what is the BEST grind for stovetop Italian coffee makers?
I have one of the Bialetti classic stovetop Italian aluminum coffee makers. (I know, it's not officially espresso, so I won't call it that, but anyway.) I'm confused about a couple of things I have heard regarding how to get the best results. The guy at Peet's said that I needed the fine espresso grind, but I had someone else tell me that that was only for the steam driven espresso makers, and that a coarser grind was better for the moka. AND, then there's the question of to pack or not to pack? Can anyone advise?
Personally, I'd go with the Peet's recommendation. If you have a burr grinder you can control, try it at espresso grind. When I relied on a moka pot that's what worked. You shouldn't need to pack that grind at all, just make sure the surface is even.
If you find the brew too sludgey, grind a little coarser, but then do pack that a little tighter. If you don't have a grinder and have to grind at the supermarket, grind two or three different 1/4 lb bags so you can experiment.
Odds are you'll be doing this by eye, but if you do have access to a gram scale, that might also be helpful to get your dosing to where you enjoy the taste best. Figure the same as for traditional espresso, 7.25g for a 1.5oz drink as a good place to start and work from there. If it tastes good, it doesn't really matter if it's not an "actual" espresso extraction with crema and all.
Fwiw, all Italian espresso sold for home moka use is ground very fine. I have used many many brands of imported Italian espresso coffees, and they are quite dark and powdery. One American brand that I've used, Medaglia d'Oro, is visibly more coarse, and a lighter roast, and it still works well, though it produces a different cup. What I take from this is that, while I think that the way the coffee is packed into the pot can have some effect on the outcome, it's mostly personal preference and trial and error that matter when it comes to enjoying a stovetop espresso.
I tend to pile in as much coffee as I can, forming a slight mound, but without packing it down.
Most of the Lavazza coffees are ground for the Moka type pots and the gind is just a hair above the true espresso grind. Where I live, 'Qualita Rosso' and 'Qualita Oro' are the two blends/styles that are somewhat widely available, but apparently there are many more varieties...perhaps only available in Italy?
I would seriously recommend that you avoid packing the coffee in though, unless you want to risk an excess pressure buildup which may result in you popping the pressure relief valve on your pot and spewing hot steam/water everywhere.
I have found that using a true espresso grind in a Bialetti Brikka (the one with the pressure controlled valve) gives you massively inferior results. I find that shooting for the exact midpoint between a drip grind and an espresso grind gives the best results.