“, or Moka pot, that 3-piece stovetop espresso maker: not a competition to the professional espresso machine of a coffee shop, but good for a fast, concentrated caffeine fix at home. These have been around since their invention in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, and we have a number of them at home in various sizes (hint: go for the stainless steel ones, they don’t corrode and last forever if you don’t burn the plastic handle).

But on a trip to Italy we were served by some friends with tiny portions Bialetti Brikka coffeemakerof a much stronger, foamy brew; and upon inquiring how they could produce it at home we were shown the Brikka, the machinetta with the “sbuffo” (the dictionary says “gust of wind; puff“, but a fiery snort sounds more appropriate to convey this word’s feel).

The amazing thing about the Brikka is that it is practically identical to the old Moka, except that it has one additional piece: a heavy steel cup, padded with a rubber gasket, that sits atop the tube from which, through a hole at its top, the hot coffee issues. This means that before the steam in the bottom half can push the water through the coffee powder, it has to achieve a high enough pressure to lift the steel weight; essentially the arrangement you find in a pressure cooker’s regulator valve. Once the correct pressure is reached the valve lifts and the coffee suddenly blasts through in a matter of seconds, accompanied by a loud puffing noise, much stream and bubbling foam. Sbuffo!

Brikka Sbuffo

The photos above capture the moment – mere seconds separate the two.

The Brikka, which Bialetti makes in 2-cup and 4-cup sizes (we’re talking Italian cups – about half a demitasse each), makes far stronger coffee than the Moka, and with some foam to boot. And all by adding one piece to an age-old design!

Brikka mechanism

Note the hole at the top of the tube, exposed with the weight dismantled.

Brikka compared to ordinary Moka

Brikka (right) compared to the open tube in a regular Moka style machine.

What will they think of next, you say? Don’t get me started about Bialetti’s “Mukka Express”, which seems to apply similar ideas to produce Cappuccino in one go (I’m still resisting the temptation to buy one of those).

7 Responses to “Bialetti’s Brikka: only one extra piece!”


  1. 1 krista

    I really want to replace my bialetti aluminum stovetop espresso maker with one that is stainless steel, but I can’t find anything stainless that will still make the crema. Do you know where I can find one?

    Krista

  2. 2 Nathan Zeldes

    Indeed, Krista, I would love one too, but AFAIK they don’t make a Brikka in Stainless Steel. The Aluminum one turned out fairly robust though, so we keep using it (them – we have a 2-cup and a 4-cup version by now).

  3. 3 Guido

    Sadly… no subtitutes exist for the Brikka in SS. The valve design is patented.
    FYI: the valve act in three ways. It allows build up of pressure and temperature of the water, performing a thorough extraction of substances from ground coffe. The valve also stabilizes the coffe flow during exit (the nozzle the weight sits on is specially shaped for that). The weight acts also as liquid-vapour turbulence mixer chamber.
    Other coffe maker brands cannot copy such a special system.

    Should you like Stainless Steel I warmly suggest the “old way” coffee maker (Napoletana) made by the Italian company Stella. Not an espresso machine, but the coffee is good.

  4. 4 Nathan Zeldes

    Hey Guido, thanks for this detailed engineering analysis! I had no idea it was so intricate a design!

  5. 5 Rik Reynaers

    Hello,

    Compliments for your post on the engineering behind the Brikka. It’s very similar to story that I’ve also been telling since years now to all the guests that appreciate the coffee 🙂

    Regarding the choice between stainless steel or aluminium alloy, although the latter indeed oxidates the taste is much softer than with the stainless version. If you use it daily, or almost, you can wash the oxidation away with a brush and just plain water and it won’t alter the taste.

    When you use it only occasionally, after rinsing the oxidation away, you’ll have to set a 2 or 3 pots that you throw away (or use for the plants) before you have an acceptable coffee.

    I’m still using my first generation Brikka since 10 years now. It’s the second that I own as I forgot the first one on the gas stove for more than an hour …

    I prefer it with Kimbo (in the Black metal box) or with Lavazza “Quality Rossa”.

    PS: Any idea regarding the joints of the first generation Brikka, if they correspond to the 2 cups or 4 cups of today’s version?

    Kindest regards from Belgium,

    Rik

  6. 6 Nathan Zeldes

    Thanks for the insight, Rik! ‘Fraid I can’t answer your question though…

  1. 1 Cappuccino for two at Commonsense Design

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