How To Use A Percolator

The common coffee percolator is probably one of the most misunderstood tools for making coffee. Some people see it as an old fashioned device that was used by their grandparents and one that doesn’t brew with the same amount of precision as other coffee brewing tools. It’s often viewed as a throwback to a simpler time, or as a device that produces overly strong, bitter coffee. Unfortunately, that view of this device is a little bit skewed, and coffee percolators are great devices for making coffee—as long as the user does their homework and pays attention to the brewing process.

We feel that the coffee percolator is such a maligned piece of hardware for making coffee that we feel we must correct the record. We wanted to create a guide on coffee percolators that will teach our readers how to use a coffee percolator correctly. With that being said, we think that we’ll begin with a brief history of coffee percolators, so everyone can appreciate the evolution of these devices, and then we’ll jump right into the actual tutorial on the subject. Sound good? Well, then let’s get started.

The History Of Coffee Percolators

Without a doubt, the coffee percolator has been around for a long, long time. The first one was invented by a French tinsmith known as Joseph-Henry-Marie Laurens in 1819. Okay, that’s not exactly correct. Although Monsieur Laurens did improve on the method used by modern percolators, he didn’t invent it. That title goes to James Nason of Franklin, Massachusetts. He invented the first coffee percolator in 1865. A few decades later, an Illinois farmer would receive a patent for his percolator on August 13, 1889.

So needless to say, the history of the coffee percolator is as interesting as the device itself, and is just as misunderstood. Fortunately, all of us can probably agree that the first electric coffee percolator was invented in 1952 by the British company Russell Hobbs. Oh wait, electric percolators were actually produced as early as the 1920s and automatic percolators have been in full production since World War II, so it seems that not even the history of the electric percolator is as cut and dried as it first appears.

How Does A Coffee Percolator Work?

Now that we’ve sorted out the confusing and conflicting history of these devices (we think), it’s probably time to turn our attention to how coffee percolators actually work. Why? Well, we feel that it’s important to have a basic understanding of coffee percolators, so it can be used in the way it was designed to be used. By using the percolator correctly, the consumer will have a better chance of making a perfect cup of coffee than if they just went at it in an uninformed way.

These coffee makers use a process as percolation to make coffee. Percolation is when a solvent such as water (yes, water is a solvent) moves through a permeable membrane to release the soluble compounds found in the membrane. In other words, it means hot water is passed through coffee grounds to make coffee. Well, that may have some of you saying that is exactly how an automatic coffee maker makes coffee. And that’s true to a point, but there are a few distinctions that are worth talking about before we move on.

The difference between automatic drip coffee makers and percolators is that water passes through the coffee grounds on an automatic drip coffee maker only one time. The hot water passes through the grounds and then into a pot. With a percolator, however, the method is a bit different. There’s the potential for the coffee to keep passing up through the tube in the center of the pot and being percolated through the grounds again and again. This means that the user can make a stronger cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it also means that if the user isn’t careful, then they can over-brew the coffee and end up making it bitter. So diligence is the key.

How To Use A Stovetop Percolator

Finally, we’ve made it to the main point of our guide: How To Use A Stovetop Percolator. This is the section that many of you have showed up for, so we’re not going to waste a lot of your valuable time. Instead, we’re going to jump right into the thick of things, so all of our readers can learn the proper way to use their percolator. Let’s begin, shall we? Oh, by the way, if you want to learn how to use an electric percolator, then that section is below this one.

Step One: Add Water To It

The first step to using a stovetop percolator is to add water to it. You should decide just how much coffee you want to brew and then add the necessary amount of water to the percolator’s reservoir. With some models, that’s as easy as just opening the lid and then adding the water, but other models may require you to remove the basket portion of the percolator first. The average percolator holds anywhere from 4-8 cups of coffee, so you should keep that in mind as you add water to it.

Step Two: Replace The Tube & Basket

If you had to remove the coffee ground basket and/or tube from the percolator, then now is the time to put them back. Although there are small differences between stovetop coffee percolators, most of them have a pretty similar design. This design is a tube that runs through the center of the device with a coffee grounds basket that sits above the waterline. As the water heats, it moves up through the tube and then percolates through the grounds. This cycle will repeat again and again until the heat is removed.

Step Three: Put The Coffee In The Basket

Okay, at the risk of sounding like Buffalo Bill from Silence Of The Lambs, it’s time to put the coffee in the basket. In our experience, freshly ground coffee grounds are the best, but if those aren’t available, then pre-ground coffee beans will work in a pinch. For every cup of water, be sure to use approximately 1-tablespoon of coffee grounds. If you want a weaker cup of coffee, then reduce the grounds to 1-teaspoon per cup. As is the case with most things, if you’re new to brewing with a stovetop percolator, then you’re probably going to have to experiment to figure out the amount of coffee that works best for your tastes.

Step Four: Brew Your Coffee

The next step is to make sure that your percolator is properly assembled and then placing it over a medium-heat source. This can be on the burner of an induction stove, or a gas or electric stove. It can even be a campfire if your out camping. However, never try to brew coffee by placing the entire percolator into a hot oven, or you’ll end up ruining it. The proper way to percolate is with a heat source below the percolator itself and over medium heat.

As the water heats up, you’ll notice that the coffee will begin to sputter in the glass or plastic glove that sits on top of the percolator. If you’ve placed the percolator on medium-heat, then it should sputter every few seconds or so. That’s the proper speed for great percolation. Keep this percolation going for approximately 10-minutes. That is enough to produce a strong cup of black coffee. If that’s too strong, then you may want to adjust the brewing time downwards. Some experimentation may be needed to achieve the perfect cup of coffee. Just don’t brew it for more than 10-minutes or you will end up with a bitter cup of coffee that you won’t enjoy.

Once the desired brewing time has been achieved, remove the percolator from the heat and take out the basket and center tube.  The coffee is now ready to serve in whatever fashion is right for you.

How To Use An Electric Percolator

Learning how to use a stovetop percolator was fun, wasn’t it? Well, if you thought that was fun, then you’re going to love to learn how to use an electric percolator properly. Are you pumped up and ready? Well, let’s just jump right into it then.

Step One: Add Your Water & Coffee

According to your electric percolator’s instructions, add water and coffee grounds to it. Use the amount of water for the number of cups you want to brew, and add 1-tablespoon of coffee for every cup brew. If you want a weaker cup of coffee, use 1-teaspoon of coffee instead of 1-tablespoon of coffee.

Step Two: Assemble It & Turn It On

With coffee grounds and water in the percolator, it’s time to reassemble it. Once it’s reassembled, plug it in and if it has an “on” switch, then flip it on. All you need to do now is wait 7-10 minutes and your coffee is now done.