Kummer on Coffee: Which is Better, Drip or Stovetop?

This week's advice column: our coffee guru explains the Bialetti machine and why drip pots are rapidly becoming dinosaurs


Q: If you had to choose between a stovetop, Bialetti-style coffee maker or a standard drip machine, which would you use? Also, what grind would you use for a stovetop coffee maker?

A: Always, always a stovetop. The entire trend in coffee-making today is single-serve coffee, after all. Thus the recent deal between Green Mountain Coffee, which owns the single-serve market leader, Keurig, and Starbucks—an alliance that even a year ago would seem unthinkable. And, of course Starbucks Via instant coffee, in single-serve packets, has done better than anyone dreamed, and caused an interesting rift between Starbucks and its longtime supermarket distributor, Kraft.

So single-serve is big business, and drip coffee, with the too-many cups that go stale too fast, will soon seem an antiquated countertop dust-gatherer. The movement will be in single-serve machines, which so far haven't particularly impressed me but are nonetheless clean and easy to use. And, I hope, back to stovetop machines, which are what every Italian household uses to make coffee and the method I use every morning and numerous afternoons.

I like the Bialetti brand itself, even if it's generally made of aluminum, which reacts with the acids in coffee and is not best form. But I somehow find myself coming back to it rather than the collection of stainless-steel stovetop pots I've amassed over the years. The gaskets, which wear out, are usually easier to replace than the orphan stainless-steel models. And I must have some sentimental attachment to the idea that a seasoned Bialetti makes better coffee, because I actually prize the stained metal, and never ever use soap or scouring powder on the pots, which really would impart off-tastes to the coffee.

You can buy various sizes of moka pot (the generic term for Bialetti-style pots) that will make anything from what Europeans would consider two cups—which we used to call "demitasse," and now know as espresso cups, in a sign of progress—and Americans would consider half a cup, to the eight-cup model, which will make three or four U.S. cups. We use a six-cup model for two ample servings.

Grind: coarse, almost as coarse as the evil, never-do-it percolator. Ask at a coffee shop for electric-drip grind if they're not sure what to recommend for stovetop espresso, and next time grind it a bit coarser. For instructions on quantity and tamping, see my Joy of Coffee—I've got a whole chapter on the moka pot, then and now my favorite brewing method.

Want to submit a question for next week's column? Ask Corby for food, drink, or restaurant advice by emailing askcorby@gmail.com.

Image: p.s.v./flickr