Remembering ‘the little man with the mustache’ who made coffee for all

The World
Italian 'coffee king' Renato Bialetti who died at the age of 93 was buried in replica of his iconic espresso Moka pot.

The "little man with the mustache" was Renato Bialetti, the Italian businessman who made the stovetop Moka Express famous.

He died earlier this month at the age of 93. There are millions of these Bialetti coffeemakers in kitchens throughout the world. And many serious coffee lovers think they are the best.

“I love the art deco inspired moka design: it’s evocative of childhood memories. I grew up with the moka,” writes Italian American journalist Renata Rosso.

“My duty at home, as a child, was to prepare coffee for my parents, after lunch … I remember not to put too much water into the bottom chamber or too much coffee in the funnel…and never press the coffee. It’s a delicate balance between elements. I wasn’t drinking coffee at that age. But the moka was sort of an intriguing machine: the steam coming out from the spout, the noise it made when the water started boiling and then the coffee being ready. Coffeemaking was a little ritual: the aroma filling the room was like the epilogue of the family gathering at lunch time.

“I grew up with the cartoon of Bialetti, l’Omino con i baffi, the little man with the mustache saying, 'sembra facile' (it seems easy to make a good coffee, but you need the right tools and coffee). When I was a child in Italy, on TV there was a series of commercials … about the task of making something that seemed easy, but actually it wasn't…

"Basically the message was that at home, with the right tools, you could make a coffee as good as the one they would serve outside, in a coffee place, in Italian 'buono come al bar.'"

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“It was always with us. It was part of our family,” says Mario Rizzotti, an Italian culinary specialist and an Iron Chef America judge.

“Bialetti was with us when we were laughing, when we were crying, after lunch or dinner, it was always a part of our family. We always have the little man with the long mustache and the long hat, staring at us and making sure we had the best espresso machine and we were happy with what they brought to our house.

“Unfortunately I  never had the pleasure to meet Mr. Bialetti, but now that he’s no longer with us, I hope that he brought his espresso machine to heaven, so they can have some good espresso up there too.” 

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“For all of us who grew up in Italy it would be impossible not to feel a special attachment to the Bialetti stove pot machine, or la moka, as we call it,” writes Giulia Mulè, an Italian foodie/photographer/baker/coffee lover who blogs at MondoMulia.

“It is such an iconic machine and a part the daily routine for the majority of Italians. Every household has got one (or several, one according to every occasion): a small two-cup moka to make yourself a cup of coffee in the morning or after lunch; a big moka to make coffee for all your friends and family at the end of a dinner party; a moka in the office or in the holiday house; an electric moka to use when traveling.

"The moka is always there in the kitchen, on the stove, ready to be used. The Bialetti moka machine is treated with care and love. It's washed delicately with water (never soap) and prepared the way our moms taught us. Every family has got their own traditions on how to use the machine and I used to share tips with my friends.

"I was taught that coffee tastes better when made in an old moka, one that has been used regularly, so I learned to respect the old machines, rather than wanting a shiny new one. Now I look at my old Bialetti machine and I remember the afternoons when I made espresso for my mum or all the coffees shared with my friends. I don't use my moka anymore (I have a semi-professional espresso machine and many coffee brewing devices now), but I will never get rid of my moka. It wouldn't be a home without it.”

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