Percolators are coffee makers of a bygone era, reminiscent of mid-1900’s luncheons, church group gatherings, and old Maxwell House coffee commercials.
Once automatic drip coffee machines became popular in the late part of the century, percolators were mostly demoted to attics, second hand thrift stores, and campgrounds.
Yet there are rebels out there who still love their percolators with something of a passion. They claim percolated coffee results in a strong piping hot brew that can’t be replicated by any other means.
Coffee lovers will debate endlessly about which method is best, but what can’t be debated is that percolators have a charming nostalgia about them unrivaled by modern day espresso making machines.
The majority of percolators work by a method of convection and gravity where heat forces the water up the perk tube and spills out over a filter basket of ground coffee.
The water drips through and the cycle repeats. The longer the cycle continues the stronger the coffee will be.
A little glass or plastic dome on the lid allows you to monitor the bubbling coffee color.
The coffee is done when it reaches the desired color, or strength. You would hear the iconic "blurp blurp blurp" sound when it is done. Forgive me for not emulating the sound perfectly.
On the other hand, some percolators work by a pressure mechanism and produce more of an espresso type coffee. They are detachable into three parts: a water chamber, a coffee chamber, and a filter basket.
After the pot is assembled, and water and coffee grounds are added, it is heated on a stove top. The water boils and the steam creates enough pressure to force the water up through the coffee grounds and into a coffee chamber.
You need a cautious eye to work with these pressure percolators as they can explode if not operated properly sending several ounces of scalding water and metal parts throughout your kitchen.
Stove-top percolators are universally liked by those who love percolated coffee. They have never gone out of style with those who love the outdoors as they are made of a lightweight material, with few parts, and require no electricity. For these same reasons, those who are environmentally conscious and would like to limit their electricity output also favor stove-top percolators.
There are current websites and testimonials praising the merits of coffee percolators just as there are detractors who consider the technique outdated and rightfully upstaged by more modern coffee making methods.
Our view? It seems to be a matter of preference. Percolated coffee has a distinct smell and taste, as well as a cheerful popping sound while it is being brewed.
Some claim that the taste is stronger and darker than “regular” coffee, while others claim it to be bitter and burned tasting.
This strong taste and smell is probably due to the boiling water that a percolator requires to brew in addition to a heated base which many electric models are equipped with.
Percolators also produce extremely hot coffee— as in the hottest cup of coffee you will probably ever drink, so be forewarned.
Another thing to keep in mind about percolators: they have their own filter basket, but the holes are fairly large which means that a course coffee grind is preferable, and even then there will likely still be some sediment left in your cup.
Some people don’t mind this, but if you are someone that does, you will want to pick up some extra percolator style coffee filters to ensure a smooth, grit-free cup of coffee.
Do you have a house full of power coffee drinkers or are you entertaining a large group? Then you’re going to want top opt for the larger 12 to 20+ cup capacity percolators.
On the other hand, if it’s just yourself enjoying a cup then look for a smaller 2 to 4 cup or even a mini single cup capacity. In either case, one of the benefits of using a percolator is that it’s just as easy to make 2 or 4 cups as it is to make 24 cups.
Stove-top percolators require a hands on approach to monitor heat and brewing time and are generally favored by experienced coffee makers. “Stove-Top” doesn’t mean that the percolator must be used over a stove.
Any external heat source will do, like a campfire or wood stove. For these reasons, stove-top percolators are popular for the outdoors.
However, if all you require is a good cup of coffee and would rather plug the unit in and let it go to work, then the electric percolator is the you’ll want.
Like any product, whatever your budget, and whatever your style, there is a percolator for you. These coffee makers in general tend to be more modestly priced compared to other types of coffee makers, and a percolator of excellent quality can usually be purchased for less than a hundred dollars.
Check out this video for a quick tutorial on how to use a stove-top coffee percolator:
These are what we think you should start with.
But as with most percolators, there may be some sediment in the coffee pot if you don’t use an additional filter. The cord is rather short, so there’s not a lot of room to move with the coffee pot which is where the detachable cord feature comes in handy.
Although once the cord is removed, the warming mechanism is also shut off, but the base has a heat insulator which should keep the pot warm for long while.
It may take a little experimentation to get the desired strength of coffee you prefer.
This is a Chinese made 12-cup capacity electric coffee maker that has gained a lot of fans over the years—must be due to the fast and no fuss coffee it makes on consistent basis.
It is a sleek, classic design made entirely of stainless steel with no plastic parts. It brews at around one cup per minute and has an indicator ready light to tell you when it's finished brewing.
There isn’t a lot of difficulty with this coffee maker: you pour in your water, spoon in your coffee grounds, plug it in, and walk away which makes it perfect for coffee drinkers who do a lot of entertaining.
While the machine may be one of the spendier versions of percolators, it is very durable and will last for years with standard maintenance.
The percolator window is plastic which may present a problem if placed directly on the fire. Luckily, these little windows can be replaced if needed. It is easy to clean, even with tarnished soot from a direct fire.
Because it’s built for durability, it is a little bit heavy and bulky; even the smaller 8 cup pot weighs around 3 pounds which might not be ideal for backpackers.
Drive in campers, however, will love this.
Simple and conservative in design, but with something like a stove-top percolator, simplicity is key to durability.
The only drawback with this pot is the percolator window is made of hard plastic and seems prone to breakage, and Farberware doesn’t sell replacements. This can be solved with a “universal” percolator replacement parts which are easily found, but a design flaw nonetheless.
Campers will love this so much that they may buy two: one to keep at home and one to go in their camping bag.
This isn’t a put it on the stove and walk away kind of coffee pot. If too much heat is applied it can become damaged leaving an aluminum residue at the bottom.
Also there is a slight possibility that it might explode if not used properly, or has a faulty or clogged valve.
You are going to want to follow the instructions very carefully with this one. However, once mastered, which isn’t hard, it will produce a very strong smooth espresso style coffee that has devoted fans from all over the globe.
Espresso lovers with an appreciation for for retro style hands-on coffee makers will appreciate this.
Undecided? We would go for the Farberware Classic Stainless Steel Yosemite Percolator. Its durability, affordable price, ease of use, and portability to use between home and campground makes this an all around awesome little percolator that will last for decades.
It is perfect for anyone who loves strong coffee without a lot of hand wringing.
Whether you have always loved percolated coffee or have disregarded it in favor of more refined methods, this humble coffee pot that your grandma used could be making a comeback.
The percolator might be worth another look if you are curious about different coffee making techniques and flavors, and it just might become your new favorite.