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What is a Coffee Percolator?

Percolators are not commonly seen anymore because they have been supplanted by drip coffee makers, french presses, and espresso machines.
If improperly used, a percolator can overextract the coffee beans and make the brew taste bitter.
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  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 November 2014
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A coffee percolator is a device which is designed to be used in the brewing of coffee. The percolator was actually the original coffee brewing device, although they are not commonly seen these days, having been supplanted by drip coffee makers, French presses, and espresso machines. The flavor of percolator coffee is quite distinctive, and some people consider it an acquired taste; it also takes skill to learn to use a percolator correctly, as it is easy to ruin coffee when using a percolator.

There are several parts to a coffee percolator, contained inside the percolator itself, which looks rather like an urn. Working from the top down, the percolator has a spout which allows people to pour coffee, along with a lid which is typically clear so that people can check on the coffee as it brews. Next is a perforated chamber which is designed to hold coarsely ground coffee. Attached to the chamber is a tube, which runs to the bottom of the percolator, making contact with a chamber which holds water close to a heat source.

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To use a coffee percolator, the pot is placed over a source of heat such as a stove or campfire. As the water in the bottom chamber heats, it is forced up the tube, where it spurts out over the grounds, making a very distinctive sound. The hot water percolates or seeps through the coffee grounds, eventually trickling back down into the bottom chamber. When coffee is percolated well, the water never quite reaches the boiling point, and the coffee can be quite strong.

The major danger to a coffee percolator is that it is easy to overextract the beans, creating bitter coffee with an unpleasant flavor and aroma. Overextraction happens as a result of using water which is too hot, or because the coffee is rebrewed, with hot coffee being sent through the beans instead of hot water, removing the volatile aromas of the coffee on the second pass. When a coffee percolator is used right, both of these problems can be avoided.

Several companies make electric coffee percolators with sophisticated controls which are designed to extract the best possible coffee. If you use a percolator on the stovetop or on a fire, however, you will need to watch it carefully to ensure that it brews properly. It may take some experimentation to create the perfect coffee with a percolator, so be patient and plan on having a few aborted tries before you make the coffee of your dreams.

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honeybees
Post 7

@bagley - Your grandpa's coffee reminds me of the few times I have tasted percolated coffee. Either you really do need an acquired taste for this, or the people making the coffee didn't know how to do it.

To me it tasted bitter and was either too weak or way to strong. No matter how much cream and sugar I put in it, I could not get used to the taste of it.

I didn't even realize you could buy smaller sized coffee percolators, and thought all of them were made for someone making large amounts of coffee.

I like my drip machine that I can program to come on at a certain time every day. Do they make electric coffee percolator's that have a clock and you can program?

bagley79
Post 6

I have never had a coffee percolator, but like to use the espresso machines. Coffee percolators remind me of my grandpa though.

He loved to camp and loved his coffee. He took a percolated coffee pot with him whenever he went camping and made it over the campfire.

I tried this coffee a few times and it was so strong and dark that I didn't know how he could stand it. This was the way he loved his coffee, and probably wouldn't be able to stand the taste of the coffee I make for myself today.

For him, it was as important to take his percolator coffee pot along with him on his camping trip as it was a tent to sleep in. If he didn't have his coffee, he was miserable.

golf07
Post 5

I grew up with percolated coffee and that is still the taste I prefer. Many people today have never tasted a good cup of percolated coffee.

I also think there several other advantages to this type of coffee maker. I have a cordless stove-top coffee percolator that is also stainless steel.

This coffee maker has lasted me much longer than the drip machines I have used in the past, and still makes a great cup of coffee.

Depending on the type of water you use to make your coffee, regular tap water can be hard on many of the newer drip machines. You don't have to worry about this with this style of coffee percolator.

Some people think it takes some getting used to as far as making a great cup of coffee. I think all coffee machines are different and it takes a few tries before you know exactly how much coffee to use for your perfect cup of coffee.

A coffee percolator seems to give the coffee a richer, bolder taste that I really miss if I use something else.

sunshined
Post 4

At our church all we use is stainless steel coffee percolators. We have several of them, and they are nice because they make big batches of coffee that will easily serve a crowd.

The only thing I don't like about them is they can be bulky and difficult to clean. As far as the coffee goes, I think they make great tasting coffee.

The coffee also seems to be hotter and stay hotter than it does when I use a drip coffee maker.

SteamLouis
Post 3

@burcinc-- I still use a glass coffee percolator! These were actually pretty popular in the 70s. And then coffee machines with the drip system came out and everyone switched to those (except for me).

I have never been able to adapt to a regular coffee machine. This might seem silly, but I think they're too easy to use and the coffee doesn't taste as good. Yes, it takes more effort to make coffee in a percolator, but it's kind of like art. It requires thought and you can make coffee closer to personal tastes and preferences.

A percolator actually steams the coffee, it doesn't just run hot water through it like drip coffee machines do. That's why I think the aroma of the coffee comes out more strongly with a percolator. I like my coffee strong and flavorful and I can't seem to use anything else other than an "old-fashioned" percolator for it.

burcinc
Post 2
Yea, the percolator is a thing of the past now. When I was growing up, my mom would make coffee with a French press. But I do remember my grandmother making coffee with a percolator. She still has a couple in her house, although she don't really use it anymore.

My grandmother loves passing on her old cookbooks to me because she knows I enjoy cooking. The other day, I was looking for a recipe in one of the cookbooks she gave me and actually found a recipe for making coffee in a stovetop coffee percolator!

I've never tried making coffee with one of my grandmom's percolators. But if there is actually a recipe for it, it must be pretty hard!

burcidi
Post 1

I work as a caterer and we make all of our coffees (and also teas) in a coffee percolator. I didn't know that there are smaller versions of these and that it was the staple coffee maker before.

When I first started working for catering, one of the first tasks I learned was using a coffee percolators. Our percolators are very large, stainless steel and work with electricity.

What I do is first, I fill up the lower chamber with water. Then, I put the top piece on the lower chamber and fill the center with coffee. I have to be careful with the amount and put exactly the right amount of coffee for the amount of water. Otherwise, the coffee will come out either too strong or too weak. Then, I just put the lid on and switch the percolator on.

Like the article said, it makes a unique sound while the coffee is brewing. It's the sound of spluttering water. When the brewing is finished though, it's quiet and only keeps the coffee warm.

We put these percolator coffee pots on tables for events. It has a nozzle where people can pull the handle and the coffee pours out into their cup.

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