I haven't seen the 1961 coffee institute film of which you speak, but if it shows a stovetop percolator boiling, then it is already wrong. Granted, there are many people who do not understand the physics of the percolator, and they will bring the brew to a boil in the mistaken belief that the percolating action requires this. However, a percolator does not require that the water be at the boiling point any more than does a vac pot or moka pot. Percolators work on the principle of warm water rising to the top. The small space beneath the pump creates a vacuum effect, pulling this water all the way up the pump tube and expelling it into the basket. This is what creates the bubbling effect that many people believe to be boiling. This is repeated time and again until the coffee reaches its desired strength. The water only needs to be around 185 degrees for this to work, and I've seen some electric percs that brew coffee nearly as lukewarm as a cheap drip machine.
As the water continually cycles through the grounds, the extraction takes place in much the same manner as it would in a french press, where the grounds are suspended in the water. A percolator is basically the same principle, except with the grounds remaining in one place, and the water being agitated over them. As long as it is a continuous flow of water at the right temperature, the effect is that of suspending the coffee in the water, as you do with a french press. The key to good coffee, percolated or otherwise, is fresh ground whole beans of good quality. Most of us have horrible memories of supermarket canned robusta coffee made in an old 500 watt aluminum Wear-Ever percolator from our younger days. But, a good percolator, good fresh ground coffee, and an open mind will yield an unbelievably good cup of coffee.
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This FAQ is Copyright (C) 1994,1995 by Alex Lopez-Ortiz.
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