How to Make Coffee in A Percolator? Step-By-Step Guide

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Pour water into the reservoir of your coffee maker. Measure and then grind coffee beans to a medium-coarse texture and place them in your percolator’s filter. The ideal water to coffee ratio is 1 cup to 15 g. 

Percolate for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you want your coffee. Then pour it out into a cup and enjoy your drink. 

Keep reading for a detailed explanation of each step outlined above. Keep an eye out for helpful tips to help you become a master barista!

All You Need to Know About Making Percolator Coffee

Percolators are essentially old-school coffee makers. They were used before automatic drip coffee makers were created which was around the early 1970s. So it’s unlikely that you’re familiar with how these work. 

Knowing the science behind the machine is crucial if you want to make good coffee with it. If you already know how it works, you can skip forward to the step-by-step guide further down this page. 

What is A Percolator?

A percolator is a machine for making coffee. It is basically a kettle with 2 sections: one for coffee beans and one for water. 

The sections are such that water vapor can circulate through the coffee bean area. 

Percolators have no plastic parts, making them an environmentally friendly alternative to regular drip brewers. They were super popular in the early 1970s but began losing popularity once the automatic drip coffee makers were created. 

With an increase in environmental responsibility, these machines are coming back into the mainstream. 

How Does It Work?

There are 2 types of percolators:

  1. Stovetop 
  2. Electric 

Stovetop percolators were the ones used in the 1970s. Electric percolators are newer adaptations. The key difference between the two is how much control you have. 

Electric percolators come with pre-configured percolation times and temperatures. You don’t have to worry about either of them. But that also means you don’t get to change either. 

You don’t need to do much with electric percolators except add coffee and water. So the content in this article is focused on stovetop percolators. 

  • How the Machine Works

The coffee grounds are held in a metal basket with holes in the bottom above the water. 

While this means you don’t need to use a paper filter, it also means that you have to use medium grind beans if you don’t want solid coffee bits in your drink. 

You can use medium-fine grinds if you want a stronger cup of coffee. However, this will come with the risk of some grounds escaping the basket and coming into your brew. 

  • The Percolation Process

The machine is guided by very simple physics. There are 2 processes happening in repetition: evaporation and condensation. 

Water in the reservoir is heated until it boils. Water vapor rises and goes into the chamber containing coffee since it is right above the reservoir. 

Since the vapor has moved away from the heat (the flames are at the bottom of the machine), it cools down. The gas turns back into water and falls into the reservoir again. 

During this process, the water interacts with the coffee and extracts flavor from it. 

This repeatedly happens with vapor flowing through the coffee chamber, extracting flavor, converting back into the water, and falling into the reservoir. The water will continue extracting until you remove the percolator from the heat. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Making Coffee in Stovetop Percolators

There are 8 steps to making a decent cup of coffee in a stovetop percolator. They are:

  1. Collect what you need for the process.
  2. Grind your coffee beans to a medium grind.
  3. Measure out 15 grams of coffee beans per cup of water.
  4. Pour in the water and place the coffee grind in your percolator. 
  5. Start heating your percolator on a low flame.
  6. Set a 5-minute timer for percolation to get a medium-strong coffee.
  7. Remove the filter and coffee with a thick towel or gloves.
  8. Pour out your coffee and enjoy!

If you’re confused about any one of these steps, scroll down to find a detailed explanation. We’d recommend going over the details for each step to ensure you have a thorough understanding of the process. 

Step 1: Collect What You Need for the Process

Despite percolators being old-school, you need the same things to make coffee with them that you’d need when making pour-over coffee. Get your hands on the following:

  • Coffee beans and a coffee bean grinder (alternatively, you can get already ground beans)
  • Water 
  • A measuring scale 
  • Stovetop percolator 

Step 2: Grind Your Coffee Beans to A Medium Grind

Unless you’re purchasing pre-ground beans, you’ll have to grind yourself. We recommend doing this because it gives you a lot of control over the extent of flavor extraction. So get yourself a coffee grinder.

The finer you grind your coffee beans, the more flavor you’ll be able to extract from them. Consider that there is a proportional relationship between the extent of grinding and coffee strength. 

This relationship exists because smaller grinds have a greater surface area to volume ratio with water. It becomes easier to extract flavor from a larger amount of beans at the same time, which results in a bolder flavor. 

A medium texture is ideal because it strikes a balance between super strong and bitter coffee and a flavorless blend. If you’d like to move to either side of the spectrum because of personal preferences, you’re welcome to do that. 

If you’re purchasing pre-ground coffee beans, it’s important that you buy blends that are appropriate for you. Don’t get superfine or super coarse grinds.

Step 3: Measure Out 15 Grams of Coffee Beans Per Cup of Water

Measure your coffee after grinding it to get the most accurate value. A safe way to go about this is to add 15 grams of coffee per 250 ml of water. 250ml is about one cup. 

As you experiment with the percolating process, you can adjust this ratio as you see fit. After all, you know yourself and what you like the best. If you don’t have any experience with this process, 15 g per cup is a safe starting point. 

Step 4: Pour in the Water and Place the Coffee Grind in Your Percolator 

Get your percolator and fill up the reservoir with water. Then add ground coffee beans to the funnel filter on top. 

You can use whatever kind of water you like. This can be cold, warm, filtered, or unfiltered water. The specifics don’t matter unless you’re particular about what you want. 

Some people prefer to work with cold water and then heat it up slowly to avoid burning the coffee beans. Burnt coffee has an incredibly bitter taste you want to steer clear of. 

This isn’t to say you can’t use warm water. You just have to be careful with it. 

Step 5: Start Heating Your Percolator on A Low Flame

Heat your water slowly. Increase the flame very gradually until you start seeing bubbles forming. Most percolators come with a glass top, so it is easy to keep an eye on your coffee. 

Once the water starts bubbling, adjust your heat source to maintain whatever temperature the water is at. Ideally, you want to see one or two bubbles every few seconds. 

Too many bubbles are a sign that your water is too hot, and not enough bubbles indicate that your water is too cold. 

Step 6: Set A 5-Minute Timer for Percolation to Get A Medium-Strong Coffee

After reaching the optimum temperature, let your coffee percolate. This is when the steam is interacting with your coffee grind and making your drink, as discussed in the section at the start of the page titled ‘How does a percolator work?’

Once the time is up, take the percolator off the heat. 

If you want your coffee to be stronger, extend the percolation period to 10 minutes. 

Step 7: Remove the Filter and Coffee with A Thick Towel or Gloves

Percolators are super hot, so be very careful when touching them. Use a thick towel or kitchen gloves to remove the filter. 

Getting rid of the coffee before pouring it out is important because it avoids having the grounds get into your drink. It ensures you have a smooth drink. 

Step 8: Pour Out Your Coffee and Enjoy!

The last step is the most satisfying. Pour out your percolated coffee into your favorite cup and add whatever flavorings you want. This could be cream, milk, sweetener, etc. 

Then take a sip and enjoy the fruit of your labor. 

Percolation done right results in a deep and rich flavor and a beautiful scent. If you don’t see these features in your cup, you probably didn’t percolate long enough. This isn’t an issue because you can just try again!

The Best Coffee Percolators

There are a bunch of electric and stove percolators on the market. You just have to know what to look for and what you want from your machine. 

If you don’t want to have to go through countless Amazon review pages, use this list as a reference point and pick whichever percolator catches your eye. 

Presto 12-Cup Coffee Maker: The Best Electric Percolator

If you don’t want to deal with controlling temperatures and percolation periods and are willing to give up control over the specifics of your coffee’s flavor, you may want to look at an electric machine. 

There’s no better electric percolator than Presto’s 12-cup stainless steel coffee maker. 

It is great for small and big groups alike. The luxurious stainless steel body is durable and will last around 4 to 5 years before needing to be replaced. It is also super easy to clean, which is an extra bonus benefit. 

There is an aluminum bolt at the bottom of the machine. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t corrode. If you see signs of that happening, stop using the machine and get it fixed. 

Farberware 8-Cup Percolator: The Stovetop Coffee Maker for Big Groups

This coffee maker has a heavy-duty stainless steel body that will last several years, and you won’t even have to consider replacing it. It’s dishwasher-safe, so you can forget about having to scrape down any coffee bean residue manually. 

Faberware is a reliable company with several excellent coffee makers. This percolator is no exception. It’s easy to clean, easy to use, and will make a wonderful cup of coffee. 

The only downside with this coffee maker is that it can heat up really quickly. So you need to keep an eye on the machine as you brew coffee. Don’t increase the flame if you’re in a rush because that will ruin your coffee. 

This retro coffee maker is all about the wait. Any attempts to bypass the waiting time will result in a bitter brew.

FAQ Section

Why Brew with A Percolator?

Percolators are an environmentally friendly alternative to regular drip coffee makers. They have an intriguing old-school style which makes using them super fun. When used correctly, they can make the best cup of coffee you’ve ever had! 

How to Clean A Percolator?

Use warm soapy water to clean your percolator immediately after you’re done brewing coffee. 

Delaying even a little bit will harden the damp coffee beans. This will make them a nuisance to clean by turning a 10-minute job into a 2-hour one. 

How Much Coffee is Needed in A Coffee Percolator?

Add 15 grams of coffee per cup of water. If you’re using unusually strong coffee beans like Black Label, you’ll want to reduce that amount to around 12 grams. On the other hand, if you’re using a light roast coffee, increase the amount to 18 grams. 

How Long Do You Percolate Coffee in A Percolator?

Percolate coffee for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you want your brewed coffee to be. Amateur coffee drinkers are recommended to start at 5 minutes. Then depending on how your coffee tastes, you can increase the percolation period if necessary. 

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AUTHOR

Jeff Stone
Jeff is a coffee aficionado. He loves a couple cups of joe first thing in the morning. He like trying out new grounds and gear and then writes about it here. When he is not sipping java, he is usually writing it for his clients as a software engineer.

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