How to Make Coffee in a Percolator

How to Make Coffee in a Percolator

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:

8. Watch the pot carefully.

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.


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  • Gene – how did you go through thirty of the coffee percolators? I’m on my second. The clear plastic bit broke off the lid on my first one!

  • Gene McCluney

    Corning Wear white ceramic coffee percolators are (in my opinion) the very best way to make coffee. There has been a lot of discussion about the hazard or danger due to the metal top band (which the handle attaches to) coming loose and causing an hot coffee burning accident. Seems the metal band is bonded to the ceramic body of the pot with an epoxy compound that can possibly come loose over time. Well, maybe, but I have over 30 of these pots, both stovetop and electric and I have not a single one that even appears to want to come loose. Now I’m not stupid, I handle these pots carefully, and gently, and they make the greatest coffee imaginable, but there is skill in using a percolator, regardless of brand. Here are my tips: Start with a squeaky clean percolator. The fantastic feature of the Corning Wear pots is that EVERYTHING except the cord on the electric models can be put through the dishwasher, yes, even the electric heating unit that sits inside is water tight and can be dishwasher cleaned. If you get an old nasty pot, you can clean it up fairly easily. I use liquid Cascade dishwasher soap, squirt it in pot, and swish it around with a foam brush on a handle and let it sit, and it will dissolve eventually all the discoloration. I do the same with the metal percolator parts and heater. Then I run them through a dishwasher cycle to further clean them. Anyway, a clean pot, of any style is very important. Now for stovetop percolator, you want to start with fresh cool water, freshly ground coffee, and you don’t need to use a paper filter whatsoever. After you put in the water, and the coffee grounds in the basket. Set the percolator on the stove and turn on medium-high heat, and wait, generally about 10 minutes for the percolation to start, and you have to watch this carefully because the INSTANT it starts perking you need to reduce the heat to the minimum your stove will adjust to. You want it to just simmer and perk slowly. I generally perk for about 6-7 minutes then remove from stove, it will continue perking for a bout a minute as it cools down. I use my iPhone to time the preperk, and the perk times, as I have worked out how long it takes for my situation for the water to reach perking temperature. OK, you have perked and removed the pot from the stove and it has stopped perking. WAIT, this is not yet the time to start pouring. There is still water in the basket, and you want to let this drain back down into the pot. I generally remove the lid and the basket lid so I can observe the water level in the basket, and I wait until the water has completely drained down so I can see the grounds, I then use a paper towel to grab the whole basket and stem assembly and remove it from the pot and sit it in the sink, I then stir the coffee with a wooden spoon, and pour. After I fill my giant mug, I decant the remaining coffee in a glass lined thermos bottle, and immediately rinse out the pot, to keep it snowy white on the inside. If you let the water fully drain out of the basket after perking you will get very few grounds in your coffee, very few. It is attempting to pour a cup of coffee from the percolator while the basket is still full of water that causes grounds to come out of the basket into your cup when you pour. Let the basket drain and remove it before you pour and you just won’t get many grounds in your coffee. Thats all for now.

  • Drip-cappuccino machines-French press–Percolated coffee absolutely the best. I recently found flea market corning ware coffee maker—great coffee

  • when making a new pot with the 60 cup electric percolators, first cool the pot with ice water to reset the peculation process. also dont mix up perk stems from different models

  • to kendell cklark–that smaller plastic basket that came w/ your immersible g.e. percolator is to be inserted into the meral one when you make smaller amounts of coffee. maybe 3-4 cups and less. my parents had one years ago. can’t find the pot, but still have the orange plastic basket, lol.

  • George Douglas

    The person that wrote this article must be around 18 years old or very uneducated. As a 70 year old man who has used a Kuerig, Mr. Coffee coffee maker, a Sunbeam party pot, and a Sunbeam model AP percolator, as well as a Sunbeam stove top percolator I can tell you a percolator makes the best coffee if it has a brew strength adjustment. Also, you can make around 90 cups of coffee for around $4. With a Kuerig it will cost around $54 dollars. Elitists think if you pay more for something, it’s better. With the Kuerig or a coffee maker, water passes over the grounds just once and with a percolator it is done many times and you can control the strength of the brew.

  • kendell clark

    hi all. Just bought a GE immersible 9 cup percolator on ebay. i’ve read through the comments so know how to use it. i just have two questions. The percolator did not come with a spring, but it did come with a filter basket and the basket cover. It also came with a smaller basket that looks identical to the metal one, but made of plastic. Does anyone know what this is for? I’m also not sure if these GE immersible percs require a spring or not the last two I’vew bought didn’t come with them. THe model number is a7p15 if this is any help. i’ve tried calling GE’s customer service, it’s a joke. Leads me to walmart and those people don’t seem to know much about the products they currently stock, let alont stuff that was made 30+ years ago, lol. Thanks for any help.

  • Hi
    I am searching for a replacement glass top for my General Electric Automatic Perculator Cat No 16PG42F
    I am from South Africa and cannot find one here anywhere.
    Can you please be of assistance to where I will be able to get one?
    Anywhere in the world
    Thank you very much

  • kendell clark

    I just found a great find, a late 1970’s possibly early 1980’s GE emerceable perc at good will for $2. It works fine, but upon opening the lid, I saw that the perc tube is lacking a spring and the filter basket does not have a basket cover. I tried to add the spring from my modern GE 12 cup perc, but while the spring fits, the lid, which is a plastic dome, won’t fit over the perc with it on. i’ve mad three pots of coffee and they’ve all come out extremely week, barely flavored water. Have used community collumbian classic, folgers chocolate, and eight o’clock original. Is this perc supposed to have a spring and filter basket cover and if so where can i find replacements? I love this perc, it’s extremely quiet. I also added my basket lid from my GE 12 cup, which should work, but because of the lack of a spring the basket falls far downt he tube until a nub stops it. Will the lack of a spring impact water flow? I think water not be showering evenly over the grounds. Thanks for any help