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Let’s start with a caveat. Nearly any coffee expert will tell you that a percolator is about the worst possible way to make coffee. Because the water is heated to a boil in order to perk, it’s really too hot for the coffee. It gets over extracted, and you end up with the bitterness and acidity that made coffee a ‘grownups only’ drink.
That said, there are people still who prefer perked coffee to any other kind. Taste is, after all, a matter of taste. In addition, those enormous coffee urns are still the best way to make lots and lots of coffee for a crowd.
A coffee percolator consists of five parts. There is the percolator coffee pot, into which you put your coffee. There is the stem, a hollow metal tube that fits into the bottom of the pot. In non-electric percolators, it has a flat, round bottom. There is the filter basket, which slides onto the tube and holds the ground coffee. There is the filter basket cover, a round perforated lid that fits on top of the filter basket and makes sure that the water showers the entire basket of coffee evenly. Finally, there is the coffee pot lid, which often has a glass bubble in it.
The glass bubble just might be the most fun part of the entire contraption. It lets you watch the coffee splurting up from the tube and splashing inside before it spills back down onto the lid.
Coffee percolators come in two distinct types – electric and non-electric. The electric percolators include coffee urns that can make up to forty cups of coffee at a time. Stovetop percolators are great for bringing along on camping trips. Both can actually make decent coffee despite their horrible reputation if you follow a few simple guidelines.
1. Keep all parts of the percolator clean.
That means washing the entire thing with dishwashing liquid and hot water every time you use it. To clean inside the stem, use a pipe cleaner or a long, thin brush.
2. Use freshly ground coffee.
Obviously, this may present a problem if you’re on a camping trip with no electricity miles from nowhere. In that case, carry your ground coffee in a vacuum container with a lid to prevent the air from getting at it and spoiling the flavor.
3. Disassemble the Coffee Percolator. Put the coffee stem in place.
4. Fill the Coffee Percolator with water to below the line on the stem where the filter basket will rest.
5. Put the filter basket in place.
Add one heaping tablespoon of coffee for each cup of water in the pot.
6. Fit the basket lid into place inside the percolator.
7. Here’s where we branch off in two directions. – If you are using an electric percolator, plug it in and turn it on. The coffee pot is now on its own until its done perking. If you are using a stove top percolator, put it over a low flame to heat the water. As soon as the first splurt of coffee hits that little glass bubble, turn the heat down. We now return you to your regularly scheduled directions. For both electric and stovetop pots:
As soon as the pot stops perking, remove it from the heat.
9. This is the most important part of making coffee with a percolator.
Being careful not to scald yourself, remove the lid of the percolator and remove the entire filter stem from the pot. If you leave it in there, the steam from the coffee will continue to condense, drip over the spent coffee grounds and drip into your coffee.
10. Fill your cup and enjoy.