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