I bought my first Moka Express about a year ago. It is a wonderful little machine. It is very easy to use, simple to keep clean, and durable. It doesn't take up any counter space and it is easy to take with me when I travel. It also makes a good strong espresso-like coffee.
I should probably mention here that I am not a coffee aficionado. I can't tell the difference between coffee I ground today or last month. A lot of people would probably say I don't even really like coffee.
I do like French Vanilla creamer and caramel syrup, though. I don't make proper coffee beverages. I usually mix about 1/3 Moka Express coffee with 2/3 french vanilla creamer (50/50 if it's iced) with a bit of caramel syrup.
We have a Keurig K-Cup machine. I can only get a strong enough brew out of it to make a coffee the way I like if I use the iced-coffee (3.25 oz) setting and use it to make a hot coffee. Even on that setting it is much, much weaker than what comes out of the Moka Express. It may not be as strong, but it sure is fast and convenient.
I've learned a lot about brewing coffee with the Moka Express over the last 12 months. Some of what I learned is exactly the opposite of what "The Internet" told me.
Don't Grind the Coffee Too Fine, Watch Out For Dust
The first batches of coffee I made with my Moka Express were awesome. After a while, things got bitter. Tiny grounds of coffee were making it through the filter into my beverage.
It turned out that the pre-ground coffee we had lying around was probably processed with a blade-style grinder. No matter how coarse the grind, a blade grinder will generate tiny grains of coffee dust. These pass right through the metal filter and make the brew extremely bitter.
My first attempts at grinding my own beans failed in the same way, since I was using a cheap blade-type grinder. I picked up an inexpensive Nesco burr grinder. Now my brews are consistent and taste better than ever.
My good friend, "The Internet," told me to grind the beans finer than for a drip machine. I'm actually getting much better results on a slightly coarser setting (the 6.5-7.0 setting on my Nesco grinder).
When I ground too fine the water couldn't get through the grounds. The valve would whistle, it'd take forever to brew, and it would taste terrible.
I've made plenty of tasty non-bitter coffee with pre-ground mass-produced coffee. If you're buying pre-ground, you will just have to find one that works. You can also probably grind the coffee in the store.
It is OK to Pack the Coffee
You sure don't want to tamp it down like you would in an espresso machine, but I do lightly pack the coffee into the pot. I probably fit an extra teaspoon or more in there this way.
You know you packed it too tight if the pressure release valve starts whistling.
How Much Heat?
I've read all sorts of ideas related to applying heat…
I crank the stove up all the way. Right before the coffee starts flowing, you'll recognize the sound; I turn it down to about half heat. It brews quite a bit slower than at full heat and it seems to taste better. I haven't really done any sort of blind taste test here, though.
Light or Dark Roast?
This is more about personal taste than anything else. I prefer to use a lighter roast. I've been buying huge, cheap bags of Sam's Club brand breakfast blend coffee. We're happy with the taste and the price.
We managed to buy a huge bag of Sam's Club French Roast coffee. We really didn't know our coffee lingo at the time. We did not know that French Roast was the darkest over-burnt coffee. I feel it is way too dark. It has been handy to have around, though. I sometimes throw a few spoonfuls in with the breakfast blend if we want a darker-tasting coffee.
Is it Hard to Keep Clean?
My old friend, "The Internet," tells me that the coffee tastes better when the walls of the pot are coated with coffee oils. I don't actually know if this is true or not.
I rarely use any soap to clean it, though. As long as I use the pot every other day or so, I just take it apart and rinse it before each use. Just make sure you empty and rinse the top of the pot out after you use it. If you don't you will have scrub out the dried out, caked-on day old-coffee.
How Does it Compare to Proper Espresso?
I have absolutely no idea. I do know that the Moka Express produces a much stronger, more caffeinated brew than a drip machine. They are also much cheaper than a proper Espresso machine and seem easier to maintain.