“If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
When you hear this term, who can you picture saying that?
More than likely, those people that popped into your head could easily fall into the category of folks who love coffee percolators.
The method of using the coffee percolator has been dated as far as back as the early 1800’s. Through a series of modifications, it was finally patented in 1889 by a farmer named Hanson Goodrich. He stated on his patent application that his intent was to create a device that produced liquid without any residue or impurities. If used correctly, the coffee percolator can definitely produce a product like that.
How does it work?
Simply put, percolator coffee is brewed by cycling boiling water through coffee grounds until the coffee has reached the users’ desired strength.
This coffee pot can either be a counter top electric-powered machine or a traditional stovetop version. Both versions use the same type of technology (I use that term loosely) to brew coffee.
Today, we’ll learn about the process of using a coffee percolator and discover whether this is the way to go when picking your next brew method.
Here is a list of all of the items that you’ll need to make a pot of percolator coffee:
- Coffee beans
- Measuring spoons and cups
- Coffee grinder
- Stove or campfire
The percolator itself consists of a handful of pieces:
- Pot: Shell that holds the pieces of the percolator and houses the coffee itself
- Pump stem/tube: Straw-like tube that allows boiled water to flow from the bottom of the pot through to the top of the tube, and through the spreader cover
- Basket: Holds the coffee grounds in the pot and has a hole through the middle, which allows it to be fashioned with the pump stem through it
- Basket lid: Fastened on top of the basket, it also has a hole through the middle of it, which allows the pump stem to distribute boiled water over the top and through the lid’s holes.
- Lid: Covers the pot itself and keeps the steam contained during the brewing process
- Cover knob: Usually clear, this is fastened through the top of the lid, and allows user to look into the pot to check out the color of the coffee while it brews
Conveniently, the above list of pieces is also the order that you’ll put your percolator pot together in. The pot itself looks like any other stove top coffee or tea pot, but the pieces inside are what will make it different than the others.
Let’s get ready to brew!
Step 1: Grind your coffee using a grinder that will give you a uniform COARSE grind. This type of grind works best, as the grounds may fall into your coffee if it is too fine.
- TIP: Burr grinders tend to work best to give you a uniform grind. Blade grinders tend to create inconsistent grind sizes due to the smashing process it uses.
Step 2: Measure one tablespoon of grounds per cup of coffee desired, and add grounds to the basket.
Step 3: Place the pump stem inside the pot. There are slight variations between tube stems, but there will always be either a disc or piece that resembles a bolt. That end should be down when putting it in the pot.
Step 4: Add water to the base of the pot.
- TIP: Add a little extra water than you’re intending to have cups of brewed coffee, due to steam that will inevitably boil off.
Step 5: Add the basket to the stem, and secure the basket cover to the basket.
Step 6: Place the lid on top of the pot, place on stove (or campfire), and turn it on to medium/medium-high.
Step 7: The water should heat up gradually, and you’ll hear it start to bubble (or “perk”).
What exactly is the water doing inside the pot while it’s perking?
As the water boils, it travels UP and through the top of the straw. It then falls onto the grounds below and filters into its original reservoir. It continues this cycle until it reaches your desired strength.
Step 8: Let the pot perk (brew) for at least 7 minutes.
- TIP: The lid has a clear cover, which allows users to peek inside the pot and check out the color of their brewing coffee. The color of the coffee should match what you’re accustomed to drinking. If it’s your first time making coffee in a percolator, take a peek
Step 9: Remove the percolator from heat, and let it sit to allow it to settle for a few minutes.
Add your cream, your sweetener, and anything else your fancy heart desires.
If you have an electric percolator, there are a few different ways that you can clean your percolator:
- In the bottom chamber, fill with water and a couple tablespoons of baking soda, cream of tarter, or vinegar. Turn the pot on, and let it perk for 10 minutes. When it cools, use a nonabrasive scrubbing sponge or tool to remove stains.
- Using a cloth, mild dish detergent, and warm water. This process can be done with all of the non-electrical elements of the pot.
- Non-electrical pieces can be put in the dishwasher, as long as the materials are considered dishwasher-safe.
Stovetop percolators can be cleaned in a few different ways as well. Once the percolator is taken apart, pieces can be cleaned:
- In the dishwasher
- By hand with water and mild dish detergent
- Cycling vinegar, baking soda, or cream of tartar (as mentioned above) with water.
As with other appliances, it’s important to take note of the materials that the pot is made out of, care instructions that came with it, or disclaimers on the pot itself.
What do the fans say?
This brew method has a cult-like following for a myriad of reasons:
- It’s an easy process without anything too gadget-y
- The results can be consistent with practice
- It’s an old-school method, and fans like the vintage feel of the process
- If you’ve used one percolator, you can use them all, the concept is the same
- For folks who like to camp, this is a great non-electric method to brewing coffee in variety of capacities
What do the connoisseurs say?
There are a variety of reasons that this process is full of “no-no’s”.
Those who don’t love this method agree that cycling water through the beans continuously can over extract the beans. This can result in a burned or bitter flavor. Additionally, boiling the coffee is also a big “no-no”, as this can also compromise flavor by over extracting the beans too quickly.
The method of using a coffee percolator is a process that has fallen out of fashion due to the many other options that we now have.
In our modern age of coffee making, the inconvenience and inconsistencies of the process of using the percolator make coffee fans typically sway another direction.
Practice, practice, practice!
As stated earlier in this article, if done PERFECTLY, the result of the finished coffee can be good. However, it does take practice and lots of trial and error. If your first time brewing doesn’t come out the way you’d like, try changing up different factors.
Elements of the process that can be altered to give you different results:
- Variety of coffee
- Grind size of the beans
- Coffee grinder type
- Measurement of coffee grounds used
- Time the coffee has “perked”
- Amount of water used in the bottom chambers
- Stovetop vs. Electric
- Pot capacity size
- The temperature that the stove is set to. Though the water is meant to boil, cranking up the stove to high to start with versus gradually increasing the heat can affect the flavor.
Price & Capacities
There are many types of materials that percolators are made from including:
- Stainless steel
- Generally come in sizes between 3-12 cups
- Prices can start at $20 depending on the brand and retailer
- Thermal steel with enamel coating
- Generally come in sizes 6-12 cups
- Prices for this campfire variety can start as low as $10
- Generally come in sizes 6-20 cups
- Prices for this variety can start as low as $10
Finding replacement parts for percolators can sometimes be tricky depending on the age of the specific model. However, a great option to start your part search is a website called fix.com. This website allows you to search for your particular percolator brand or model by number. You can select the specific pieces you need, and they will ship directly to you.
Popular brands of percolators include:
- Hamilton Beach
Due to the popularity of the above brands, replacement parts can be found on their respective websites. Keep in mind that replacement pieces are unique to particular capacity sizes too, which can affect the availability. Additionally, parts can be found and purchased through big box websites such as Amazon and eBay too.
Is this option for you?
Purchasing a coffee percolator is definitely on the cost effective side in the world of coffee-making appliances. With varieties starting at $10, this is a small financial commitment to try out a different method.
If you would prefer a consistent and user-friedly option with a “set it and forget it” reputation, this may not be the best fit for you.
However, if you have the time and patience to try changing up the different factors listed above, you might just find that perfect balance that works for you and your taste buds.