Percolator

NOTE: There is a fair amount of disagreement on this article. For opposing views please take a look at the comments and make your own decision based on what you like.

Percolators violate most of the natural laws about brewing coffee.
o Don't over extract the oils and flavor. Percolators work by taking coffee and reheating it and throwing it over the grounds over and over and over again.

o Never reheat/boil coffee. This destroys the flavor. For best flavor, boil the water, pass it over the grounds and retain the heat. Don't reheat it.

Violating these rules may not sound like much, but these are about the only rules there are. The effect of a percolator is to keep passing boiling water/coffee over the grounds until there is no flavor left and the flavor in the coffee is so dead that it's a worthless waste.

There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding about the re-boiling of already brewed coffee.

About half way through this video from "Coffee brewers institute" (1961) there is a good example of the boiling and re-brewing over and over again of coffee in a percolator. At approximately the 7 minute 40 second mark they show a glass percolator. If you look in the bottom half you will see already brewed coffee. The already brewed coffee is boiling and being pushed back over the grounds. That's a pretty good visual demonstration of what is happening.

Reading several comments some seem to be people who are not talking about a percolator but a vacuum pot or a moka pot.

If you have a brewer that pushes water up into a second (usually upper) chamber by steam and holds the water in the upper chamber during brewing then pulls it back via vacuum into the lower changer after brewing that's not a percolator. That is a vacuum pot which is described over here. Vacuum pot coffee also happens to be one of my favorite ways to have coffee.

A moka pot unlike a vacuum pot will push the water through the grounds and into an upper chamber that it is served from. I realize that in a few cases manufacturers have chosen to add the word percolator to the description of their moka pots. Strictly speaking this is not any more correct than calling a moka pot an espresso maker which is another common marketing gimmick for moka pots.

To further clarify (I hope) I am going to add a "typical" picture of each of the three confused types of coffee makers:

Ultimately the preference of coffee makers comes down to personal preference. I'll go further to say most people will probably prefer whatever they are accustomed to so if you grew up on perc pots you may always prefer them even if they have inherent problems. There is nothing wrong with that. You won’t get the “best” cup of coffee as defined by coffee snobs like myself but make yourself happy. Having said that if you are looking for your first coffee pot or your first non-drip coffee pot I would encourage you to skip the perc pot. If budget is a concern a French Press is excellent. If budget is less of a concern you can get a good manual Vacuum pot for a little more than an electric perc pot.

If you have already tried the other methods and want to try something new give a perc pot a try. They are not expensive so you won’t be out a lot of money. If you end up loving perc above all else then by all means celebrate your discovery of the way that is right for you.

Comments

One month off caffeine

Hey everyone, just an update on what's happening with me. I have been off caffeine now for one month. The hardest withdrawal symptom to deal with is severe insomnia. I tried so many different sleep medications and also tried sleeping on my own which I was lucky to even to get 2 hours of sleep per night. I was waking up throughout the night like every hour to half hour. It was pure hell. Finally my primary doctor prescribed me Clonazepam 1mg at bedtime for insomnia. I know it's a narcotic and can be highly addictive, but at this point where my mental and physical health is in jeopardy, the benefit outweighs the risks. I also met an individual who had an extreme caffeine addiction where it landed him in the hospital. He experienced every withdrawal symptom that I went through. He said it took him about 6 months to get better. He also said that he had insomnia. He told me that he could only sleep 2 hours per night for about 5 months and at 6 months is when he noticed his normal sleep pattern returning. I don't think I could wait that long. One month of sleep deprivation is long enough for me. My constipation problem is improving with the daily use of a laxative called miralax which my doctor approved. I will never touch caffeine again. All the hell I had to go through this month, I finally realized how much caffeine can impact our health in a negative way. I know it will be a while before my body hopefully turns back to normal, but I am going to keep fighting this addiction. There is no way I want to deal with this every again. To be continued...

In defense of percolators

I get that you love coffee, and you go to great pains in the article and the comments to say that our own opinions and tastes are just fine with you. But you start by saying the percolators violate the "natural laws" of brewing coffee. That doesn't leave a lot of room for opposing views.

What value is the word of a "coffee authority?" Some have great jobs, traveling the world to drink coffee and walk through coffee bean plantations, and of course they know a lot about coffee. When it comes to questions about growing, shipping, roasting or even brewing for mass consumption, I'll ask a coffee authority. But people give to much deference to such authorities when it comes to personal taste. The authorities can tell you what they like, and even what most of the market likes, but they can't tell you what you like. You can argue whose taste is better until the cows come home, but it's simply a matter of personal taste. One is not better than the other. There is no objective measure, and I'm sure you know that. Yet, people who like percolated coffee are still told that they are violating natural laws.

I know that's your view, but it's a big world and there is a wide spectrum of personal tastes. Let's just enjoy the variety, appreciate percolators for what they are - and if you want, tell us why you don't like them. But the natural laws you cite are just rules made up by a select group of people regarding taste as an objective rather than subjective matter.

Drip coffee makers obey those rules, and the coffee is bland. Beauty is often dependent on distinctive "flaws" that separate it from the simply good looking. The same with taste.

Sorry for the rant, as you put a lot of effort into this site, and I enjoy it all. But, somebody needs to speak up for those of us who are constantly taking flack for our tastes by others who only know what they read. Thanks for the ear.

RE: In Defense of Percolators

I agree completely.

One one hand, directly at the argument, the author uses very judgmental words for percolated coffee. This can then be turned around and used as judgmental words on a person who likes them. I also don't agree with the authors ideology of breaking the "Rules of Nature" or however he stated it. I don't think that the rules of nature have been defined by his personal taste hm? And even if he is able to look at it in a scientific sense, does it explain why some people can make exceptionally wonderful percolated coffee?

Here's my standpoint. I have owned a 1920's stove top percolator for about 5 years (I found it at an estate sale for an unbeatable price $2. Never regretted the purchase). I have had drip coffee, espresso, instant, you name it, I've tried it, and there has yet to be a coffee that can beat the percolator coffee I have brewed from that clunky stove top machine. I do like to claim that I am a coffee affectionado and I love everything about it. Don't get me wrong, I have my favorites, and many people don't agree, but I'm not going to down right insult them based on their tastes.

Now lets look at the authors reasoning. I'll break it up into two parts, cause I just like breaking up stuff like that.
1.) Over extracting of oils - Percolators work almost like any other machine in the process of extracting oils and flavor. It also follows the same rules. If you want stronger coffee, use less water more grounds. Weaker coffee? Vice versa. The most important thing, is the brewing time. One way that I like the percolator is that you can change the brewing time however you desire. Since mine is stove top, I can control exactly when I think the coffee is perfect leading to a perfect brew. So I then ask the author, is there something wrong with the percolator, or is there something wrong with you?

2.) Never reheat/boil coffee -
a.) Percolators, if used properly, NEVER boil the coffee. For a percolator to work, there has to be 2 different temperatures of water within the system. If all the water is boiling, than it is one temperature, and thus doesn't work. What actually happens is that it heats to NEARLY boiling (Why, that's the perfect temp. for coffee, isn't it!) and when it falls back down, cools of slightly, get's heated to NEARLY boiling once again, and the process continues. I have heard first hand what happens to my percolator if water gets too hot. It starts suppering out steam, and the coffee doesn't brew at all all... hm... I guess percolators don't boil, do they?
b.) reheating - Now what SCIENTIFIC law states that coffee can not be reheated? I can understand why you wouldn't want to put coffee back through a machine like a drip maker or espresso machine simply because there would be coffee residue that would go rancid, but in a percolator, that's not an issue. Coffee particles don't necessarily decompose if they are reheated. That's why if coffee goes cold after drip, it can be reheated in the microwave good-as-new if it was not boiled in the microwave, or if was not old. I will not listen to the idea that reheating coffee reduces quality until I have experienced firsthand that it is truthful. Considering that I have not, I don't believe it.

In the example of the glass percolator pot, he stated that it is indeed re-brewing already brewed coffee through the grounds, but that evidence still doesn't state the exact evidence of the error in this. Plus, most percolator coffee should not be brewed longer than 7 minutes, as this causes it to strip the coffee grounds of too much oil.

Lastly, I would just like to double-confirm that what I have is NOT a "moka pot" or "vacuum" brewer. It is a percolator, unlike any other I've seen before. Very old and in amazing condition. Makes a lot of noise when I use it, but does it's job brilliantly. Stove top percolator of the 1920's.

RE: In defense of percolators

Well said. I am happy you enjoy your coffee even if I do disagree with the method. Maybe one day I will tweak the article a bit as you say the tone does not leave much room for disagreement and there is certainly some disagreement about this article.

Question: You said that on a

Question: You said that on a budget, the french press is a good idea, but from what I've been reading it seems that in order to get decent coffee from a french press you need a good burr grinder that creates evenly sized coarse grinds with no dust. These grinders are quite pricey, so it is possible to do the french press method with pre ground or blade ground coffee?

RE: Question: You said that on a

You can definitely use a blade grinder for press pot. I did for years. You may end up with a small amount of fines but if you are careful and shake as you grind it works.

Most in store grinders should be adjustable for a course grind with all the inherent issues that pre-ground brings.

Canned coffee will likely be too fine for a press.

I feel like a child among

I feel like a child among coffee connoisseurs here, but I do appreciate the description of the difference between percolators and vacuum pots and the explanation of how coffee shouldn't be reheated for optimum results and taste.

Coffee Makers Guide
xxx

I found the above article quite helpful for coffee maker dummies like myself.

I consume a moderate amount of coffee, maybe 1 cup a day, sometimes more, but rarely, with a few off days in between. I'd be interested to know how many cups you guys get through in a day/week?

re: I feel like a child among

It's not the quantity that is important but the quality of coffee. I stick between 8 and 24 oz most days with a really heavy day maybe doubling that. Of late that has been mostly decaf.

I haven't seen the 1961

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.

Very helpful!

My wife gave me a percolator for Christmas on the grounds that I love using somewhat archaic technologies.  I was horrified, because I like excellent coffee far more!  But to save her feelings, I've been using the stovetop percolator and finding the coffee surprisingly good.  Eric's clarification is very helpful--if properly managed, the percolator is not actually boiling the coffee, but rather using convection to pump hot water over the grounds.  This helps me explain why (to my surprise) I don't hate perc'd coffee.  The upside: a big pot of good coffee to serve a group.  The downside: doing this well on a stovetop requires some vigilance.  So this becomes a go-to way to make coffee for a group, while my french press or Melitta filter is great for just me.

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