How to Make Coffee in a Percolator

Updated May 22nd, 2020

So, you’ve mastered the espresso pull, the pour over, the pod and can even magically conjure little flowers on your espresso foam? Well… that’s pretty impressive! Even so, have you considered making coffee in a percolator? Your grandpa did it, your father most probably has done it. How about you? Perhaps not. And that’s pretty understandable considering the meteoritic rise of electric drip machines and the so called “advanced” ways of brewing coffee.
I am not denying that everyone has their tastes and preferences when it comes to making coffee, its flavor, strength, sweetness and even aroma. However, even if routines can be soothing, it doesn’t hurt to shake things up and maybe throw in a little bit of retro flavor in your life. Plus, your modern method of brewing coffee has little to do with the quality of coffee you drink as much as the quality of the coffee beans. Therefore, don’t discount that retro percolator until you’ve tried it and tasted the results yourself. I mean, step out of your comfort zone and explore the boundless realm of coffee. And I bet you the percolator can do better than most “modern” coffee machines. Have a look at how!

What is a Stovetop Percolator?

Coffee PercolatorTo percolate means to make something solvent so that it can pass through a permeable membrane or substance. And even though percolators look more like worthless tall kettles, that unassuming façade hides a powerful, reliable steam powered brewing mechanism. And unlike pour over coffee which is filtered via coffee grounds, these antique machines create an ecosystem where steam thoroughly saturates coffee grounds before filtering the juice. This way, you can make a wide array of coffee flavors effortlessly without worrying about most of the caffeine being left in the grounds. After all, we all want it in the mug and not the trash can.

Bitterly Brewed

Perhaps, the biggest reason percolators have fallen out of favor with most consumers is their reputation to brew bitter dry cups of coffee. Nevertheless, many of us – enthusiastic coffee lovers have learned to appreciate different mouth feels and flavors of coffee. Therefore, there is need to give it a second chance. After all, you can’t claim to be an ardent coffee connoisseur unless you are willing to try and appreciate different tastes of coffee. Can you? Bearing that in mind, why and how does the percolator produce bitter coffee. Well, here’s how and why:
Coffee Percolator

  1. First and foremost, the percolator uses high pressure and superhot steam to brew coffee. When used well, this heat can exude metallic and exotic flavors. This is the reason why it is always advisable to pay close attention to the brewing temperature when using other methods.
  2. The role of this steam is to soak the coffee beans. The brewed coffee drains into the water reservoir numerous times where it is resteeped and reheated several times through the entire process eventually supersaturating the coffee.

Like stated earlier, it is a matter of preference and taste. If you can’t tolerate bitter coffee, there are several other ways to brew milder and sweet coffee. If you like it the old way, welcome to the club and enjoy this artistic icon of times gone by.

How to Make Coffee Using a Percolator

The most difficult part when brewing coffee using a percolator is getting water measurements right. However, once you get over it, it will be one of your most revered tools. The most important thing is paying attention to your gut and tongue.
Coffee Percolator
What you will need?
Brewing coffee the old way doesn’t demand much. Only a few basic things and you are off to enjoy a frothing mug of this life-giving juice.

  • A coffee grinder
  • Whole coffee beans (your favorite)
  • Water
  • Measuring spoon
  • And a your favorite mug

Step 1: Measure Your Coffee

Achieving a balanced brew largely depends on the percolators volume. Therefore, it is very important to measure the right amount of water so as to achieve the preferred flavor. And also don’t get tempted to over boil the mix.
Coffee Percolator

  • Use one 1 ounce or approximately 30 ounces of whole coffee beans for every 500ml or 17 ounces of water for the start.
  • From here, you can experiment with the coffee/water ratio. If you have no taste for bitter coffee, increase the volume of water and reduce the coffee beans for a milder sweeter flavor.

After getting used to your percolator, feel free to experiment with different ratios of water and coffee. The idea here is trying to identify where you fit in terms of bitterness and sweetness. If you love a bitter cup of coffee like I do, increasing the amount of coffee ground and steaming time will come in handy. On the hand, if you are sweet toothed, go for mild flavors. Perhaps, you will develop a tolerance for bitter coffee as you progress. Just don’t avoid. Keep on experimenting and perhaps you will join the league of true coffee lovers.

Step 2: Grind Your Beans

Coffee PercolatorThis is perhaps the easiest step of the entire coffee making process using a percolator. It is highly recommended that you use burr coffee grinders to get medium sized grounds because these work best with percolators. If the grounds are too small, you will be increasing the bitterness. Besides, the grounds might dissolve in the brew and end up in your mug. If they are too large, you will be throwing away the coveted and delicious coffee flavor.
You might also find out that some more modern percolators have big holes. That’s not bad though. Even if grounds make it past the strainer into your mug, they can be easily strained out of the brew.

Step 3: Fill the Percolator

Pour cold water into the reservoir depending on the amount of coffee you have ground. The reason behind using cold water is to let the brew heat slowly. Therefore, cold water is idealist. This way, the brew will get time to concentrate and dissolve in the water to make a moderate brew. Otherwise if you if you like mild flavors, you can preheat the water before adding it to the percolator. By so doing, you significantly reduce the amount required for the coffee to steam.

Step 4: Assemble Your Percolator

Coffee Percolator
If you are not yet sure how this should be done, refer from the user’s manual to ensure that you assemble the percolator correctly. If the manual is no longer with you, a quick internet search about the model you have should easily seal the deal. Otherwise assembling it the wrong way can potentially damage the machine.
If the coffee basket and stem keeps detaching, first place them inside the water filled pot. After so doing, tighten the basket on the percolators stem and don’t attach the basket lid for now if your percolator comes with one.

Step 5: Add Your Coffee Grounds
Coffee Percolator

Double check your measurements and inspect the coffee basket to avoid overfilling the chamber. After all, you don’t want to lose your coffee grounds and brew by letting it spill over. And considering that percolators are designed to brew strong coffee, reducing the amount of coffee might come in handy. If your percolator comes with a basket lid, attach it before closing the percolator’s lid.

Step 6: Turn up the Heat!

Place the percolator and its contents on stove. Turn on the heat and set the burner to low or medium. Once again, the goal is to let the brew heat slowly to avoid overboiling.

Step 7: Watch It

Coffee PercolatorEver heard of the saying “a watched pot never boils”? Well, that’s especially true for percolators. Keep due diligence on it to ensure that the contents don’t boil. And this should be easy considering that most percolators come with a transparent plastic or glass knob on top. Once the brew is hot enough, bubbles will start going up the knob and that’s how you know that the water is hot enough to steam the coffee. This is also an indicator that it is about to boil. So, maintain that temperature and if necessary lower it to ensure that bubble appear a few seconds apart.
If bubbles appear frequently or there is a constant stream of occasional pops it means that the water is boiling. To avoid compromising the brew, turn down the heat unless you are looking to brew very bitter coffee. On the other hand, if the bubbles are not appearing fast enough, turn up the heat to induce them but don’t forget to keep a watchful eye.

As the brewing process continues, you will notice the clear water turning coffee brown and this is an indicator that you are not too far away from enjoying a delicious mug of home brewed-or should I say personally brewed coffee.

Step 8: Set Your Timer

Coffee PercolatorOnce you’ve tuned the heat such that bubble appear at desired intervals, set the timer at 10 minutes at most. Others recommend 6 to 8 minutes but remember it boils down to your taste and preferences. If you are after bitter coffee, let it steam for longer but if you’re after a mild flavored taste, the lesser the better.
However, I recommend 10 minutes for your first brew so that you can personally experience the authentic taste of old fashioned percolator coffee. You can then adjust the time on your other brews to match you taste.

NB: This is not one of those “set it and forget” methods. It is necessary that you keep a close eye on the bubbling water and adjust the heat as necessary to achieve your desired taste.

Step 9: Remove the Percolator from the Heat Source

After the timer is up, its time to turn off the heat and cautiously remove the percolator from the heat source. By now it will be very so protect your hands from scalding by using an oven mitt and counter by placing a trivet where the percolator is going rest.

Step 10: Remove the Grounds From the Percolator Basket and Trash Them

Coffee PercolatorIs it yet time to have a sip of the delicious coffee? Not do fast. Before you can enjoy a mug, remove the coffee grounds from the percolator. I am insisting on this because most percolators don’t have strong seams between the reservoir and the basket. Therefore, if you pour the brew into a mug without removing the coffee grounds, they will seep into your cup.
So, first remove the basket to get rid of the grounds. If you have a compost pit you can trash there to add to your organic manure. In case you notice a few grounds in your already sieved coffee – more so if the meshes on the basket are not that fine, you can choose to leave there for an extra flavor of bitterness. If that’s no your thing, use a strainer with fine meshes to strain the grounds from the coffee. Finally replace the lid and pour yourself a cusp of steaming coffee just like you grandma used to do it. After all, you have earned it!

Bottom line

Coffee PercolatorYeah, it is an old way to make coffee. However, being old does not imply being ineffective or bad. As a matter of fact, it is a perfect way of reconnecting with times gone by and still enjoy a cup of steaming and delicious coffee. In addition, you get to enjoy it just like your grandma and grandpa used to. In other words, consider it as eating your cake and still having. All in all, using a percolator to brew yourself a mug of coffee is perhaps on the best way to kick start your day. And even if you never got it right the first time, keep in mind that practice makes perfect. And for the sake and love of coffee never let the water boil.
Bon appetit!

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