The history of the iconic Bialetti Moka Express
In Italy a Moka pot can be found in practically every kitchen. And the Moka Express, by Bialetti, is the iconic, and classic, machine.
This month we look at the history of Bialetti and their Moka Express. A machine that we have stocked for over 50 years.In 1919 in the village of Omegna, Piedmonte, Alfonso Bialetti opened a workshop for the manufacture of aluminum semi-finished products. The company grew to become Alfonso Bialetti & Co.
Alfonso Bialetti came up with the brilliant idea of the Moka Express, a machine that would revolutionize the way of making coffee at home, and forever change the culture of Italian coffee. Until this point coffee was mostly consumed in coffee bars, of which women were mainly excluded. Men would meet to discuss current affairs and politics, the invention of the moka allowed women to gather with friends and neighbours over coffee and discuss worldly affairs.
The machine itself was inspired by laundry and the lessiveuse, a metal washtub with a central steel tube that when placed on the fire, would draw up the soapy water and redistribute it over the laundry (see photo above). Beautifully, it was Alfonso's wife who inspired the iconic 8- sided shape of the Moka with her silhouette: the head, the broad shoulders, the narrow waist, the arm on the hip and a pleated skirt. The name is in honor of the city of Mokha in Yemen, one of the most famous production areas of coffee in the world.
The original Moka Express debuted in 1933 and has remained virtually unchanged ever since, there have been small changes, but the fundamentals of the machine remain. We have sold Bialetti’s for as long as I can remember and have always displayed them as part of our window display and if you look closely, you will see one that looks a little different... that is because we have a 6 cup Bialetti from the 70’s. Photos below.
Alfonso’s invention proved popular, and he did well selling it at local markets and in the years leading up to World War II sold nearly 10,000 annually. After the war Alfonso’s son, Renato, unpacked his father’s machinery that had been set aside during the war and resumed production. In the 1950s, Renato Bialetti succeeded his father as the head of the company. (Renato Bialett below).
Renato had big plans for the company and the Moka Express and began advertising on billboards, in newspapers, on the radio and then on television. In 1958 the famous figure in Bialetti ads, Omino coi Baffi (Little Man with Moustache), was born. The cartoon man, with his finger in the air, as if he’s trying to get a bartender's attention to order an espresso, and his slogan "Oh yes, it seems easy ..." is a caricature of Renato Bialetti by illustrator Paolo Campani.
The mustachioed man was added to the machines and became part of the logo of the company and today is as iconic as the Moka Express itself.
The advertising was successful, and the business grew almost immediately. In 1956 the company moved to a new factory and produced four million machines annually, over the next 60 years more than 200 million machine were sold internationally.
Photo below of the Bialetti logo. We have many of these stands dotted around the store.
Bialetti have many different Mokas, different colours, some varying in shape, some in stainless steel. Below is a photo of the Moka Alpina (Alpine Moka), fittingly this was the machine that we had in our chalet in Courmayeur, Italy when we went skiing in January.
There is also a fabulously large Moka Express. It is just for display mind, there is no basket inside…mind you, even if there was, could you imagine the fire you would need underneath to heat it?! Here is me below, beautifully posing with the large Moka at the London Coffee Festival.
Renato Bialetti sadly passed away in February 2016. His family honored his memory by placing his ashes in one of the large models of the Moka Express and, after being blessed at his funeral, was placed in the family tomb in Omegna.
How to brew your coffee in a Moka.
Start by pouring room temperature water into the base until it reaches the safety valve.
Fill the basket with coffee, be generous and ensure it is full. Do not press down the coffee.
Put the pot on the stove over a low heat, so the flames don’t reach over the base.
Take your time. When you hear the gurgling, your coffee is ready. Take it off the stove, serve, and enjoy!