The Percolator is one of the more familiar methods of brewing coffee in the U.S. It works by sending boiling water upwards, through a tube to the top of a perforated basket, where it rains down over the coffee grounds, and back down into the boiling water to start the process repeatedly. Many people still enjoy this old favorite, and with careful timing you can get a wonderful cup.
To “percolate” means to filter through. It also means to become spirited, lively, just like the bubbling you see inside the glass top of non-automatic percolators. The glass top helps you to see the changing color of the brew and determine its readiness for consumption.
Approximate brewing time for about 6 cups: 5 min
Approximate brewing/serving size: 5 oz/cup
Stovetop percolators should be watched while brewing, so they can be removed from the heat source when brewing is completed. If left on the heat source for too long, they can cause over-boiling, which tends to release bitterness in the coffee and mask distinct flavors and tastier blends.
Electric percolators make a consistent brew by automatically stopping the percolation when the coffee is done. Most automatically switch to a warming mode after brewing is completed.
Clean your coffeemaker on a regular basis, in order to keep your coffee tasting great every time.
And, of course, use the best coffee you can find. You’ll find our selection on the Coffee Beans page. Buy only the amount you’ll use within 2-4 weeks, and store it properly. Learn more about coffee and coffeemakers in our brief Coffee Guide.
~ Percolator Parts ~
♦ Cover Knob
A translucent glass or plastic top cover knob helps you see the color of the coffee, and is especially desirable on stovetop percolators, to help you determine when to stop the brewing.
A clear top is not necessary for most electric percolators. They usually have timers that stop the brewing process, making it unnecessary to monitor the color of the coffee.
♦ Spreader Cover
Has a hole in the center, through which fits the Pump Stem. Fits snugly on top of the Basket.
Usually with a series of circular rings and lots of openings, shaped and sized to create a soaking shower effect on the grounds below.
The Spreader Cover also helps to keep grounds from splashing upwards.
It has a central tube or round opening, through which the Pump Stem is inserted.
Small holes along the Basket bottom help keep all but the smallest coffee grounds in the Basket, while allowing the liquid infusion to pass through.
Special flat and envelope shaped paper filters can be used inside this Basket, to help smooth the taste and allow for less grounds to pass through to the infusion below.
♦ Pump Stem
This long tube sits in the middle of the pot, extends from the base up to the underside of the lid, supports the Basket, and operates as the non-mechanical pump which makes a percolator function.
The Pump Stem has a round base which usually sits flat on a stovetop percolator, or a ringed based which sits within a cavity or well inside an electric percolator. The base of the stem must be kept clean and undamaged for the coffeemaker to function properly.
Some distance up the stem there is usually a protruding flange, on which the Basket is seated.
On electric percolators there is a spring above this flange, which keeps the Basket pushed upwards and the Pump Stem downwards, to keep a better seal with the lid on and closer contact between the base of the Pump Stem and the heating elements underneath.
~ How a Percolator Works ~
The basic principle relies on air bubbles that form in boiling water at the bottom of the pot and their natural rising action. The base of the Pump Stem tube is designed to concentrate this flow of bubbles toward the tube opening. The tube is smaller in diameter than bubbles, so that each snugly-fitting bubble that passes through the tube will carry a bit of water above it along its upward journey.
As these continuous jets of water reach the top of the Pump Stem, they discharge onto the Spreader Cover, which helps disperse the water over the grounds underneath in a more uniform manner, and also keeps grounds from splashing up.
Repeatedly, the infusion will boil upwards and filter through the grounds back down into the pot. Each time the water filters through the grounds, it moves more of the oils into the infusion, making it stronger. Too much time on the stove can make a pot of coffee bitter, and too little time can make it weak.
Good quality coffee, ground and measured properly and consistently, can make your coffee taste great all the time. Experiment until you find the optimal taste for you.
~ How to Make Percolator Coffee ~
♦ Add water to the empty pot, to the level desired according to the markings on the pot walls. (By the way, the standard measurement for a cup of coffee is 5 oz.)
♦ Place the Basket on the Pump Stem and insert them into the pot. (On electric percolators, the base of the Pump Stem must be seated properly into the cavity or well at the bottom.)
♦ If you are using a paper filter, place it inside the Basket.
♦ Add coarsely ground coffee into the Basket, allowing 1 tablespoon for each cup , or according to taste. (Consider 1-1/2 tablespoons for medium strength, and 2 tablespoons for a strong cup of coffee.)
♦ Place the Spreader Cover over the Basket.
♦ Close the pot securely.
♦ — Electric percolator – Plug it in, (adjust coffee strength settings, if any,) and turn it on. It will stop brewing when it’s done. Most electric percolators stay on to keep the coffee hot.
♦ — Stovetop percolator – Place it over a heat source at about a medium heat. (If a flame, keep it under the pot.) When you see the desired color in the coffee that appears through the clear glass or plastic cover knob, remove from heat and serve.
♦ Serve when brewed. If you need to serve it later or over a period of time, transfer it to a thermal carafe to keep it hot and its taste fresh.
Fannie Farmer’s Boiled Coffee
1 cup coffee grounds
1 cup cold water
6 cups boiling water
Scald granite-ware coffee-pot. Wash egg, break, and beat slightly. Dilute with one-half the cold water, add crushed shell, and mix with coffee. Turn into coffee-pot, pour on boiling water, and stir thoroughly. Place on front of range, and boil three minutes. If not boiled, coffee is cloudy; if boiled too long, too much tannic acid is developed. The spout of pot should be covered or stuffed with soft paper to prevent escape of fragrant aroma. Stir and pour some in a cup to be sure that spout is free from grounds. Return to coffee-pot and repeat. Add remaining cold water, which perfects clearing. Cold water being heavier than hot water sinks to the bottom, carrying grounds with it. Place on back of range for ten minutes, where coffee will not boil. Serve at once. If any is left over, drain from grounds, and reserve for making of jelly or other dessert.
Egg-shells may be saved and used for clearing coffee. Three egg-shells are sufficient to effect clearing where one cup of ground coffee is used. The shell performs no office in clearing except for the albumen which clings to it. One-fourth cup cold water, salt fish-skin, washed, dried, and cut in inch pieces, is used for same purpose.
Coffee made with an egg has a rich flavor which egg alone can give. Where strict economy is necessary, if great care is taken, egg may be omitted. Coffee so made should be served from range, as much motion causes it to become roiled.
When coffee and scalded milk are served in equal proportions, it is called Cafe au lait. Coffee served with whipped cream is called Vienna Coffee.
To Make a Small Pot of Coffee. Mix one cup ground coffee with one egg, slightly beaten, and crushed shell. To one-third of this amount add one-third cup cold water. Turn into a scalded coffee-pot, add one pint boiling water, and boil three minutes. Let stand on back of range ten minutes; serve. Keep remaining coffee and egg closely covered, in a cool place, to use two successive mornings.
To Make Coffee for One. Allow two tablespoons ground coffee to one cup cold water. Add coffee to cold water, cover closely, and let stand over night. In the morning bring to a boiling-point. If carefully poured, a clear cup of coffee may be served.