I’m a coffee snob. I don’t mind admitting it. Perhaps it was growing up in an Italian family where the afternoon espresso was served again simply because someone stopped over to say hello. The aroma of the concentrated café filling the air–a scent I still love today–was instilled as a marker of strong and high quality coffee. It’s in that scenario where the Moka Express took hold. So why would I drink some weird instant coffee when I’m camping? Or buy a contraption specially built for the trail when the smallest and lightest espresso maker, the Bialetti, is already in my pantry?
The Bialetti, as it is referred to, is properly called the Moka Express. Designed by Alfonso Bialetti in the 1930s, the first Moka Express was sold at local markets in Piedmont, Italy. Over the last 80 years, it has been a staple in most Italian and Italian-American homes. It is offered in a variety of sizes, from one cup to 12. The percolation produces a slight crema–the brownish colored cream resulting from espresso production. It is notably smaller than a proper and more expensive machine, but when I left for college and moved into my own apartment I remember having one in tow–from my mom of course, as she sent her only son off to northern New England and far from home.
What makes the Moka Express perfect for camping is its size. The one-cup version fits snugly in a trekking bag and securely onto small backpacking stoves. You may have to make two rounds for you and your partner, but the pot is a quick producer. Constructed out of lightweight aluminum, it’s light and only takes a small amount of ground espresso–so there’s really no weight concerns, especially since espresso is often consumed straight up. Some hard cores will say they would rather not take up the space in their bag with a coffee maker–even if it’s small–or they only drink tea while camping to save weight. To each there own, but no espresso in the morning at my camp would bring out the grumpy and groggy bear–not to be trusted or bothered.
Within the outdoor industry, each year someone is trying sell the latest and greatest. The Moka Express is a nod to the simpler early days. At just under $25 it’s cheaper than some of those fancy (and perhaps gimmicky) camping coffee solutions, and it most likely will taste better, too. Of note, the more espresso you make in your Bialetti the better it tastes, so never, ever, wash it out with soap–another plus for camping. And while I may be biased, I trust a long-standing Italian-designed-and-made espresso pot over something new. They enjoy their espresso in Italy, and so do I when I’m waking up from sleeping under the stars.
$25 | BUY
Photos by Erme Catino