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.

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

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.

+1

I read Eric's comment as I was mentally composing my paragraph defending percolators. No need for me to write it though because he said it. Stovetop, low heat. And theoretically continuous flow=suspending grounds. Yup, I agree.

Sure, the flavor is different than drip, vac, press, moka as all are different from each other. I prefer a low acid, high body coffee leaning in profile to earthy or chocolate in a perc, but I'll brew brighter, lighter coffees in a vac pot, and maybe fruiter in a press. Depends on the bean and the flavor you want. Those older stove top pyrex or corningware from the thrift store can do a nice job if you watch the time and heat. Just like other methods, it takes fiddling. I'm not keen on electric perc any more than I'm keen on electric vac (eg bodum santos automatic, old sunbeams) because I can't easily control the heat and time during brewing the way you can with a stovetop.

Amen!

Amen!

RE: I haven't seen the 1961

Interesting. If you are interested in the video it is linked in the article.

Bunn

I am trying to give the best first-hand experience, non bias comment around..

First, I drink my coffee black. I am not a fan of drip or percolators. I totally agree that with the comments that people that own drip machines are generally dissatisfied and I was one of them but I much prefer a drip over a percolator. However, I now have a Bunn that I use every day and I love it. It brews the coffee very strong and with lots of body. That's because it shoots the water out in 5 streams to mix up all the grinds rather than a slow drip. And apparently people keep their Bunns for 15 years! I realize I sound like I work for Bunn, but you could easily spend $100 on a Krups drip machine that is no better than the $25 Mr. Coffee. It's Bunn or french press for me.

Now my first-hand experience. I always roast my own coffee and this Christmas I gave some to my uncle who has a percolator. After consuming the coffee I gave my uncle brewed in his new automatic perc, I was sad to realize that the taste I love from my home roasted coffee was gone and it tasted just like it was the same Folgers coffee that my uncle and my grandparents use. Further more, both my uncle and grandparents drink their coffee with heavy cream so I am assuming they can't taste the difference anyway.

In conclusion, I would say that coffee brewed in a percolator has a certain taste, which I do not like. But if you are going to argue that dripers are better, you do not have much ground (pun intended) to stand on if the machine you are using is a proctor silex.

If you want great flavor extraction and spend $30, use a french press. But again, that is how I feel and other people may not like really good, strong coffee. There is always manual pour, but I have never tried that.

The author of this article

The author of this article must like thin tasteless coffee. Percolators make far better tasting coffee than drip. Dirp coffee makes are for people who don't know what coffee should taste like or that don't like the taste of coffee.

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