How to Use a Percolator
In a world dominated by drip coffee makers, single-serve coffee pods, and other fancy coffee-making gadgets, some old-school coffee-brewing methods, like the percolator, have managed to withstand the test of time.
We won't deny that the percolator is old fashioned - You might've even seen one dusted off once or twice in a last-ditch effort to brew beans by the campfire.
But like fine wine, the percolator has only improved with age. And when the percolator method is perfected, this tried-and-true brewing method produces a seriously stellar pot of coffee.
So, whether you've never used a percolator, or you just happened to uncover this relic in your attic, we're here to walk you through the ins and outs of percolating your beans so you can kick back and enjoy a delicious cup of joe.
What Is a Percolator?
Believe it or not, before the birth of the drip coffee maker, the percolator was the American hero of the coffee-brewing industry.
Its creation was meant to elevate the coffee-drinking experience by introducing a brew method that would produce a cup of joe that was “free of all grounds and impurities so that it is not necessary to use any clearing materials.”
It’s helpful to keep in mind that prior to the beloved percolator, folks were still making coffee by dumping coffee grounds into boiling water.
The percolator changed the game by offering a coffee-brewing method that repeatedly cycled hot water through coffee grounds using gravity. This method not only allowed coffee-lovers to have more control over the strength of their brew, but it also systematically removed most of the volatile coffee compounds.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
You might be wondering why the percolator sort of fell out of style.
Unfortunately, the same innovativeness that aided in the percolator’s rise to stardom, also ended up being its achilles heel.
Although the percolator is infamous for delivering a customizable and bold brew, it also requires a considerable amount of effort - especially when compared to a contemporary drip coffee maker.
The percolator is constantly exposing your coffee grounds to high temperatures, and this constant recirculation of almost-boiling water means your coffee beans are a lot more susceptible to over-extraction.
Over-extraction ultimately leads to a bitter brew, and if there’s one thing that’ll ruin a coffee-drinker’s day, it’s sour-tasting coffee.
In other words, this isn’t a laidback brew-method. Mastering the art of percolating coffee requires a keen coffee-eye, a little bit of babysitting, and a willingness to understand proper water temperatures.
All of that said, the coffee aficionado will still appreciate that a percolator is versatile, allows for more control over the coffee-brewing process, is incredibly durable, and delivers a notoriously robust cup of joe (if you’re into that kind of thing).
How to Make Coffee With a Percolator
So, how doyou master the art of percolated coffee? Although the percolator is a little more challenging than a drip machine, making a tasty cup of coffee is actually a lot easier than you might think.
What You Need
- Coffee (Preferably fresh whole beans)
- Coffee Grinder
- A Heat Source
- Filtered Water
- Measuring Cup or Spoon
- A Percolator
Keep Your Percolator Clean
It goes without saying, but you don’t want to be sipping on day-old coffee residue. All of the pieces of your percolator need to be cleaned after each use. Don’t forget to clean inside of the stem!
Use Freshly Ground Beans
We know there will be times where you can’t grind your beans right on the spot, but using freshly ground, high-quality beans is a major factor when it comes to flavor. Grinding your own beans also gives you more control over the final product - A medium grind will keep bitterness at bay.
Measure your Coffee and Water
Regardless of your prefered brewing method, coffee to water ratio matters. The SCAA’s Golden Cup ratio, 55 grams of coffee per liter of water, is a good place to start.
But keep in mind, the percolator produces a notoriously bold brew, so if your coffee is too strong, try reducing the amount of coffee and increasing the amount water.
Fill the Percolator with Water
If you wouldn’t normally drink tap water straight from the spigot, you shouldn’t use it to brew your beans. Add cold, filtered water to the percolator reservoir.
Assemble the Percolator
In most cases, you’ll need to attach the basket (which will be housing your coffee grounds) to the stem. After these two pieces are assembled, you’ll place them into the pot. If you’ve assembled your percolator correctly, you should still have a lid-shaped piece of the percolator set aside - the basket lid.
Not all percolators are created equal, so we recommend you always read the instructions that come with your pot.
Add the Coffee Grounds
Now it’s time to add your pre-measured coffee grounds to the basket and attach the basket lid. Once the basket lid is secured, close the lid of the percolator.
Time to Brew!
If you’re using an electric percolator, all you’ll need to do is plug it in and turn it on. Contemporary, electric percolators are typically autonomous and will stop brewing on their own.
If you’re using an old-fashioned, stovetop percolator, after you add the pot to a heat source (i.e. campfire or stove), you’ll want to keep an eye on the pot. Percolator pros recommend regularly checking the color of the coffee through the glass or plastic knob.
You can also use this handy clear knob to check the temperature of your pot. As the water in the pot begins to heat up, you’ll see bubbles periodically forming in the knob. Don’t panic - this means your coffee is brewing.
Conversely, if the bubbling becomes too consistent, your coffee is in danger of being over extracted and bitter. This is where practice and patience is key - somewhere between too hot and not quite hot enough is a bubble that is just right.
Once your percolator is bubbling at the right rate, set a timer for 6-8 minutes. Again, the brew time boils down to personal preference, so if your cup comes out a little too weak, let your next batch brew for a little bit longer.
After you’ve successfully brewed your first batch of coffee, carefully remove the percolator from the heat source.
Then, pop the pot open and toss out the steaming, percolated grounds. Finally, close the lid and pour yourself a well-deserved, delicious cup of coffee.
Whatever you do, don’t get discouraged if your first batch of percolated coffee needs some fine-tuning. This isn’t your run-of-the-mill, push-of-a-button cup of joe.
Percolating coffee takes time and it’ll probably take more than a single attempt to hone in your percolator skills. But once you do, you’ll never look at your drip coffee maker the same again.