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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  1. Jeffrey Wang says

    I think it’s a common misconception that percolators boil the water, which isn’t to say that they won’t if you’re not careful with the heat. Instead, it’s the roiling near-boiling water that gets forced up the stem, just like in a drip coffee maker. Except in a percolator, you are using coffee to brew stronger coffee. Mmmmm. Anyways, had my GSI 6-cup for five years now and it’s always a treat when I have time to use this over my French press.

  2. Angela Aldorasi says

    Hi! I grew up on perked coffee from the clear pyrex coffee pots…lol yes that old. My Keurig broke and I am back to perking my coffee. Yes coffee just is not the same. I remember my mom opening up a can of coffee and the aroma made you swoon. Not so anymore. But sorry went off on a tangent. Beside the fact that the new Faberware pots stink try using a filter. I will not make a pot of coffee without a filter.

    • Donut says

      hi angela…have you tried shopping ebay for a pyrex pot? i got one years ago at a thrift store or garage sale, but ebay is what we have for right now.. or maybe craigslist…
      good luck!

  3. joe smith says

    Perc coffee till the aroma hits your nostrils, perc 2 or 3 min to taste, take off stove, let sit 30 min
    enjoy. Happy Easter

  4. Kathy p says

    I have a stovetop perculator and it doesn’t make sense to start heating On low and then turn the Heat down after it starts to perk. Also does it stop perking all by it’s self. That doesn’t make sense. Am I just reading it wrong?

    • Charlene says

      I was taught to let it percolate for 10 minutes. Whoever wrote the article missed that part. The stovetop percolator does not stop on it’s own.

  5. maryanne says

    Can anyone help me figure out why my percolator (farberware 10 cup electric) wont make coffee on the first round of perks? It comes out like water! It takes two full perks (which can take up to 1/2 hour) before I get a dark cup. I love perked coffee because of the flavor. Everything is super clean and the perking is strong. Ive norrowed it down to the ground coffee itself. I think that its too fine and gets clogged in the little vents at the bottom of the filter where the water takes forever to drip out. Does anyone else have this problem? Happens to all my perculators. Is there a special ground that I’m supposed to use? ty and help! I love my perked coffee!

  6. says

    Fill the bottom chamber of the percolator with hot water. If you have not already, remove the top chamber and filter basket. Heat some water, then pour it into the bottom chamber of the percolator. Keep filling until the water level is just below the steam valve.

  7. John Wilson says

    Water boils at 201 degrees at the altitude of my current town (5300 feet). Percolators run about 10 degrees cooler here and I think it makes the coffee come out even better than when they operate at sea level.

    • Angelique Speers says

      Let me guess, you are explaining the difference between the altitude in the mountains of Colorado and the low levels of No. Little Rock, Arkansas??? I too am often faced with similar situations while cooking recipes given to me by Old Timers from Colorado! I haven’t come up with a easy way to break the math down yet? If you have, please help!!!!!!

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