How to use a coffee percolator

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Percolators have gone out of style in the past couple of decades as have many other kitchen appliances.

There are far more efficient practices for brewing coffee, like drip machines that use paper filters.

But, this doesn’t mean percolators don’t deserve a place in your kitchen. They make a rich, bold coffee, perfect for those who aren’t afraid of a strong brew.

What’s more, there are a few things you can do to make sure you get the best cup of percolator coffee.

Below, we step through exactly how to make the perfect cup of coffee from your percolator and answer some common questions.

Percolator step-by-step brew guide

What you need

  • Fresh, roasted coffee beans
  • Coffee grinder
  • Coffee percolator
  • Scales or measuring device

Steps

Step 1: Measure your coffee beans

Your ideal coffee to water ratio will likely take a bit of trial and error, however, we recommend starting off with something close to the Golden Cup Standard from the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)

This prescribes a ratio of 55 g/L ± 10%. So if you have a 250ml capacity percolator, start with 14g of coffee.

Step 2: Grind your coffee beans

Grind your beans to a coarse grind size. The grounds should resemble ground seal salt.

You can experiment with a medium grind size, however, you want to avoid any coffee getting through the mesh filter into your brew. The mesh filter will differ between percolators so the ideal grind size may also differ slightly.

A high quality burr grinder will be the best option for delivering a consistent grind size, allowing for even extraction of your coffee grounds.

Step 3: Assembly

Remove the lid from the percolator. Inside you should find the stem/tube and the filter basket. Make sure these are attached to each other, and if it’s your first time using the device, make sure you follow the instruction manual.

Set these items to the side

Step 4: Fill the percolator with water

Pour cold water directly into the percolator. There should be a marking on the side that indicates the maximum fill level.

Step 5: Add coffee grounds

Insert the central stem and basket into the percolator then add your coffee grounds. Make sure they are distributed evenly.

Place the lid on the percolator

Step 6: Turn on your heat source and brew

This is by far the most complicated part of making percolator coffee and can take a few run-throughs before you get a hang of it.

For stovetop percolators, heat the water slowly over medium-low heat.

If you have a glass knob or globe for monitoring, watch it carefully and keep an eye on the colour of the brew. With a bit of experience, this will be your guide to when it’s time to take off the heat.

If the percolating sounds coming from your coffee maker become too loud or consistent, your coffee may become over-extracted and will taste bitter.

If you’re using an electric percolator, all you need to do is plug it in, turn it on, and let it brew.

How does a percolator work?

A coffee percolator consists chamber that is filled with water with a vertical tube that leads from this chamber to the top of the coffee percolator.

The percolator is placed on a heat source and water is pushed upward through a tube, or funnel, when it boils.

The water flows out of the top of the tube into a filter basket that holds the coffee grounds at the top of the device. As the hot water flows through the grounds, flavour and aroma are extracted.

The coffee then drips back down to the water reservoir where it repeats the process.

A percolator will continue this cycle of running the coffee through the coffee grounds until it is removed from the heat source.

What does “percolate” mean?

“Percolate” describes the process of water or gas slowly passing through a permeable, or porous, substance.

As with most examples of this process (e.g. water passing through soil), the liquid in coffee comes out as somewhat different than it was before passing through.

Percolator vs Moka Pot: What’s the difference?

Moka pots are another form of stovetop coffee maker, and work much like percolators, using steam pressure to produce a richly concentrated brew. This is why they are often spoken about together and/or confused with one another.

However, unlike the percolator, Moka pot coffee doesn’t continue to cycle through the pot and coffee grounds. Once it’s in the upper chamber, it stays there.

A key difference is the location of the coffee grounds.

In a Moka pot, these are located at the bottom of the brewer, and steam is forced up through them as the water boils below.

In a percolator, the coffee grounds are located at the top, where water flows onto them as it exits the water tube.

In terms of the coffee itself, the Moka pot produces a thick concentrated coffee, which is more similar to espresso than it is to any other form of coffee. In fact, the process is similar to espresso, just with less pressure and more water.

On the other hand, percolated coffee tastes something like regular drip or black filter coffee. This is because the water isn’t forced through the coffee grounds, but instead flows through them with gravity.