When it comes to your morning routine, few things are as crucial to the smooth progression of your day as coffee. The first thing many of us do in the morning is to set the coffee to brew, and with good reason, as coffee seems to be one of the only things that can get some of us out of bed.
There are many theories as to why we love coffee so much, but most of them center around our relationship with caffeine, the mild stimulant at the heart of all coffee. While we may all love our coffee, how many of us have put that much thought into how our coffee is made in the first place?
When it comes to making coffee, you have a massive variety of choices, and each of the options will result in a slightly different result for your cup. For instance, if you prefer convenience, then a coffee percolator may be the best option for you, but those who value a higher degree of control may opt for a french press.
In the end, your choice of coffee brewing method is entirely up to you, as there is no more important factor than your preferences. If you don’t like the cup of coffee that you’re brewing, then there’s no point in making it in the first place, so we would recommend getting acquainted with the different brewing techniques.
When you know each of the coffee brewing methods well enough, you will be in the best position to decide how to make your ideal cup of coffee. You may discover that you have been making your coffee the wrong way your whole life, so there is nothing to lose by trying a few different techniques.
Of the many coffee brewing techniques to choose from, there is one that is often overlooked because it has been widely superseded by a supposedly more convenient method. As we stated earlier, making the best cup of coffee is all about preference, so obsolescence may be subjective in this case.
The type of coffee maker that we are referring to is the coffee percolator, and there are many reasons why you still may wish to use one to brew your coffee. Over the course of this article, we are going to be going over the details of how these coffee machines work, their history, and so much more.
Of course, since all of our readers may not quite be acquainted with coffee percolators, we will start off by giving a general overview of what exactly they are and what they can do. If you already know the basics about coffee percolators, feel free to move on to the subsequent sections instead.
What Is A Coffee Percolator?
In the simplest terms, a coffee percolator is a coffee brewer that uses the action of percolation to ensure that your coffee is brewed evenly. We will get into the details of how these coffee brewers work momentarily, as the process is slightly more complicated than you may expect.
Most coffee percolators will resemble a kettle, as many of them are meant to be placed directly on a heat source like your stove. Some percolators have an integral power source and heating element that will allow them to operate without the need for a stovetop, though these models tend to be more advanced.
Percolators used to be some of the most popular coffee makers in the world thanks to their convenience, but they have since been surpassed by other coffee brewing methods. Regardless, coffee percolators are still seen by some as the best way to make coffee thanks to the stronger flavor of percolated coffee.
If you prefer your coffee with a more robust flavor, you will find few better brewing methods than percolated coffee. Many will tell you that some of the best black coffee is made through a percolator and not another method like a drip machine.
Now that you have a pretty good idea of what a coffee percolator is, we can move on to some of the details. Let's start off by going over the history of these coffee makers, so you can get an idea of where coffee percolators fit into the bigger picture of coffee making over the years.
History Of Coffee Percolators
The coffee percolator dates all the way back to the early 19th century, and it has a somewhat interesting origin story thanks to its inventor, an admittedly eccentric man. The fellow credited with the creation of the coffee percolator was known as Sir Benjamin Thompson, also referred to as Count Rumford.
Count Rumford was a British physicist and soldier who was born in America, and he spent some time with the Bavarian army (note that, at this time, Germany was not a unified country).
During the period during which he campaigned with the Bavarians, Rumford worked hard to improve the rations and diet of the average foot soldier. Count Rumford was of the opinion that alcohol should be avoided and he wasn't too fond of tea, either, which only left coffee.
Thankfully, Count Rumford loved his coffee, and he believed that its stimulating effects could help soldiers on campaign. You may be able to see where this is headed. During his time with the Bavarians, Count Rumford refined and optimized his design for the coffee percolator.
While Rumford’s original percolator was pioneered in 1812, it took nearly 100 years for the coffee percolator to reach the form in which we recognize it today. In 1889, a farmer from Illinois named Hanson Goodrich patented the modern coffee percolator, and it has formed the basis of the design to this day.
About a half-century later, the electric coffee percolator was invented, which did away with the need for a separate heat source. While it would still take some time for coffee percolators to become reasonably portable, this paved the way for those who wanted to make coffee on the go.
How Does A Coffee Percolator Work?
To understand what a coffee percolator does, you should first know what the word “percolate” means. The process of percolation is one in which a liquid passes through something and comes out with different characteristics.
In the case of a coffee percolator, the liquid that is being changed is our boiling water, the substance that it is going through is our coffee grounds, and the result is coffee. A coffee percolator is a simple kettle-like implement that has a few components.
Two of the most critical parts of a coffee percolator are the hollow stem in the middle and the basket holding the coffee grounds at the top. Above the basket which contains the grounds, you will find something called a spreader plate. The hollow tube extends the entire length of the coffee percolator.
When you use a coffee percolator, you fill the bottom part of it with water, and you put your coffee grounds in the basket at the upper part of the kettle. You may then place your percolator on a heat source such as an element on your stovetop.
When the water begins the boil, it will travel up the stem in the middle and end up on the spreader plate. The spreader plate is essentially a metal plate that is filled with holes of various sizes that will all ensure that the boiling water is distributed equally through your coffee grounds.
As the water boils, it will begin to reach the coffee grounds through the bottom of the basket too, which will start to infuse your coffee through both sides.
Since the coffee drips back down through the bottom of the basket, you reach a point where the coffee is so saturated that you are infusing coffee with coffee. It is for this reason that you will typically want to avoid leaving a coffee percolator on the heat for too long.
As you can see, the method of operation of a coffee percolator is quite simple, and it makes sense that it has remained unchanged for around 200 years. Let’s take a look at how the coffee percolator compares the brewing process of other coffee makers.
Differences Between Coffee Percolator, French Press, Automatic Drip, And Coffee Pods
Here ares some of the main differences between different types of the coffee makers:
The French press is another style of making coffee that some will consider obsolete. Others will argue that the French press makes a superior coffee. Much like a percolator, you will find that your coffee grounds are exposed to the water, but in a french press, the grounds float freely in the water.
You may be wondering how you can avoid drinking coffee grounds when they are floating in the coffee, and this is where the press comes into play. On the interior of a french press jug, there is a small press that is operated by a plunger that allows you to choose exactly how long the grounds will infuse.
Proponents of the French press will argue that it gives you much more control over the flavor of your coffee, and we find that it makes for a better delicate coffee. If you prefer more robustness in your coffee, however, we have found that nothing can compete with the flavor of a percolated coffee.
Automatic drip is the method of coffee making used by the most common coffee makers, and it is also often referred to as filtered coffee. These machines are preferred due to their affordability, ease of operation, and the relative speed with which they can make coffee.
When you wake up in the morning feeling like a zombie, the last thing you want to go through is a complicated manual process to make your coffee. An automatic drip machine deals with most of the hassle for you by automating most of the process.
All you will need to use one of these machines is a bag of coffee grounds, some filters, and enough water for however much coffee you would like to make.
An automatic drip machine works by suspending your coffee grounds in a filter over your pot of coffee and then dripping boiling water over the coffee grounds to infuse it. This simple process allows these coffee machines to be affordable yet user-friendly.
While automatic drip coffee making may be easier than percolating since there is no risk of ruining your coffee by leaving it on too long, we find that something is lacking in the flavor. Drip makers also lose the advantage of affordability over percolators since most of them are also relatively cheap.
While you may think that coffee in pods is so futuristic that it has to be massively different from the other methods, you will find that it has few differences from drip coffee save for the speed.
In a pod coffee machine, you will find the necessary coffee grounds for a single cup in individually packaged pods. These pods have to be loaded into your machine to make your coffee, and that is the primary divergence from the other coffee making methods.
Much like in an automatic drip machine, you will have to fill the machine with water. This water will then be pumped through a heating element to get it near to its boiling point. When the water is near boiling, it will then be sent through a tiny opening at the tip of a needle into the pod.
Since the steamy water is compressed by the tiny opening, it enters the coffee pod at a very high pressure, which helps speed up the brewing process. Once the coffee passes through the pod, there is a filter to catch any remaining bits of coffee grounds that may have slipped out of the pod.
Once the coffee comes out this final filter, it is free to fall into your cup. This coffee making method is often used to make espresso because of the relatively limited amount of space that is present in a pod for grounds.
Pod coffee is ideal for those who like the convenience of automatic coffee makers and have a preference for espresso. We find that coffee percolators tend to be a little more versatile than pod coffee machines, however, since you have more control over how you brew your coffee.
Why Use A Percolator?
While we have explained how coffee percolators work and their history, we have so far only glossed over the reasons why they are better than many other options. In this section, we will go over many of the advantages of coffee percolators, and why they are still used to this day.
For most users, the primary advantage to coffee percolators is the flavor. You will find that no other coffee making method can hope to compete with the coffee percolator when it comes to the earthy, robust taste that you will get out of it. While the French press may offer a similar flavor, we find that it is not the same.
Of course, the flavor of your coffee will depend on how long you leave it to percolate, so everyone’s coffee will typically come out differently when using a percolator. Since your percolated coffee will be unique, these coffee makers allow for a much more personal coffee drinking experience.
Keep in mind that there are always detractors, and some people will prefer the flavor of other coffee makers, which is perfectly fine. Everyone has their preference when it comes to choosing the ideal coffee type, and percolation may not be for you, which is why we recommend trying it out first.
Coffee percolators also have the advantage of being much more portable than other types of coffee machines. Since many modern coffee makers will require electricity to function, you will find that you can’t take them everywhere. For instance, if you want to enjoy your coffee while camping, a percolator is a wise choice.
You will find that the best option for the coffee lover on the go is a battery-powered electric coffee percolator that will not even require a source of heat. If you will be going away from the comforts of modern civilization into the great outdoors, you should still be able to enjoy a warm cup of coffee.
Ease Of Use
This will be a matter of some debate, but we believe that coffee percolators are relatively easy to use when compared to some other methods of coffee preparation. While it may take some time to get used to operating a coffee percolator, once you do, it becomes easier to percolate coffee than you would expect.
The easiest coffee percolators for beginners to use are electronic models that will automatically shut down the heating element when the coffee has been percolating for long enough. Coffee makers such as these will allow you to enjoy your cup of coffee without it getting ruined even if you end up forgetting it.
Of course, we can’t go over the matter of ease of use without going over some horror stories using manual percolators. You will want to avoid leaving your coffee percolator on the heat for too long unless you enjoy coffee that is saturated with the bitter flavor of the coffee grounds themselves.
What Type Of Coffee To Use In A Percolator
When using a coffee percolator, you will want to avoid coffee that is finely ground since the mesh is further apart than in other types of coffee machines. Use coarse-ground coffee to prevent any chunks of grounds from getting into your coffee when you prepare it using a percolator.
There are many different types of coffee beans available, and the specific grounds that you opt for will depend on your tastes, but we would always recommend fresh-ground coffee. Fresher coffee is typically a better option than the canned alternative since it will have a crisper flavor.
Types Of Percolators
Let's take a look on different types of percolators:
The traditional kind of coffee percolator is the one that resembles a kettle and is placed on the stove. You will find that these coffee percolators have changed very little since the late 19th century. Compared to more modern examples, stovetop percolators trade ease of use for individuality.
You may be wondering what individuality in a coffee maker could mean. We believe that stovetop coffee percolators will make a unique coffee every time you use them. Since the coffee will percolate for slightly different periods each time you make one, each coffee will be somewhat different.
Unlike automated machines, we find that there is a lot more soul to brewing coffee with a stovetop percolator.
Electric models, on the other hand, will trade away some of the uniqueness of each coffee in exchange for a more straightforward brewing process. Since the heating element will cut off automatically when your coffee is ready, an electric percolator will prevent the flavor from being ruined through inattention.
If you want a bit of a middle-ground between an automatic drip coffee machine and a percolator, you will find few options that can hope to compete with an electric percolator.
Cleaning A Coffee Percolator
As with any coffee maker, you will want to clean out your coffee percolator regularly to prevent any nasty buildup. Stovetop percolators tend to be relatively easy to clean out since most of the parts should be removable so that you can reach the interior of the kettle itself and scrub the walls.
When it comes to cleaning electric percolators, however, you may come across a few more issues, though more modern examples will often feature removable components as well. Keeping your coffee percolator clean will ensure that you don’t have to worry about any nasty germs or anything else growing inside your coffee maker.
As you can see, coffee percolators are an excellent option for caffeine lovers who want a little bit more of a solid, earthy flavor to their brew. While the brewing process may take a bit of getting used to, few things can match a proper percolated coffee. Feel free to move on to our buying guide, in which we examine some of the best coffee percolators on the market.