Does a Percolator Make Good Coffee?

coffee percolator

QUESTION: Does a percolator make good coffee? I’m considering getting one and want to make sure it’s the right decision. — Georgia T.

ANSWER: Like any brewing method, using a percolator has its pros and cons. Some people love percolators and refuse to use anything else. We’ll give you tips for brewing coffee in a percolator so you can make the best cup possible, then decide for yourself whether percolators make good coffee. We’ll also talk through why some people love percolators and others don’t recommend them.

Benefits of Using a Percolator

  • Because of the way the percolator brews coffee, you can carefully adjust the brew time until the coffee is just as strong as you like it. A percolator is wonderful at making strong coffee for those who prefer it, but it can be adjusted for those who prefer their coffee less strong as well.
  • The brewing coffee in a percolator makes a wonderful aroma to start your coffee experience even before the first cup is poured.
  • Percolators are budget friendly and won’t break the bank, so you can purchase one to try out without worrying over the expense.
  • Compared to a drip coffee machine, you’ll get a much richer, more complex flavor from your coffee with a percolator. This is because of the higher temperature and double brewing method the percolator uses.
  • Percolators are simple setups that are easy to learn how to use.
  • Percolators can be excellent in situations when you need a portable coffee brewing system, such as for taking to the office or bringing along on a camping trip. Percolators are also durable and unlikely to break in transport.
  • Percolators are versatile and can be used for drinks other than simple coffee. In fact, you can make espresso in a percolator, too.
  • After brewing is complete, percolators keep coffee warm inside for longer than an automatic drip coffee maker. This is because of the high heat the percolator uses.
  • Similar to a French press, a percolator can be taken completely apart so each component can be cleaned. This makes the percolator much easier to keep clean than, for example, an automatic drip coffee maker. This will prevent the flavors that plague dirty coffee brewing systems from sneaking into your coffee setup.
  • The percolator is an old-fashioned brewing method, and many people have nostalgia connected to the percolator visually or the taste of coffee made in one. 
  • If you need to make lots of coffee in a hurry, the percolator may be your best bet. Some models can make up to 12 cups of coffee at a time.

Drawbacks of Using a Percolator

  • The last cup of coffee in a percolator may taste flat or dull.
  • It’s easy to over-extract coffee when you use a percolator, resulting in a burned flavor you’ll notice when you drink it.
  • Because the coffee is heated and cooked each time it filters itself through the percolator, sometimes percolated coffee can taste like reheated coffee.
  • Although you have the ability to carefully adjust how long your coffee percolates, it can take some finagling to get your coffee how you like it. It can require some practice to get the time and temperature perfect in your percolator.
  • Percolated coffee is continuously sent through the coffee grounds, so there can be some grounds in your coffee when you pour it.
  • It is possible to make a big mess with your percolator. If you leave a percolator on the stovetop too long, the coffee will boil over and make a mess all over the stove. The easiest way to avoid this mess is to keep a close eye on your percolator while it is boiling the coffee.
  • A percolator takes longer to brew your coffee than another setup, like an automatic drip system, would take. If you’re someone who rockets through your morning routine and needs coffee brewed fast, a percolator is likely not for you. However, it’s really just a few extra minutes that’s required to make coffee in your percolator. A percolator takes seven minutes, as compared to five minutes in a French press or 30 seconds to three minutes for a Keurig machine.
  • In addition to needing a longer period of time to brew the coffee, your percolator also needs to be monitored while it is brewing, so you can’t just press a button to start the process and then wander off to come back later. If you don’t carefully monitor your percolator, it can make a mess or simply over-extract your coffee, resulting in a bitter or burned-tasting drink.
  • Coffee comes out of the percolator super-hot, and the temperature may just be too high for some coffee drinkers. If you’re sensitive to high heat, try adding boiling water to your percolator to prevent the water from getting too hot in a hurry. You can also pour a cup and simply wait until it’s cooled down enough for you to drink.

Tips for Using a Percolator

  • Be careful not to let your coffee percolate too long. Because the coffee in a percolator is continuously boiled, it’s easy to let the coffee become over-extracted. You’ll know that this has happened if your coffee tastes bitter or burned.
  • If your coffee tastes weak or watery, it’s under-extracted and needs to percolate for longer.
  • Use a medium roast in your percolator. A light roast would need to percolate for so long to release its flavor that the coffee would be over-extracted. Dark roasts used in the percolator tend to make coffee that tastes bitter, acidic, or burned.
  • A medium or coarse roast is best for your percolator and can help prevent the grounds from ending up in your coffee.
  • A filter isn’t required when you use your percolator, but we recommend using a paper filter. Adding a filter is another way to help prevent the coffee grounds from making their way into your brew.
  • If you use your percolator on a stovetop, don’t set it to high heat. Low or medium heat is plenty for the percolator to do its job. Turn the heat to low once you see bubbles forming at the top of your percolator. The ideal is one bubble every three to five seconds. Once your coffee is percolating, let it cook for another 4 to 5 minutes. If you like very strong coffee, you may wish to let it boil for another 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Once your coffee is ready, make sure to remove your percolator from the heat if you are using one on the stovetop. The percolator will keep your coffee warm even off the heat. Leaving the percolator on low will continue sending the coffee through the grounds, which can result in over-extracted coffee.
  • If your percolator is making under-extracted coffee that tastes weak and watery, a few adjustments can make a big difference. Make sure you’ve got enough coffee in your percolator (one tablespoon per cup of water), and make sure you’re using medium or coarse coffee grounds.

As you can tell, there are many reasons for using a percolator, and almost as many drawbacks to the process. It really comes down to what you are looking for. If you love the taste of strong coffee or are looking for a durable, portable setup, the percolator may be for you. If you want something you can set and forget in the morning or are looking for the balanced, complex flavor of a pour-over system, a percolator just isn’t your best bet.

Learn More About Coffee Percolators

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