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Lessons in Coffee Making: How I Switched from Electric to Stovetop

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When you know how to make coffee on the stove top, the old fashioned way, you’ll never be at the whim of the power company again! You can use an old-school percolator, or adopt the method I use for a great cup of coffee.

fancy coffee art on a latte, dark background

Hawaii-grown coffee

Remember Juan Valdez, of Colombian coffee fame? That commercial is the closest I’d been to a coffee farm until we moved to Hawaii.

The most famous growing region is Kona, on Hawaii Island, although other regions are making a name for themselves. Kona coffee is rich and robust, but if you’re shopping for Hawaii-grown coffee, watch the label. Many producers (not necessarily Hawaii-based) use the term “Kona coffee” when they blend just a small amount of the prized Kona beans with lesser quality beans from elsewhere.

If you want the real deal Hawaii coffee, look for a label that says 100% Kona coffee.

Coffee grows on small trees that flower into fragrant white blossoms known as Kona snow. Hillside coffee farms are a sight to see during this stage. Several months later, green fruit is clustered along the branch. The ripe, red coffee beans are called “cherries.”

Kona coffee is picked by hand, so only the red beans that you see here will be harvested; the green ones stay on the tree a bit longer to ripen. The coffee harvest can last months.

three stages of coffee growing on a tree: flower, green cherry, red cherry

Once harvested, the fleshy red outer skin is slipped off to reveal the beans, which are encased in a slippery layer called parchment. Pop one into your mouth and you’ll taste a slight sweetness, though you won’t confuse it for your morning cup of joe.

At this stage, the beans are left in the sun to dry until the parchment layer becomes crispy, making it easier to remove. Beans are stored in the parchment stage until they’re ready to be roasted.

The parchment behind the bean in the image on the right, below, is empty. The green bean in the foreground is what roasters will turn into those rich, fragrant brown beans that keep so many of us going during the day.

Hawaii’s environment is perfect for growing coffee. In fact, I have a number of coffee trees far up the hillside where they’re hard to access. The coffee beans that go unharvested drop and germinate right there with no help from human hands.

raw coffee beans in parchment and removed from parchment

Growing coffee at home

What if you want to try your hand at growing coffee? You can purchase both seeds and plants online. You’ll need someplace warm for them to grow; outside will be fine during the summer months, but during winter you’ll need to bring your coffee tree inside or keep it in a greenhouse.

Coffee trees prefer temperatures of 65 degrees Fahrenheit or above, but can tolerate nighttime temperatures of 50 or so. Coffee trees have beautiful foliage and can be pruned to maintain a height of 4-5′ or so, making them a good candidate for growing in an oak barrel.

Processing coffee beans at home is fairly time intensive. I’ve done it only once. I stored my beans in a glass jar before doing any roasting. When I pulled them out for roasting, it was obvious that they were “buggy” so I had to discard them. I’m not sure how to remedy that problem, since it seems that the bugs were there to begin with.

I do hope to transplant some of our coffee trees to a more accessible area soon, so I can try again.

Making coffee on the stovetop

Knowing how to make coffee on the stove top is essential for emergency situations. (Yes, essential. Am I right, coffee drinkers?) Turns out, it’s a great way to make coffee daily. Here’s how (and why) I make the switch.

white cup and saucer with coffee in front of a candle and potted plant

First, a funny story. My husband gave me a Bialetti coffee maker for my birthday awhile back. Why? A young friend of ours was visiting and he’d mentioned that he wanted one. I agreed that I’d heard good things about them and would like to try one.

My husband heard “birthday gift.” So there I was with a brand new coffee maker that came with incredibly vague instructions in 20 different languages.

I had no idea how to use it. It sat on the counter — it’s purple! It’s pretty! — for a month or so while I continued to use my electric coffee maker. Then I moved it “for now” up into the cupboard, where it lived until a week or so ago.

Here’s the thing. It’s called an espresso maker. And I’m not much of a straight-up espresso drinker. I love a good latte, but making one at home is simply not something I’ll take the time to do. Especially first thing in the morning when I just need a cup of coffee! 

Who can even think about all that early in the morning??

pink bialetti coffee maker for making coffee on the stove top

Forced to use a Bialetti coffee maker

Flash forward to our recent trip to Italy. While there is no coffee actually grown in Italy, those people are all about their coffee. There are “bars” everywhere, which is where people stop to get a coffee. And when I say “get a coffee” I mean order an espresso, stand at the counter, scarf a pastry, slam an espresso, and out the door you go.

It is not a slow routine to savor in Italy, and baristas will look askance at you if you ask to take it with you. (They will not, however, blink if you decide you’d rather have a glass of wine at eight a.m., which they also serve.)

Here’s where it comes full circle. We stayed in private homes (via Air BnB) and none of them had an electric coffee maker. Instead, I’d have to learn how to make coffee on the stove with a Bialetti coffee maker. 

Best. Coffee. Ever.

And I’m certain I’m not even making it right! Of course, the first thing I did when we returned home was to pull out my own! [This is how I make espresso for my homemade kahlua recipe, too.]

How to make coffee on the stove

The beauty of the Bialetti coffee maker is that it doesn’t require electricity, so it’s great for emergency coffee making. I use it regularly on my gas stove, so I’m all set if we have a power outage. It won’t take any extra effort to make coffee when the power is out. It’s also easy to transport for camping trips. It’s off-grid coffee at its best.

Making Coffee in a Bialetti Coffee Maker

Here’s a step-by-step how to make coffee on the stove in a Bialetti.

  1. Fill the lower reservoir with water just up to the fill line.
  2. Place coffee grounds in the little filter funnel. How much depends on how strong you want your coffee. (This is where I’m sure I’m doing it “wrong” by some people’s standards.) I fill mine about halfway, which brews a really nice, strong cup of coffee. Filling the filter completely will net espresso.
  3. Screw the top on tightly. Too loose and it will leak. I use a high flame on one of my smaller burners. (The ticket is to make sure the flame doesn’t extend past the base of the Bialetti coffee maker.)
Brewing coffee in a Moka Espresso Maker

It takes my 6-cup espresso maker about five minutes to start perking. As the water in the lower reservoir is heated, it’s pushed up through the coffee in the filter and into the top reservoir.

Brewing coffee in a Moka Espresso Maker

4. As soon as you hear it start to perk steadily, turn off the heat. Let it continue to perk, then pour and enjoy.

making coffee on the stove top, looking inside coffee maker

While mine says it’s a 6-cup espresso maker, remember that espresso cups are tiny. One full pot works for me as a single cup of really strong brew. Yes, this Bialetti is aluminum. It’s what my husband gave me. [UPDATE: I’ve recently converted over to a stainless steel version.] When it comes to making coffee on the stove, it works perfectly!

Fancy Coffee Drinks You Can Make at Home

Hot Coffee Drinks

Iced Coffee Drinks

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

7 comments… add one
  • Karen Oct 13, 2015, 3:50 pm

    I’ve been following you along on your Italian trip on IG and living vicariously through your beautiful photos. And you brought coffee making back home! Awesome!

    My hubby, in search for great coffee, ordered organic Kona coffee recently. And it was not that great. I think good coffee starts with good beans and we are always chasing after that elusive ‘perfect’ beans. If you can recommend a great kona coffee, I’m all ears!

    And next time you make a strong cup, try my buttered coffee recipe, which linked in the post (THANK YOU!!). You will never go back to drinking weak coffee. Thx for this awesome list. Off to try them!

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 13, 2015, 4:25 pm

      One thing to watch with Kona coffee – is it 100%? Blends with as little as 10% (I think that’s still accurate) can be called Kona coffee. And the other 90% is not great. Greenwell makes a good coffee in South Kona, but you might also look at coffee out of Ka‘u. It’s just a ways south of Kona with excellent coffee coming out of the area.

    • Flavia Westermann Sep 29, 2018, 12:04 pm

      Try getting in touch with these folks: good people. Coffee is their thing.

  • Caterina Oct 14, 2015, 8:48 pm

    As an italian, it was really interesting to read your post! There really are a lot of different ways to make coffee, I find it fascinating! The traditional italian way is this one (as far as I know, I’ m not a coffee authority):
    To make a light espresso fill in the whole filter, without pressing the powder; when the filter is filled with coffee, press down the powder. In order to make stronger coffee, you need to put more in the filter (again, don’t press it as you put it in) and actually you have to go a bit over the edge, creating e little “coffee hill”; after you reach the desired quantity, press it down (it will fit in the filter; it it doesn’t, then there is way too much!).
    Screw the top on and put it on a small burner, on a low flame (it will take a little longer, but it will have a better taste). Now comes the tricky part: you should turn off the heat pretty much as soon as you hear the coffee maker making a “boiling sound”; at that point, all the coffee shold come out even if it is not on the flame anymore. The thing is, every coffee maker is different, and makes a different sound; you should be able to figure out how soon is It ok to turn off the heat, while still getting all of the water on the top part. I usually wait a couple of seconds after the boiling sound to turn the heat off. This is important because if you leave It too much on the flame (and I think one minute is a bit much) you risk burning your coffee, which gives it an unpleasant taste.
    This is how to make espresso; the way you do it (filling half of the filter) is an interesting way to get something like American coffee out of a coffee maker I think, which is definitely a better idea considered that you are drinking all of the coffee yourself; but if you think about it, it’s still drinking like three espressos in a row- isn’t it a bit much? I think you should consider getting a smaller coffee maker (maybe for four or three?) .
    Keep in mind the taste of the coffee is also affected by the way you take care of the coffee maker, but I think you can find something about it online if you are intrested.
    I hope this is helpful and you will have a lot of good cups of coffee!

    • Kris Bordessa Oct 15, 2015, 7:06 am

      Caterina, I could really have used you in my kitchen that first morning! Thank you for your input; I’m going to try turning off the heat as soon as I hear the sound. Based on how much coffee I’m using, I’d say it’s about equivalent to two standard American cups of coffee. Maybe a single espresso shot?

  • Brie Bourn Feb 14, 2017, 8:24 am

    Thanks for this! I just put this on my “club” on Facebook, Coffee Talk goes to the Dentist. Thanks for being so Groovy!

  • Ethel M Ebanks Oct 14, 2019, 1:09 pm

    I love Kaluha in my coffee too. You say espresso..I say strong coffee. We use the same kind of little pot to make our Cafe Busto (a Cuban tasting) coffee.

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