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.


  1. w50…the key to stove-top percing is same as w/hard boiled eggs…timing begans Only when boiling/percing starts; and using simple kitchen timer I would start at 10 min percing and subsequently adjust accordingly…Quality/fine coffee, yes? It’s all about the simple things, that make us truely happy.

  2. i found that on a stove-top glass percolator, brewing time on the percolator varies quite a lot, so i just base my decision on the color of the water to determine when to stop.

  3. Well, it’s been a year since I’ve switched to a parcolator completely and the coffee has been excellent! I recently got a one cup drip machine for christmas and time after time the coffee comes out horrible no matter what coffee I use, lol. This site has been helpful and i love my GE percolator.

  4. The best coffee I’ve had in years. My electric drip maker brode(another one). Got my old perculator out. I forgot how GOOD a cup it makes. For now I have no plans to replace the broken drip coffee maker.

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  6. Coffee making is definitely a matter of choice. I love stove-top percolators; I prefer the glass type personally. In fact just got another vintage 4 cupper at the thrift shop for $2.00 and it looks like it was never used. The anticipation of that first sip while the coffee is percolating makes it all worth while.

  7. P.S. Thanks too to all who took the time to inform those of us who, or, well, guess I ought to just speak for myself in this regard…who might not rightly be labeled as ignorant, nor stupid, dumb maybe sometimes, but always welcoming of useful information. Mostly I just don’t know and can’t always recall everything. Heck, I can’t even remotely recall what were the comment numbers that sparked this onset of inferiority in mind. But it’s the type thing that’ll be easily cured, with a tasty cup or two of zippity coffee! ;)

  8. Whew! This thread is looking pretty well dead now. But I’ll add my few cents anyhow, especially since it’s cold out and the night’s pretty much shot, consumed herein: Percology 101. (It’s this or Facebook.) Besides, can’t hardly resist being #548 and all, it’s like being part of something really big – like when everyone gathers on that one main street at Sturgis, and someone high upon a platform snaps a shot of the thousands of people sandwiched together below.

    Anyhow, I landed here while seeking information on cleaning an old GE Pot Belly Percolator. Coffee’s ok and all, but I’m not a connoisseur. And the percolator been up in the cupboard for a few years now, ever since that near fateful elimination day. A friend’s last parent had passed a couple months before the flick of a switch rush was on to clear out some 50 or so years of accumulation, and painlessly as possible. More so like a transferrence of pain unto me. Cause I’m like those guys on the TV show “Pickers” (except I’m not a guy, and, well, have no interests in women…). It troubles me when really cool functioning stuff gets trashed. And destined for the dumpster, the coffee pot was one of many “too cool to toss” items that wound up in my cupboards (with a 1930’s toaster to match). I happened to catch the Pot Belly Pot prices on ebay: $70 upwards to $150! But with a clean pot and full flavored coffee, without the bitterness…now I’m not so anxious to sell!

    The pot’s in great shape, but to look inside was to know that it’s seen a lot of coffee. Vinegar helped some, baking soda too, and I’m hoping now that Washing Soda will loosen up the last of those stubborn black stains. If not, it’s back to the only other solution I could think of: a tooth brush and cigarette ashes (unfortunately mom chain smokes). I must say, though tedius, and it takes alot of ashes, it was working well!.

    To those die hards who actually wander all the way back here, just curious what, if any, are the opinions on ceramic percolators (quirks, flavor, etc.). A little one, maybe two or three cups, cloth cord and adorned with big dark pink flowers, remains boxed in the attic. It’s a pretty little thing. But I unpack it, then pack it back up, then a year or two later same thing again. However, one day upcoming this year I too must flick the switch on accumulation, and am hoping to make some progress with this item either way (use it or loose it!).

    Wow, it’s getting lonely and starting to echo back here. G’nite -ite -ite….

  9. Funny how many of the commenters share my memories of Italian aunts and grandmas with their stovetop espresso makers sitting on the back burner of the stove all day long ready to be fired up whenever an unexpected guest popped in!

    I am an Italian-American coffee freak who thinks trekking around Naples in search of the best espresso in town is a perfectly rational way to spend a vacation. But I recently moved to a VERY small apartment where I have so little counter space that I went out and bought an old Corningware stovetop percolator at a thrift store. The first couple of times I used it I almost gave up in despair because it truly did produce HORRIBLE coffee. But after futzing around a bit I figured out the right way to make stovetop percolator coffee … or at least the right way for me personally.

    I use coffee from Yemen/Ethiopia/Sumatra (ie low acidity beans) and I put a paper filter into the percolator basket so that I can use fine grind instead of the normal percolator grind, which results in much weaker coffee than I like. I put it on high heat until I hear the first perc and then turn it all the way down and just leave it alone until I like the color I see in the glass knob — usually about 8 minutes perc time total. Obviously this makes EXTREMELY strong coffee that is not for the faint of heart. And if I do it with Latin American beans it is in fact too bitter for my taste. But the African or Asian beans seem to be much more forgiving of overextraction.

    The result is a sort of American-style version what my aunts in Italy make – and with a lot less fuss and splatter. This stuff is clearly “coffee” and not espresso. But it’s faaaah-bulous!! I think of it as what happens when diner coffee dies and goes to heaven ;-)

  10. Tymchuk, I not aware of one and suggest that u look in Salvation Army, Goodwill, etc plus consignment shops for USA/Euro pots; Also, use emails to ask family and friends if they have old pots they might give/sell to you.

  11. Can you please advise of a coffee percolator brand that is NOT Made in China? I want a percolator Made in USA, CANADA, or EUROPE if at all possible these days ….

  12. I’m 58 years old and just started drinking coffee after my wife bought an 8 cup Farbarware unit at a flea market for $5.00. I love the industrial art look of the various brands from the different decades. I decided to collect them as a hobby. I’m up to 9 percolators as I speak. One is a Sunbeam vacume pot that a man said was a wedding gift in 1951 and was only used a few times. I paid two dollars for that one. My Jet o Matic was made by Saladmaster. It is like brand new and works great. I think the stainless steel units are the best. All in all it is cheap fun. Thrift stores and yard sales offer the best chances of scoring a great unit cheaply. What fun and great coffee.

  13. Elaine; Error in my last. In last sentence “usable cord” should read “unusable cord”.

  14. Elaine; Those pots make excellent coffee. I still have eyes open for parts re my pot w/o obtained at Salvation Army mths ago. Allow me to suggest that u read my Dec.30’09 blog#241 warning re those pots. If your pot has handle attached via screw clamp, rather than just advesive, you are ok. Also, being that elect pot(s) plugs are pretty much standard design you likely find inexpensive new cord assembly at local hardware shops, should you need others. Take pot to shop to match/mate plugs as per what available, being that diameter of pot prongs and the space for plug might vary, ie, too small for plug to fit/seat. Also, if u have a plug that fits pot but usable cord, simply switch/rewire using cord w/plug that not fit pot. Simple stuff.

  15. An update on my Primo Corningware pots….they are electric,cords were not with them. I finally found a cord at a local giant junk shop. Yhe owner showed me to 3 huge boxes of cords. Told me if I found them they were mine. Found one forthe larger of the two. Beats $25-$35 on e-bay. Making my first pot now. Did see the 10 cup Corningware pot for $75!! Happy coffee making!

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