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

Aroma reduces the flavor?

Even steaming foods, which is said to retain vitamins (and some also say flavor) more adequately, allows us to smell the aroma of the food. I really don't think we should be so concerned about some the flavor escaping --- just attend to our experience (flavor, aroma, etc.) of the meal or beverage. A large part of our enjoyment of foods is in the aroma. Therefore, perhaps we shouldn't assume that what we smell when the coffee is perculating is a part of the "flavor" we want on on tongues anyway. Nature just might have meant that part of the coffee essence for our noses afterall!

If one has never enjoyed a really delicious perked cup of coffee, it may be because he has never had one brewed properly. Brewing coffee is not at all as simple as using a drip. There is also a difference between electric perc and stovetop perc. The best tasting cup will come from a well-brewed stovetop. However, it takes the right technique which comes from experience of knowing a particular stove, coffee pot, and brand of coffee, etc. before one can brew a really good pot of coffee. And as it's been said, it MUST be watched. Most people will underbrew or overbrew until they master the technique and UNTIL THEN the taste will be lacking. But, it is well worth the time and effort, trial and error, to finally be able to make, share, (and taste!) that perfect pot of coffee. The electric percs take the guesswork out of this process but their drawback is that it can't be fine-tuned to one's detailed preferences. With a stovetop, EVERY decision is yours. Talk about having it "your way"! Stovetop perculating is truly the "gourmet" style of coffee.

Percolated coffee

Rubbish!!!! The finest coffee I've ever had was percolated in vast urns in Iraq from a domestic (Gulf) grind. The only downside (if you can call it that) was that it was *hot*!

We use a percolator at our

We use a percolator at our camp that does not have electricity. We used to use instant and tried the drip method. Everyone enjoys the perced coffee. It may be considered the worst way to make coffee but we enjoy it.

I love the percolator

I have never made better tasting coffee than when I let it brew in the percolator for 10 mins. My Mr. Coffee broke and I had to resort to this method, and I cannot go back.

Can't beat a percolator

A friend of mine bought me a vintage "Handy Hannah" electric percolator to match my stainless steel kitchen and the coffee from it far surpasses anything that ever came from my automatic drip coffeemakers. One secret is to remove the coffee basket and the grounds as soon as the coffee is brewed. The flavor of the coffee is unbeatable! If and when this 60's-era appliance quits working, I'll go right to the store and buy another one! Now any coffee from a "Mr. Coffee"-type machine tastes like scorched plastic to me.

coffee

I couldn't agree with you more my friend about the taste of a mr. coffee or anything like it. It Sucks. I love Waffle HOuses coffee and I don't know their secret! I can tell you something that I read sometime though! Wish I would have copied it. It was in 1992 or 1992 and I was working in a quick stop. There was a manual about 5 to 6 pages long that told how to make (brew) the "perfect" cup of coffee. The water "hardness", the temperature of the water when it hit the coffee. The amount of time that it took to pass through the coffee and the filter or "drip". Essentially everything nessesarry for the "perfect" cup of coffee. I only wish that I had that now. It was from a coffee manufacturer. I love a good cup of coffee and they are so hard to come by. Anybody know the secret, like for instance this percolator Idea, give me a buzz. have a great day.

Jeff

quick stop coffee

There is something funny in a quick stop having the instructions for making great coffee but yes the things that you mention are all vitally important in making great coffee. Now if more gas station would just read the instructions. The only coffee I have had in a while that I literally could not drink came from a 7-11 in Norfolk, VA. I admit I’m picky about my coffee but I’d been drinking diner brew for a week without excessive complaints so I know this stuff was bad. It could have just been the people there doing a bad job. As a side note they have the best cups I have ever seen for take away coffee. They are thick insulated plastic and did not warm my hands. A paper cup with a protective shield is still much warmer that this was. I’m not sure what the plastic might do to the flavor but probably nothing good comes from hot on plastic. I will say it was nice to not have to keep switching hands as I walked the 4 or 5 blocks back to my hotel.

I cringe

Every time I see this topic commented on I cringe because I know it will be another perc lover extolling the virtues of perc coffee. Typically I do not respond but this particular message made me think about something. The comparison being made between a perc pot and a cheapo coffee pot from the discount store may very well give the edge to the perc pot. I honestly have not had perc coffee in a very long time so I can’t remember the taste at all.

So if you are comparing a perc pot to a cheap drip pot the perc may very well come out better. On the other hand everything about perc pots is wrong when it comes to making really excellent coffee. See my comments in the main article for why. But everything in a cheapo drip coffee pot is also wrong for excellent coffee. If you want excellent coffee from a drip pot you can’t buy the cheapest thing on the shelf at the discount store. At the same time the most expensive machine may also make lousy coffee. Check the reviews or even better buy from a store that will allow you to try the product in store or has a liberal return policy. The biggest problem with drip pots is that they just don’t get hot enough. Some also brew too fast or too slow. See my comments on drip pots for some of the reasoning on why many drip machines are horrible. If you want excellent coffee from a cheap coffee maker the press pot is a good choice but you do give up automation.

In conclusion yes a perc pot may be better than a cheap drip coffee maker but the cheap coffee maker makes lousy coffee also. If you want cheap good coffee try a press pot. If you want good and convenience buy a good drip pot. For some people a perc may be a reasonable coffee maker for the price. But if you are paying $10+ per pound for coffee (absolute low end of what I have seen “gourmet” coffee sold for in the states) doesn’t it make sense to go ahead and spend a few dollars on a coffee maker that can get everything good the bean has to offer? A cheap drip pot will fall short of this. The higher temperatures which can pull more of the flavorful oils from coffee may very well be a reason that many people like perc pots.

not to flame, so you're

not to flame, so you're going back on your original statement about which type of coffee brewing is better. If you say there are higher-end drip models that produce better tasting coffee than percolators then name some. Substantiate those claims please. When I went to college years ago I had a drip in my room and it was the worst thing. Not even tryin to compare it to perc'd coffee at home, it was just so bitter and nasty-everytime, no matter how well i cleaned it. I drank it.... but after I graduated I never used it again. I agree with earlier posts, if you don't like perc coffee, odds are it's because you're brewing it wrong. I don't think the same can be said for drip because they just don't have the various brewing varibles.

not flamed

The Technivorm Electric Drip Coffee Brewers is supposed to be an excellent electric drip pot. It’s probably the best on the market. I use a Capresso MT 500. It’s a decent coffee maker. My mayor disappointment is that it does not get the water quiet as hot as it should, but it’s better than most. I have had good luck with Braun in the past with the same complaint about the temperature. There are also a number of drip coffee pot reviews available over at CoffeeGeek.

One other thing I should mention is that I use a permanent gold filter not a paper filter. That can make a big difference. Paper will trap some of the coffee oils. Permanent filters do not trap anything except most of the grounds. I also clean my coffee pot on a regular basis. A dirty pot no mater how expensive or how good will still make bad coffee. Think of it this way. Would you make dinner in a pot that had not been washed in months (not withstanding cast iron)? Same basic concept holds true for a coffee pot.

In my opinion there are a number of things that can and do go wrong in drip coffee pots but the most important problem is the temperature of the brew. Many if not most low end coffee pots and some of the high end units brew at a very low temperature. I have measured 135 – 140 degrees Fahrenheit at the brewhead. This low temperature will not make good coffee. I may have mentioned this before but I think this is one reason that some people love perked coffee. It’s hot.

If you are looking for a cheap, but good, coffee prep method I recommend a press pot. If you are looking for the best coffee possible I recommend a vacuum coffee maker. If you are looking for the absolute minimum trouble in preparation drip is my recommendation.

I also think that to some extent how important the coffee maker is depends on the beans. If you are brewing coffee that comes pre-ground in a can chances are the brew method is the least of the taste issues.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.