How To Use A Stovetop Percolator [8 Easy To Follow Steps!]

There is something nostalgic about the bubbling of a percolator on the stove, and these days more and more people are turning to this classic coffee brewer for that vintage feel, but also for the rich and velvety coffee it produces. But how do you properly use a percolator? We've researched methods old and new.

The basic steps to brewing coffee using a percolator are as follows:

  1. Fill the reservoir with water.
  2. Measure and grind the coffee, then add to the basket.
  3. Assemble the percolator.
  4. Heat on stove over medium-low heat.
  5. Once water is steadily bubbling, maintain heat for 6-8 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat.
  7. Remove coffee grounds.
  8. Enjoy your freshly percolated coffee!

Read more to find out how to get all the perks from your percolator and how it compares to other methods of making the perfect cup of joe.

A steaming percolator on a kitchen stove, How To Use A Stovetop Percolator [8 Easy To Follow Steps!]

How To Percolate Coffee

Freshly roasted coffee beans on a wooden table

1. Fill the reservoir with water

Once you have used your percolator regularly, you should be able to eye-ball the water level, but it's a good idea to measure the water when first starting. Use cold water, about four ounces or half a cup, for each serving of coffee. Next, pour the water into the reservoir of your percolator.

2. Measure, Grind, and Add the Coffee

You will get the best results by grinding your own fresh coffee. We recommend starting with 30 grams (about one ounce) of whole beans for two cups of water, but you can adjust to your desired strength. Aim for a medium-course grind to get the most flavor without over-extracting your coffee or letting the grounds come through the filter. Once your coffee is measured and ground, add it to the coffee basket of your percolator.

Coffee Grinding Tips

To get the best results when grinding your own beans, we recommend you use a burr grinder. Burr grinders are made of two abrasive cones called burrs that rotate, grinding whatever comes between them until it can pass through. Because of this design, they get the most controllable and consistent results. Adjust the distance between the burrs for different applications.

Professional burr grinders can get expensive quickly, but affordable models for the home are available. Cuisinart, known for their high-quality food processors, make a good burr grinder for the home coffee aficionado.

Click here to see it on Amazon.

You can also use a spice grinder if you already have one at home, but the beans will grind more unevenly, leading to some fine dust that will likely make it into the finished coffee. Also, be sure to thoroughly clean a spice grinder before using it; otherwise, your java will taste like the last curry powder you ground up in it.

3. Assemble the Percolator

Percolators come in different styles, and they don't all reassemble in the same way. For that reason, it's best to refer to your owner's manual for instructions, at least until you get the hang of it.

4. Heat over medium-low heat

A medium-low flame is your friend when percolating coffee. It may be tempting to turn up the heat so you can have your coffee sooner, especially if it's your first cup of coffee in the morning, but patience is key here! On high heat, you'll get an over-extracted, acrid cup of coffee.

Monitor your percolator as it slowly heats up. Many traditional percolators have knobs made of transparent glass or plastic. When the water is hot enough to brew your coffee, you will see bubbles appear in this knob.

You want the bubbles to be a couple of seconds apart for optimal results. If it's a constant flurry of bubbles, your water is boiling. This will lead to bitter, unpleasant coffee. If they are more than a couple of seconds apart, you can gradually turn up the heat to find the thermal sweet spot.

5. Wait for 6 to 8 minutes

Set a timer and continue to monitor your percolator to make sure it isn't getting too hot or too cold. The water you see in the knob will start to darken and turn coffee-colored, a sure sign that your java is properly percolating. We recommend six minutes for a milder cup of coffee or eight minutes for a stronger brew, but really it's up to you! Modify the time to get your coffee to your personally desired intensity.

6. Remove from heat

When the time is up, turn off your stove and move your percolator off the heat. Keep in mind that the whole percolating apparatus will be very hot at this point, so use an oven mitt to protect yourself and a kitchen towel to protect your countertop. It's best to wait a couple of minutes once you've removed it from the heat so the coffee and the percolator can both cool down a bit.

7. Remove coffee grounds

Before you pour your coffee, remove the basket with the coffee grounds, discard them, or add them to your compost pile. If you pour before removing the grounds, they're going to go into your cup, and no one wants grainy coffee. Remember that your percolator is still hot, though, so take the necessary precautions as you remove the grounds.

8. Enjoy!

And there you have it! A great cup of percolated coffee is yours to savor. Percolators make stronger, richer coffees than most drip-brew processes that go great with a bit of cream or steamed milk froth. Or just enjoy a dark, black cup of java.

Stovetop and Electric Percolators

Old and new coffee makers on a white background

These days, you'll find more than just the standard stovetop percolator. There are a lot of electric percolators on the market too. They lower the learning curve for making percolated coffee, as they don't require the monitoring and temperature control that stovetop models do.

The electric percolator from Presto has all of those advantages and a sleek, mid-century influenced design that combines modern convenience with nostalgic fashion.

Click here to see it on Amazon.

For the truly classic approach, though, a good stainless steel stovetop percolator with a transparent knob, like the Yosemite model from Farberware, is the way to go.

Click here to see it on Amazon.

If you're looking for a different kind of nostalgia aesthetic, you might want to ditch the sleek stainless steel for a classic enameled percolator that's great for indoors and outdoors, like this one from GSI Outdoors.

Click here to see it on Amazon.

Is A Moka Pot A Percolator?

A small stainless steel percolator held by a barista

Percolators and Moka pots are both stovetop coffee makers that produce rich, full-bodied cups of java. But the perking process is not the same. Percolators use an internal stem to funnel hot water over the coffee grounds, which then goes back into the main reservoir.

On the other hand, Moka pots aim to replicate the espresso-making process by building up steam pressure that pushes the coffee through a stem to a reservoir above the water and grounds.

Because of this, Moka pots are less likely to over-extract the coffee beans, as they don't cycle the coffee through the beans continuously the way that a percolator does. They can also use a finer grind than percolators do.

Click here to see the Bialetti Moka Express on Amazon.

What Is The Best Coffee To Use In A Percolator?

While you can percolate any roast of coffee you like in a percolator, we recommend starting with a medium roast. Percolators create darker, full-bodied cups of coffee than pour-over methods. Even many who like dark roasts for their drip-brew find that the percolator makes these overly bitter.

Light roasts tend to have more subtle flavors better coaxed out at lower temperatures than the percolator. For these reasons, we suggest trying a medium roast, at least at first, and then adjusting to find your personal favorite.

Is Percolator Coffee Better Than Drip?

Percolators used to be the standard for making coffee, but drip coffee machines eventually replaced them. Determining the better of the two is a matter of taste. Because they cycle the hot water through the grounds, percolators can extract more from coffee grounds and produce a thicker, stronger end product. You'll get a richer coffee flavor and taste more of the differences between different beans than most drip-brew machines.

The perking process also requires more attention and technique, and there is a bit of a learning curve when you get started with a percolator. Compared to a machine where you just fill, push a button, and wait, it can seem like a hassle.

Choose the method that best suits your desires and your lifestyle. It's great to have both handy: the drip brew for when you just really need a cup of coffee to pry your eyes open and the percolator for when you're taking your time to enjoy a richer experience or to balance out a sweet pastry.

Which Is Better: Percolator Or French Press?

Two white coffee mugs and a French press on the side

Another popular option for making coffee at home is the cafetière or French press. Hot water is poured over coffee grounds and allowed to steep for several minutes. Once the desired amount of time has passed, you press down on a plunger that pushes the grounds down to the bottom of a pot with a mesh filter allowing the coffee to remain above.

The coffee brewed in a French press is similar to that of drip-brewed coffee rather than percolated coffee. It tends to be less viscous and intense than percolated coffee. So which is better? That is all a matter of taste. One advantage the French press has over both drip-brew and percolator coffee is that it looks perfectly picturesque sitting on your table as you read the paper or snack on pastries.

How Do You Keep Coffee Grounds Out Of A Percolator?

The key to keeping your percolated coffee ground-free is having properly ground coffee. This means using a setting on the medium-coarse to coarse grind.

If you find that you keep ending up with a mouthful of grounds when you drink your coffee, try adjusting your grinder to a coarser setting. In case you are using a blade-grinder instead of a burr grinder, try grinding your beans in smaller batches so you can monitor them more closely and make sure they're not turning out too fine.

If coffee grounds are still ending up in your coffee, it might be that you aren't removing them from the percolator before pouring your cup of joe. After you've percolated your coffee and it's been off the heat for a couple of minutes, remove the ground basket from your percolator and discard the grounds. Take care and do it slowly, so you don't accidentally lose any grounds into the reservoir in the process.

Can You Use Regular Ground Coffee In A Percolator?

Most pre-ground coffee is intended to be used in drip machines that use paper filters or fine wire-mesh baskets. These grounds are far too fine for percolators and will inevitably end up in your coffee. For this reason, it's best to buy whole beans and grind them yourself. This will also extend the shelf-life of your pre-brewed coffee and get more flavor into your cup.

If you have no way of grinding at home, though, there are some options. Some coffee companies now sell pre-ground options that are labeled coarse ground. These will fare better in a percolator than the standard stuff.

Another option is to grind your coffee in the store. Nowadays, many grocery stores sell some coffee by weight and have their own grinders. Make sure to select a coarse or medium-coarse grind for the best results. Read more about coffee selection at "Do You Need a Special Coffee for a Percolator."

Final Thoughts

Percolators don't just take us back to simpler times; they also make a great cup of java. Now that you know how to make it yourself, you're sure to be well-caffeinated on your trip down memory lane. Read more about percolator care and maintenance at "How Do You Clean The Inside Of A Percolator?"

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