How Long Should I Percolate Coffee?

electric coffee percolator, demonstrated

QUESTION: How long should I percolate coffee? I’m having trouble getting the timing just right. — Henry W.

ANSWER: A percolator leaves you in charge of exactly how long your coffee brews. This can be a blessing or a curse. On one hand, your coffee’s brew time is extremely customizable and you can tweak it until your percolator makes exactly the kind of coffee you like. On the other hand, you’ll need to monitor your percolator while it’s brewing and know exactly what to look for to brew the perfect cup. Keep reading to learn exactly how long to percolate your coffee. 

How Long Should I Percolate My Coffee?

Most stovetop percolators have a clear glass knob on top that allows you to see into the top of the percolator. Watch this knob for the first bubble of coffee to hit. This means the coffee has started percolating. 

You should aim for a temperature that gets you one bubble every three to five seconds. Once your percolator is chugging along like this, you can start measuring its brew time. 

Most people like a brew of four to five minutes from this point. If you like your coffee on the stronger side, you may keep it brewing for another two or three minutes. 

Now you have a guideline for your percolating time. The other important factor in coffee brewing is temperature.

Start with boiling water, and use a low or medium heat for stovetop percolators. Once the bubbles are visible in the clear glass knob on top of your percolator, turn the stove down to low if it isn’t already there. Once your coffee brewing time has elapsed, you’ll need to remove the percolator from the heat so it doesn’t continue to brew.

From this point, you can make small adjustments to your cooking time and temperature to tweak the flavor of the coffee your percolator makes. 

Are you looking for a richer, fuller, stronger coffee taste? Either increase your cooking temperature a bit or simply brew your coffee a little longer.

Does your coffee taste too strong, bitter, or burned? Back off the cooking temperature some, or decrease your brewing time. 

You may have heard that percolators make coffee that’s too strong. People say this because it’s easy to overcook your coffee in a percolator. Unlike in most other systems, it’s possible for the coffee to brew over and over in a continuous cycle unless you stop it in time. It’s true that many people love percolated coffee because they can make it as strong as they like. But as you can see, you have all the power to adjust how long your coffee percolates or how hot the water is. The extraction process is so customizable that if you want a lighter tasting cup, you can make it happen.

Other Tips for Making Coffee With a Percolator

  • The best coffee to brew in a percolator is a medium roast. Light roasts would need so much percolating time to release their flavors that they’ll taste over-extracted (bitter or burned). Dark roasts also tend to taste over-extracted or too strong when brewed in a percolator.
  • Use a medium to coarse grind size for coffee you’ll be brewing in a percolator. Coffee that’s ground too fine won’t extract properly, and too fine a grind can also mean you end up with coffee grounds in your cup.
  • Although most percolators have a built-in filter, you should use a paper filter in addition to this to keep the coffee grounds from ending up in your cup.
  • Use the right amount of coffee grounds: one tablespoon per cup of water.

Now you know exactly how long to percolate your coffee. You also know how to adjust your temperature and brewing time to get the perfect cup of coffee for you out of your percolator. Let’s review those guidelines.

  • Start your coffee at low to medium heat, turning it down to low once you can see bubbles of coffee every three to five seconds in your percolator. 
  • Watch the brewing coffee through the clear glass knob on top of your percolator. Once you see a bubble every three to five seconds, start the brewing time countdown (and don’t forget that this is when you turn the burner down to low if you’ve had it on medium). 
  • As a starting point, brew your coffee for four or five minutes, measuring from the point when you see a bubble every three to five seconds. If you like a strong-tasting cup, you might add two or three minutes to the brew time.
  • Make adjustments to time and temperature by taste. If your coffee tastes watery or too weak, either increase the temperature or increase the brew time. If it tastes too strong, bitter, or burned, either decrease the temperature or decrease the brew time.

Don’t believe what you hear about percolators making coffee that’s too strong. How strong the coffee is depends completely on you and the temperature and brewing time you choose.

Learn More About Coffee Percolators

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