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

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.

Technivorm Coffee Brewer

Daniel,

I recently learned of Technivorm and it sounds very good. I don't live in usual circumstances- in the Flatirons near Boulder, Colorado at an altitude of 7500 feet. Water boiis at 198.5° F. Consequently French presses make a very vapid brew. Ten minutes in a percolator yields fairly decent Mexican style coffee. Mostly I use a 12 cup Gevalia ("give away") drip maker. I can't find a maker's mark, but it does brew a good cup. But always seeking something better the Technivorm caught my eye. I would like to hear from those who have actually used the Technivorm and in what circumstances. Thanks.

Coyote

another source

Coyote,

Check out the Home Roast List archive at http://www.themeyers.org/HomeRoast/index.htm. The Technivorm has been discussed several times and I believe I remember seeing high altitudes mentioned but I do not remember the conclusion.

perc coffee smells good. it

perc coffee smells good. it continually boils coffee and passes boiled coffee through grounds over and over again. the grounds are coarse so they can hopefully stand up to this. the vacuum pot prevents this. drip coffee is not the answer. the bodum, i believe, is the way to do it. that, or an old fashioned espresso stovetop. it has been noted previously: people who drink black coffee and have the ability to discern taste do not prefer percolator coffee. typical americans who spend their lives in mall food courts eating horrible food, getting bad perms and then driving home to watch rented movies and eat more bad food kill their coffee with milk (half and half and cream in some places) and a ton of sugar anyway. who cares what they drink? these are the same people who favor syrupy disgusting flavored coffee. bleah.

perco-fection

A percolator forces water jsut below the boiling point up through the tube. The water cools somewhat before it reaches the coffee, to around 192ºF or so...an almost ideal temperature. The brewed cofee is quite a bit warmer than the cool water below, and will tend to stay in a layer close to the top, only gradually 'tendrilling' down as it cools.

Inevitably, as we get close to the end of the process, some of the coffee will be passed through the already wet grounds. The actual percolation stops when the source water from the bottom of the pot reaches the boiling point.

Now the key to a good cup of perc: The coffee must be reduced in temparature, and the grounds removed IMMEDIATELY when the percolating stops. You do NOT want those last few drops of brew (with all the nasty free acids) to drain into the pot of coffee, nor do you want to hold the coffee much over 180ºF (or below160º).

The same holds true for your drip machines...keep those last few drops out of the pot, and your brew will be infinitely better!

You ARE wiping the area above the basket down after every pot, aren't you?

In my restaurant days, I ran a chain unit that consistently won awards for 'best coffee'...and we did it with a middle-of-the-road commercial blend...the secret was keeping the machine clean, and keeping those last few drops out.

Perco Fection

While stovetop percolators must be carefully monitored to make sure they don't come to a boil, this is not so with electric percolators. A typical electric percolator will brew coffee at the optimum 200 degrees. The greater the wattage, the quicker it gets to this temperature, and the better the coffee will be. The recirculating of water through the grinds apparently does not have a detrimental effect. A French press allows the grinds to simply steep while floating freely in the water, so I don't see how this makes any difference. Bascially, the faster a percolator brews, the better. I have a Farberware 8 cup perc, and it brews at cup a minute speed. I use a grind only slightly more coarse than auto drip, and it makes coffee identical in body and overall tone as my Chemex pourover brewer. Auto drip machines just cannot compare. I refurbish and resell a lot of coffee makers, and can tell you that the vast majority of coffee makers aren't even designed to get hot enough to brew properly. They are pour substitutes for a proper method of brewing coffee. If you're not going to use a manual method of brewing, then get a percolator.

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