The ins and outs of the stovetop espresso machine..

Here is a guide to better stovetop coffee.

Through a series of images and descriptions I hope to create a clear and concise guide to stovetop brewing.

Code To begin with, stovetop brewing is one of the world's most popular methods, most particularly in Italy, where millions of these devices are in use every single day.

The stovetop coffee brewer comes in many shapes and sizes often constructed of aluminum (less ideal), stainless steel (most ideal), as well as other materials.

The fruit acids in brewed coffee chemically react with aluminum to shorten the life of the stove top coffee brewer and create off flavors.

Stainless steel is always a superior construction material for the stove top coffee brewer, and despite the slightly higher cost, the additional initial investment rewards the consumer with years more of reliable performance and better tasting stove top coffee.

Okay, so we have covered the basics. Let us move on to the physical tear down of these brewers. These units break down or dismantle to three basic components as shown in the accompanying photos:

The bottom part (top left photo) holds the water and has the telltale ball bearing pressure relief valve.

Make darn sure this component is intact and not rusted before proceeding!

A faulty stove top espresso maker is a weapon of mass destruction if the steam pressure relief valve fails!

Flying parts may injure or kill.

The centre section (centre right) holds the finely ground coffee.

Code The top part is where the coffee is brewed into. The coffee is often ground to "drip" coffee specifications, but not always. Sometimes the grind is somewhat finer.

Step One: Fire up your electric stove or gas stove element to the highest possible setting. A good exercise here is to do a dry run, that is, running a brew cycle with only water, to get a sense of how the unit functions and if it is functioning properly.

Step Two: Fill the lower water reservoir to just below the relief valve and no higher! Code

Covering the steam pressure relief valve with water defeats this valuable safety feature and puts you at risk of explosion injury!

Step Three: Fill the coffee holder (down right) with fine ground coffee and tamp it lightly, slightly or not at all. Results will vary, but one thing is true: Excessive tamp pressure will choke the stove top and no brewed coffee will result.

Step Four: Assemble the stove top coffee maker as shown in photo 1. The upper and lower chambers of the stove top unit use a rubber gasket to ensure a good seal during the brewing phase. Check the condition of this rubber gasket from time to time. Brewing coffee until the reservoir is dry on a repetitive basis reduces the life of the rubber gasket.

Typically, the rubber gasket, on your stove-top brewer, should do its job properly for several years of almost daily usage. Step Five: Place your brewer on the element. (next left)

Within 2 to 4 minutes, the water will begin to boil and the stove top coffee maker will rumble and shudder a bit. Coffee will begin to stream into the top section of the coffee maker. After about 1 minute, the coffee will start to froth into the top section. With a gloved hand, remove from heat, pour and serve. This is not the only method for stove top coffee preparation. Some users of the stove top brewer prefer to use a gentler heat, bringing the water temperature up more gradually and allowing for an elongated brew cycle. This is acceptable. The golden rule with the stove top brewer is: Do not boil dry!

Final safety warning: Do not attempt to dismantle the stove top coffee maker until it cools as scalding or burning may result. These brewers are often called stovetop espresso makers but the truth is, they do not brew espresso as they lack the necessary bar pressure to achieve the intense beverage that defines espresso. It is a distinctive brew, however, and as a result continues to be a popular method of brewing up a good strong drink.

Colin Newell