The coffee percolator at one time was pretty much THE way to brew coffee. Right up until the mid 70’s, these could be found in households all over the country. But in recent years, with the advent of more ‘sophisticated’ brewing methods, this one-stop, stovetop coffee pot has become a little less fashionable. That’s not to say that they don’t have any value though: in fact, we believe that with a little insight and know-how, you can still create a great cup of coffee with the percolator.
For many in fact, the brew achieved with the percolator (or moka pot) is preferable to espresso or drip coffee. Of course, this is a matter of taste: which is why we’re encouraging you to at least give the percolator a try. Who knows, you might be surprised!
Below we’ll tell you what it is, the types of percolator available, and how to best use them to make your cup of joe.
What Is A Percolator?
There are more than one type of percolator (see below), but all percolators have a series of chambers, one with coffee grounds, and another with water. Water is forced through the coffee by heating, which in turn creates the coffee. Of course, it’s a little more complicated than that, but we’ll get to that.
The major advantage of brewing coffee this way is the simplicity and accessibility of this method. So long as you have a stovetop and a percolator, you have all the equipment you need already. So need to invest in expensive espresso machines, and no need to measure temperatures and all the other scientific techniques required by some drip methods: simply prepare your pot, add water, and put it on the stove, and voiila! You’re good to go. Ok, again it’s a little more complex, but we’ll show you exactly how below.
Types Of Percolator
Both types essentially consist of a kettle and a system that draws the hot water up and allows it to trickle through the grounds until the coffee is brewed. To percolate, by definition, means to filter gradually through a porous surface or substance, in this case, ground coffee beans.
How they work exactly though varies slightly. The gravity percolator uses gravity, and the pressure uses ...erm, pressure. Pressure percolators and more generally known by the brand name of their inventor, Bialletti, who named it the moka pot. For an excellent in-depth guide to using the moka pot, check out Barista Warehouse's stovetop coffee guide
The moka pot differs as the coffee is forced upwards through the coffee into a separate chamber on top: however, today we’re going to talk more about the gravity percolator, as this is the more maligned and least appreciated brewing method.
The most obvious advantage is simplicity. Once you know how to put the thing back together, there’s really very little to it. They require very little investment, and properly maintained they can last a lifetime. Constructed from stainless steel or aluminium, a good quality percolator is built to last.
They allow the flexibility to brew large or small amounts. It is easy to brew a single cup of coffee with this type of brewing meth, but if you buy a large pot you can make coffee for all the family.
They are also (if compared to many drip methods or espresso) very easy to clean. There are no intricate pieces or complicated assemblies. They also do not need descaling if you live in a hard water area, another major plus.
Grounds can, if not ground correctly, escape the filter chamber and muddy your coffee. Also, if used incorrectly, percolators are prone to recirculating already brewed coffee and over extracting - which makes for bitter coffee. However, with the correct technique, these pitfalls are easily avoided.
How Is Percolator Coffee Different?
Percolator coffee tends to be quite strong, so go easy on it! It will also be hotter than many other methods when first served, so again approach that first sip with caution.
To those not used to it, the coffee can appear cloudy: but this is perfectly normal. All you need to do is take the pot off the heat and let it settle for a minute or two, and you will see a noticeable change in the colour and clarity of your coffee.
You will though probably have some sediment in your cup. There is no filter, and therefore some fine grounds will remain in the coffee. However, this can be minimised by using the correct grind.
Brewing Stovetop Coffee With A Percolator
Things to watch before we start:
Grind to a medium-sized grind. This is important because if the grind is too fine it can become washed into your brewed coffee.
Don’t use too much heat - this will make your coffee bitter
- You will need about 1 tablespoon of ground coffee for every 8 ounces of water. You can also measure out your coffee more precisely using a coffee scale.
- Fill the percolator kettle to the desired level.
- Place your ground coffee in the filter basket at the top of the tube.
- Insert the brewing mechanism and place the lid on the stop.
- Begin heating the percolator. If you see the water rushing through into the top, cut the heat back.
- Brewing time will vary, but roughly five minutes seems to be an average brewing time for a good cup of coffee.
- Make sure to remove the filter basket and interior chamber once your coffee is finished. This will prevent grounds from falling into your coffee, and it will be easier to use the percolator kettle as a coffee pot.
This is all there is to it. Once you’ve made your first cup, you may want to experiment by changing the heat, the coarseness of the grind, and the brew time, as all of these factors will change the taste of the final cup.
Again, there is not much to this part of the process, and this is another great advantage of the stovetop percolator. Just empty the grounds into the bin. Any remaining grounds can be rinsed down the drain. Be sure to empty and clean as soon as possible though to keep your percolator in good condition.