Friday, September 10, 2010

Methods to the Madness: Percolated Coffee

     I have many fond memories of sitting outside with a percolator, and making coffee this way is, for me, very much an act of nostalgia. Unfortunately, this grand machine is losing its foothold in the world, as many people are switching to newer drip coffee makers, and some have never even seen a percolator.

      Originally invented in the late 18th century by American scientist and soldier Count Rumford (Sir Benjamin Thompson), the percolating coffee pot gains its name from the mechanism by which it brews; The word percolate meaning to cause (a solvent) to pass through a permeable substance especially for extracting a soluble constituent. When brewing coffee via this method, the solvent is water, the permeable substance is the coffee grounds, and the soluble constituents are the chemical compounds that give coffee its color, taste, and aroma.

Diagram of a Coffee Percolator by UnknownFerret
     Percolators are easy to use, and as if they couldn't get any better, are also very easy to clean. Almost all percolators will come with their own set of instructions for use, and each one is just a little different from the rest. As such, I won't be including outright directions, but rather some tips for when you're down and dirty percolating.
  • Percolators require the use of coarse ground coffee, and many pre-ground varieties will leave a light sediment in the final brew.
  • Good water makes good coffee, and this is especially true at the high temperatures that percolators can reach. Use bottled or filtered water for the best tasting coffee.
  • The oils that build up inside your percolator can help keep the brew from touching the metal, which could give your coffee a metallic taste. Only clean your percolator with warm water, and never use harsh soaps that could strip the walls of their protective oily coat.
  • Too long on the heat and the coffee will taste burnt, 5 or 6 minutes over medium high heat should be all it takes for a standard sized unit.
  • Remember, brewing coffee is as much an art as it is a science, and you should always try new things to see what might work better!

     The main advantage of using a coffee percolator is that if you would like to boil your coffee, or that if you are forced to boil your coffee due to a lack of electricity or otherwise, you can do so without having a mess of grounds mixed in with the final brew. The water passes through the grounds, but then falls back down into the main chamber meaning:
  • You have all the advantages of boiled coffee, with none of the mess, and;
  • Your coffee and sit for an extended time without the risk of the grounds going rancid and ruining your brew.

        Percolating coffee is not without its pitfalls though. One of  the primary complaints with percolation is that already brewed coffee is sometimes forced back through the grounds, and can cause an over-extraction from the beans giving you coffee that tastes like it's been brewed several times over. Another, slightly less noticeable effect can be that aromatic compounds in the beans are rapidly released during percolation, sometimes leading to a less flavorful end result. Those who swear by the percolator though, claim that these potential encumbrances are a small price to pay for the robust and hearty cup of brew that you are rewarded with.


  1. Thats pretty cool. I guess its not that great because of the over extraction. Has some kinks to work out i guess

  2. never knew there was so much into making coffee

  3. Interesting read, thanks for the small history lesson lol

  4. Thank you, keep it up! :)
    java 4 life!

  5. the caffeinated content would be too much for me to handle >< im a lightweight drinker

  6. Never ever seen one. Thanks xD A little history lesson there

  7. Sounds like a lot more work than I'd be willing to do for a cup of coffee I'm afraid.

  8. I have a percolator I take camping. You're right does make good coffee. It's no mocha frapp, but it keeps me goin!


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