Make Coffee in a Percolator on the Stovetop

Stovetop percolators were once ubiquitous in American households, but they have since fallen out of favor due to their reputation for creating bitter, over-extracted coffee. And yet, despite its antiquity, this relic retains a devoted following. A well-executed brew session is a breeze, producing a delicious beverage in no time.  

Learn how to use a percolator to make a rich and flavorful cup of coffee without the bitterness by reading on.

What You'll Want

  • Ground coffee
  • Machine that grinds coffee beans
  • Cold water
  • Coffee weighing scale (or a spoon)
  • A percolator that can be placed on the stovetop.

Percolation is the process by which hot water rises to the top of a kettle and then trickles back down through coffee grounds placed at the bottom of the kettle. This is typically a container with a central tube leading up from a small reservoir at the bottom. A filter basket holding the coffee's ground beans sits atop the device. How does a coffee percolator function, you ask? To learn more, please visit the aforementioned link.

Inside a Percolator coffee brewer

What Makes a Moka Pot Different from a Percolator?

Although many people believe that percolators and Moka pots are the same thing, this is not the case at all. In fact, the two share more characteristics with other coffee brewing methods than they do with one another.

Percolators are very old coffee makers; in 1889, an Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich patented the first modern percolator. When compared to the standard method of the time, decoction (1), which involved boiling coffee grounds in water, the percolator was a huge improvement. Still, Goodrich's patent application was intriguing and audacious in its claims that percolated coffee would be...

(something) liquid that doesn't need to be filtered or purified in any way

Luigi de Ponti of Italy came up with the idea for the Moka pot in 1933, but it was aluminum machinist Alfonso Bialetti of Italy who popularized it. This not only ushered in a golden age for aluminum as an industrial metal, but it also democratized espresso by making "stovetop" espresso accessible to the average home (2). How then do we distinguish between the two?

Unlike the Moka Pot, which uses pressure to brew coffee, the coffee percolator relies on gravity to do so.

The coarse coffee grounds are soaked by water that rises through the central tube from the reservoir. When you turn off the heat, the coffee continues to percolate through the device, allowing you to adjust the intensity of your brew.

On the other hand, the Moka pot is a pressure cooker that brews coffee in much the same way that an espresso machine does. When heated, steam pressure drives water through coffee grounds to a collection chamber above. That's because the system has built-in limits. The coffee is finished brewing when the water in the lower chamber has been consumed. If you're interested in learning how to make coffee with a Moka Pot, watch the video we've provided below.

Therefore, the coffee produced by the two methods is drastically different. The taste of coffee brewed in a percolator is comparable to that brewed in a drip coffee maker. It's also like the French press, and here we compared the two brewers to see how they stack up. In contrast, coffee brewed in a Moka pot is extremely concentrated, more along the lines of espresso or that produced by an Aeropress.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Brewing Coffee in a Percolator

Let's go over the exact procedure for brewing coffee in a stovetop percolator.

First, get the coffee ready by grinding and measuring it.

A stovetop percolator coffee grounds, a scale, a mug, and a measuring spoon

The best coffee is made with beans that have been freshly ground using a burr grinder just before brewing. To get the most flavor out of your grind, avoid making it too coarse.

A coarse grind is necessary for a percolator, as with a French press, because there is no filter.

To make coffee, first decide how many cups you want to make, and then weigh about 15 g of coffee for every 250 mL of water. Depending on your percolating experiments, you may find that a different ratio works better, but this one is a good place to begin. Use about a tablespoon of ground coffee per cup if you don't have or don't want to buy a coffee scale. The most accurate way to measure coffee, though, is with a good scale.

In other words, get the percolator ready.

putting coffee into a percolator

Step one is to fill the percolator's reservoir with ice water. You can use filtered water if you like, but the stronger coffee flavors inherent to percolator coffee make it unnecessary.  

Then, after adding ground coffee to the filter basket, the funnel filter goes on top and is pressed down gently.

Put the percolator on the stove and get it hot.

a percolator on the stove

To prevent the coffee from tasting burnt or bitter when using a stovetop percolator, the water should be heated slowly. Place it over moderate heat and keep an eye on it. The majority of percolators have a viewing window in the form of a glass top or a transparent globe.  

If bubbles appear, you should keep the heat source at a steady temperature.

Each bubble, or "perk," every few seconds is ideal for a good cup of coffee.

Constant bubbling indicates that the water is at a dangerously high temperature. Also, if there aren't any bubbles, the water is too cold.

A glass globe percolator is what you're after. When heated to high temperatures, plastic globes can leave a bitter aftertaste in your beverage of choice.

Allow percolation to take place

While some recommend leaving your percolator alone, we advise checking on it frequently to maintain an ideal water temperature. One of the most common coffee brewing mistakes is getting distracted and making coffee that tastes bitter and burnt.

However, a timer should be used to maintain uniformity. Coffee gets stronger as it percolates because the brewed liquid is constantly recirculated through the grounds. The ideal brewing time for coffee is between five and ten minutes. When the allotted time is up, turn off the heat and remove the percolator.

It's common knowledge that coffee brewed in a percolator gets very fiery. That's exactly why so many people choose to use this gadget.

Here's a hot tip: percolators When you take it off the stove, be prepared to handle it with an oven mitt or a kitchen towel.

Fifthly, throw out the supporting evidence

how to remove used grounds from coffee percolator

It's tempting to just pour the hot coffee into your waiting mug without removing the grounds first. Avoid having them in your coffee, as this would defeat the purpose of Hanson Goodrich's research into coffee decoction improvement.

Grab your mug of choice, fill it with coffee, and relax for a few minutes.

pouring coffee from a stovetop percolator

You've finally reached the exciting conclusion. Coffee should be served in a mug, and then the milk, cream, and/or sugar should be added. (3)

As the coffee percolates, it releases a heady scent that is reminiscent of freshly baked goods rather than coffee.

There's nothing left to do but sip on that perfectly brewed pot of percolator coffee.

Finally, some thoughts

how to use a stovetop percolator to make coffee

Like many brewing methods, percolator coffee has gotten a bad rap over the years, but it's only bad when executed poorly. In no time at all, and with the help of this guide, you'll be brewing coffee that everyone raves about. It's possible that the percolator will become your go-to appliance if you prefer your coffee brisk, dark, and steaming hot.

Whole bean, medium roast coffee is ideal for brewing in a percolator. In terms of taste and grind size optimization, whole beans almost always outperform pre-ground alternatives (4). Though you should try different roasts with the beans you like best, in general, dark roasts are more likely to end up with a bitter or burnt taste, while light roasts will lose their subtleties and can end up tasting bland or one-note.

In contrast to popular belief, paper filters are not required when using a percolator. A coarse grind is necessary because the coffee grounds are stored in a metal basket with holes in the bottom. More of the coffee's natural oils will remain in your cup after brewing, just like with a French press.

Basically, yes. Advantage (ha) The beauty (and caffeine content, depending on how long you let it percolate) of percolated coffee lies in its adaptability. The quantity of coffee grounds, as well as the type and degree of roasting of the beans, will also significantly affect the caffeine content of the final brew.

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