There’s something captivating about classic coffee percolators. Our grandfathers used them to make wild amounts of coffee. Images of cowboys making coffee on the trail reach out to our sense of adventure. But the reality is a little less exciting than our nostalgia.
The truth is, percolators are generally not well-beloved in the specialty coffee community.
They’re typically considered to be a lower level of coffee brewing because they don’t produce coffee with as much balance or clarity as, say, a pour over cone.
My goal’s to help you experience incredible, rewarding, and balanced specialty coffee—so I have to be honest: I don’t think you should make coffee with a percolator. At least not on a daily basis.
Let me share with you why.
1. Your Coffee Constantly Re-Brews
Coffee percolators are designed to be “set it and forget it” coffee brewers that are fairly easy to use—and they are, but there are some serious drawbacks.
The idea is that all you must do is add coffee grounds to the filter basket, add some water to the lower chamber, and then add heat. The heat causes the water to boil, rise up the straw, and drop over the coffee grounds. As the liquid coffee drains, it falls back to the lower chamber, where it once again boils and rises up the straw.
Essentially, you’re re-brewing your coffee over and over again—and this causes some serious problems.
Re-brewing grounds is a big no-no when it comes to balance and flavor clarity. It’s a quick way to shock the grounds, pull too much “stuff” out of them (acids, bitter compounds, oils), and produce an overly bitter brew. We call this “over-extraction”—and it’s extremely easy to have with percolators.
Even if you’re carefully watching the coffee color to ensure it’s the right strength for your tastes, the end result will almost certainly be over-extracted and more bitter than it needs to be. And when you’re using specialty coffee beans meant to be sweet and balanced, that intense bitterness can be pretty disappointing.
2. The Brewing Temperature Is Usually Too High
There’s a range of water temperatures that is generally agreed upon as being the most effective way to brew coffee without over and under extracting.
195 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit
Go below this and the water may not pull out sugars, oils, and other compounds fast enough, leading to an overly sour (under-extracted) brew. Go over this and the water can easily pull out too much, leading to a bitter (over-extracted) mug of coffee.
Percolator brewing, since it requires the water/coffee in the lower chamber to boil, almost always uses a temperature that’s way too high. Boiling point for water is 212 degrees at sea level and goes down as you rise in elevation.
If you live anywhere under about 5,000 ft in elevation, boiling the coffee as it re-brews will almost certainly result in over-brewing (over-extraction) and a bitter cup. If you live pretty high in the mountains, you can get away with boiling your coffee since the boiling point will be within the ideal range.
Unfortunately, for most of us, percolator brewing requires the water to simply be too hot to produce a balanced, nuanced cup of coffee.
3. The Hidden Cost: A More Rewarding Experience
When you set the over-extraction issues aside, percolator brewing still suffers from another, oft-unnoticed, weakness: the lack of a meaningful coffee experience.
The act of brewing coffee can be meditative, sensory-rich, and rewarding on an emotional level. Percolators, however, don’t really enable this deeper coffee brewing experience.
There’s just something about smelling the coffee aromas rise from a french press or seeing the coffee grounds swirl in a pour over cone. Connecting with the coffee via manual brewing isn’t a small thing—it can really transform the daily ritual.
Brewing an amazing cup of coffee by hand doesn’t just give you a good cup of coffee. It gives you a sense of personal satisfaction, it offers a moment of peace and mindfulness as you brew—and these things can really impact the rest of your day.
Set it and forget it percolators simply cannot capture this richer coffee experience, since you really don’t interact with the coffee at all once it’s in the pot. And that’s just sad, because I cannot begin to explain how manual coffee brewing has boosted my level of gratitude, focus, and clarity in the mornings.
If you want your coffee experience to be rich with meaning and deeper personal rewards, skip the percolator. Go with a manual coffee brewer.
While the coffee percolator used to be a classic in every home, it’s quickly falling out of favor as we learn more about how to brew better, more balanced coffee.
However, it’s not really the brewer that makes the biggest difference—it’s the beans.
Start with specialty-grade, freshly roasted coffee and your coffee will sing to you with flavor. Use stale or low-grade beans, however, and your coffee will taste dull and lifeless.
Make sure you’re always stocked with amazing coffee beans by signing up to our Coffee Club. We send subscribers specialty-grade beans from some of the best small-batch coffee farms in the world. After we roast them in a way that brings out complex flavors, we ship them to subscribers just two hours later—so they know they’re getting coffee as fresh and flavorful as possible.Want to transform your daily coffee experience into something rich with flavor and gratitude? Check out the Club for yourself!