It’s Overland Journal’s fault. I’ve long appreciated the pleasures of the morning coffee ritual, an easy vice to maintain in the city, but one that is typically tolerable at best in camp. Working in an office with a well-stocked espresso bar has sharpened the addiction to such a point the instant solutions often served tent-side simply won’t do. As Scott Brady reflected while showing me how to work the espresso machine “Life’s too short for bad coffee.”
Espresso is without a doubt the ultimate form of coffee, imbued with three key features we strive to find in our gear: versatility, durability, and performance. It’s concentrated nature makes for the maximum quantity on a minimum of water, with the right tools it’s nearly impossible to ruin espresso, and from espresso you can make practically any coffee drink (including the good ole hot cup of joe—just add water). Thanks to Luigi de Ponti, espresso can be a hassle- and mess-free pleasure in camp.
Most commonly used on the stovetop at home, the Moka pot is equally capable of brewing on the trail with a backpacking stove, larger camp stove, or even over charcoal with care. Unlike the variety of portable espresso makers out there, the Moka doesn’t require special fuels, tools, or filters. In fact, you only need three things to run a Moka: water, fire, and coffee grounds. The Moka pot isn’t picky about the type of grounds you feed it either. A fine grind (slightly more coarse than espresso) works best, but even “percolator ground” beans will yield an excellent (though weaker) result. Espresso purists may point out that a Moka pot is incapable of reaching the precise 9 bar of pressure required for “true” espresso, but the end result is indistinguishable.
Use is simple, just fill the base to the fill line with water (about an inch from the top), drop in the basket and fill it with grounds, then twist on the pot and place it over heat. In about five minutes you’ll have a pot of flavorful espresso. Clean up is just as easy—the brewing process tends to draw out most of the moisture, leaving a solid clump of grounds easily tapped out into the trash. Rinse out the few remaining grounds, dry the pot, and pack it away.
The Moka is available as small as a 1-shot, but I find the 6-shot variety well worth the extra space (about the size of a 1-liter Nalgene)—the expression of your fellow campers when you offer them fresh-brewed espresso is priceless. Bialetti, makers of the original Moka pot, also makes a variation called the MokaCrém for those who simply can’t do without the crema.