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

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.

I am confused by the heat

I am confused by the heat issue. It sounds like everyone is saying the really hot temps like 180 degrees is good. However, I went to the Technivorm website and all of their coffee makers says this:
"brewing temperature between 92-96°/ keeping temperature between 80°-85° meeting the requirements of the ECBC/SCAE/SCAA "
What exactly is this, and why does it seem to be such a low temp?

RE: I am confused by the heat

Technivorm is undoubtedly discussing temperature in Celsius. 92 degree Celsius = 197.6 degree Fahrenheit. 180 degrees Fahrenheit is too low for brewing. Se my section on coffee temperature.

If Percolators brew below boiling but around 200F, THEN.... :)

I have not tried percolated coffee (yet) and so I cannot comment on the flavor (I've got a French Press, a drip maker, a pump espresso machine and a turkish coffee pot). But I do find several faults with the premise of the article and have at least one point to offer in favor of the percolator. First of all, if what I've been reading is true, the percolator does NOT boil the coffee and IF that is true, then the basic premise of what is wrong with percolated coffee is just plain wrong.

Secondly, IF the coffee really is being brewed around 200 degrees Fahrenheit give or take a few degrees, then the percolator has a MAJOR selling point over ALL drip makers (I have yet to see drip maker that operates much above 165 degrees Fahrenheit). As anyone who knows anything about the French Press, the reason most people believe the coffee it produces tastes better than a drip maker is that it is brewing it at the correct temperature and drip makers do NOT do this. So IF the percolator is brewing at the correct temperature then that would explain why it tastes better. The fact that already brewed coffee is being recirculated through the grounds is MEANINGLESS. Yes, meaningless because the SAME THING can be technically said of a French Press through convection currents and you don't see any coffee snobs 'dissing' the French Press. The key in both cases (and of Turkish coffee as well) that the water remains JUST BELOW the boiling point. You will only get 'burnt' or 'scorched' coffee if actual boiling water is coming into contact with the coffee grounds.

Given all of what I've read, I must admit my interest in TRYING percolated coffee has been sufficiently piqued that I'm planning on buying a Presto Percolator just to try it out for myself. In the end, TASTE is what actually matters and I couldn't care less what others think. An opinion is just an opinion and all tastes fall into that category in the end. If you prefer percolated or turkish or espresso, who cares so long as YOU enjoy it? I hate snobbery even though I love quality food and drink. What tastes best with cream and sugar isn't neccessarily the same as what tastes best with flavored creamers and what tastes best black. Sometimes you can be in the mood for a certain taste as well. For example, I like steak, but I like hamburgers too. They are not mutually exclusive despite both being different cuts of beef.

RE: If Percolators brew below boiling but around 200F, THEN....

Most of your comments are correct of vacuum coffee makers but not necessarily percolators. Perc pots warm the water in the bottom area and then push warm (but not boiling) coffee into the top area. This is similar to a vacuum pot or a Moka pot. The difference with a perc pot comes in next. A perc pot allows the water to flow back down into the bottom reservoir. As it falls through it goes threw the grounds much like a drip pot. Once the brewed coffee falls down it starts to boil. That is where the boiling comes in. If you don't believe me watch the video of a perc pot in action. It is mentioned in paragraph five of the main article. The boiling of brewed coffee is the real problem here.
You are correct about the correct temperature making all the difference in the world. I upgraded to a Technivorm and the coffee is not just convenient but has great taste to rival vacuum which is my preferred prep method.
I will agree that ultimately it comes down to personal preference. I'll go further to say most people will probably prefer whatever they are accustomed to. Give a perc pot a try. They are not expensive so you won’t be out a lot of money. At the same time you get your perc pick up a vacuum pot. That will give you a package that looks similar to a perc pot without all the inherent engineering problems. If you end up loving perc above all else then by all means celebrate your discovery of the way that is right for you.

I tried a Presto Percolator And...

I went out today and purchased a Presto 12-cup Percolator (highest rated model on Amazon) at Sears. It cost around $50. And yes by Percolator, I mean the "bad" coffee maker, not a Moka pot, which I already have and have had for several years (forgot to mention it in my list above).

In general, the basic premise is that Percolators are 'bad' because they both "boil" coffee and "recirculate" (brew coffee again that was already brewed). The 2nd premise is BS in my opinion because French Press Pots do the same thing via convection (Percolators simply do it a little more forcefully) and no one bad mouths the French Press. In essence, brewed coffee contains micro molecules and sending them through the filter basket again would only increase the quantity, not necessarily change their nature. So I don't buy that a viable explanation or reason why percolators "suck".

The 1st premise is a little harder to test with my stainless steel model because I cannot actually measure the temperature of the water (later coffee) at the bottom of the pot. The assertion here is that it IS boiling and therefore scorches the coffee and the evidence presented is a stove-based model that is literally brought to a boil. My problem with that as evidence is that the "boiling" is the USER'S FAULT. As with Turkish coffee, boiling is a no-no and should be avoided. If the user 'boiled' their coffee, then they had the heat setting TOO HIGH when percolating. The solution is to use less heat and not let the water/coffee boil. Percolating should not require boiling water, only HOT water (200 degrees is more or less optimal for brewing). The Presto model I purchased is an electric plug-in model. It is quite possible that the temperature is regulated. In fact, I have read (even in this very thread) that ELECTRIC PERCOLATORS do NOT boil the water, but in fact brew at about 200 degrees.

Thus, if that is indeed correct, then ALL this bad-mouthing of percolators is pretty much 100% BS. Not only does it not matter if coffee is recirculated (French Presses do the same thing through convection), but *electric* percolators do NOT *BOIL* coffee (and neither will a stove top one if you regulate the temperature properly). Thus, I must conclude on a technical level that the case against percolators is comprised of half-truths and just plain ignorance and that it does not deserve its bad reputation and only got it because of stove top percolators run by people that don't know the definition of medium heat.

Now on a personal taste test level, I just tried the Presto percolator using Dunkin Donuts original whole bean coffee which was run through my burr grinder at a medium coarse level and then put into the filter basket with a home-made paper filter (poked a hole through a regular drip filter). After about 10 minutes (I made a lot of coffee), it was done and PIPING HOT (much hotter than any espresso or drip coffee and tantamount to French Press, but with a built-in warming coil like a drip maker--although you can unplug it if you don't like it being warmed). I first tried the coffee black (after I let it cool a bit since it was burning my tongue) and my first impression was WOW. This coffee wasn't even SLIGHTLY bitter. It is in fact, the BEST "black" coffee I've tasted since I had coffee one time at a catered event. I neglected to ask them what kind of coffee they were using and I now realize it is far more likely that it was the METHOD they used that produced the drinkable 'black' coffee (I do not normally like black coffee and I've tried ALL basic other coffee brewing methods except the Bodum vacuum pot and the Chemex Drip Pot). Espresso is about the only thing I like black and ONLY if it's made well. Next, I tried adding milk and sugar to the coffee and once again, it exceeded my wildest expectations. It tasted better than a drip maker (by FAR) and rivaled if not surpassed my Bonjour French Press (same coffee, same roast). I'd imagine this could be do the fact the French Press quickly drops below 200 degrees as it cools whereas the Electric Percolator maintains it during the brew cycle.

So as far as I'm concerned, the main article needs editing. It's both COMPLETELY FALSE (for electric percolators and regulated stove-top ones) but the coffee tastes GREAT. And you cannot say I'm biased towards percolator coffee because I never had it before (knowingly at least). I started with drip, moved to French Press (big improvment), tried moka pots (acceptable to make pseudo cappuccino, IMO, but terrible for a pseudo-espresso) and still make espresso, cappuccino and turkish coffee on a regular basis (this is no substitute for them because their flavors are DIFFERENT from regular coffee). But as far as I'm concerned, this test has proven to me the best method for making normal coffee is a regulated temperature (electric) percolator. It brews it at the correct (200 degree) temperature. French Presses also do this but quickly cool. Drip makers don't even come close.

For those "coffee snobs" that think percolators are garbage, I wonder how many actually TRIED them (a good regulated one made with a good grinder) before dismissing them based on other snob opinions, many of which are clearly based on watching someone boil coffee in one instead of keeping the temperature regulated at 200 degrees where it belongs.

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