There are hundreds of coffee makers out there, but few have the classic, vintage appeal of moka pots and percolators. While these two brewers are often lumped together, they are, in reality, very different.
While they both make rich, concentrated black coffee, they do so using completely different methods. In fact, I wouldn’t really say the coffee’s similar at all, just like I wouldn’t say espresso is basically like regular black coffee—the fundamental differences need to be addressed, both in the final brew and the actual brewing process.
By the end of this blog…
- You’ll know all the differences between moka pots and percolators
- You’ll know which brewer is better for your own coffee taste preferences
When you’re informed about your coffee brewers, your daily mug of coffee tends to become tastier and tastier. Let’s make that happen.
The Brewing Process
Your daily coffee experience isn’t just the coffee itself, but also the act of making coffee. Let’s look at how these two brewers work so that you can envision how your morning would look with each one.
Moka pot brewing is a fairly predictable, straightforward process. The brewer uses hot steam to produce a strong, concentrated form of coffee that’s often called “stovetop espresso”—though that’s actually a bit of a misnomer (more on this later).
You start by filling the lowest chamber with water, adding finely ground coffee to the filter basket, and assembling the entire device. You then set the moka pot on your stovetop to heat the water and produce steam.
After 4-6 minutes, the steam will have generated enough pressure (though not as much as an espresso machine) to push the rich coffee up the funnel and into the upper chamber, where it collects. When you’re ready to stop the brew, you simply remove the pot from the heat and pour out the brewed coffee.
This brewing process has a few key advantages:
- Simplicity — You use the same amount of water and coffee every single time
- Consistency — Easily brew the same amount of coffee to the same strength every time
Of course, there are a few disadvantages as well:
- Limitations — You cannot brew more or less coffee because of preset basket sizes
- Learning Curve — It can take some time to find the “sweet spot” for extraction
Percolator brewing is more of a “set it and forget it” method. This device also uses a small amount of pressure to continually brew coffee as long as the brewer’s in contact with heat.
You start by adding ground coffee to the filter basket located towards the top of the percolator, then you add water to the lower chamber. Once you set the percolator over a heat source, the boiling water rises up the straw and drops over the grounds, initiating brewing.
But here’s where a major difference comes into play: percolators don’t collect the brewed coffee. Instead, the coffee drains through the filter and back into the lower chamber, where it’s heated, sent back up the straw, and re-brews.
Over time, the coffee gets stronger and stronger and stronger. 5-7 minutes is usually right for a balanced brew, but most percolator users just let it keep going until they’re finished drinking coffee for the day.
Let’s look at the advantages of this method:
- No Frills Brewing — Set it up, let it work, and enjoy the coffee
- Choose Your Strength — You can stop the brewing when the coffee’s right for you
And now the disadvantages:
- Easy Over-Extraction — Making overly bitter coffee is pretty easy even if you’re careful
- The Coffee Boils — Even if you don’t over-extract, boiling usually damages flavor
The Final Mug Of Coffee
While the brewing method matters, it’s really the end result that you’re after. Let’s compare the final mugs of coffee from each device.
- Moka Pot Coffee — An espresso-like coffee beverage that’s rich, concentrated, and can be enjoyed as-is, diluted with hot water, or mixed with steamed milk. If you’re wanting something like home espresso but don’t want to dump lots of money on a fancy machine, this is an excellent way to have a similar (but not quite as intense) experience without breaking the bank.
- Percolator Coffee — Regular black coffee that can be tailored to your tastes since you can stop the brew at any time. Generally has a noticeable bitterness from the high brewing temperature and is often overly-concentrated from brewing for too long. Still tasty if you can get the hang of stopping it at the right time.
As you can tell, these two coffee experiences are quite different. One’s a cheap alternative to espresso, the other’s just another form of black coffee. Which one sounds like it more so fits your flavor preferences?
Which One Should You Buy?
I cannot make this decision for you, but I can show you some scenarios to help you see how these brewers may be better fits for certain coffee preferences or lifestyles.
- You enjoy camping and making coffee in the great outdoors. Both brewers are easy to use on the trail, but percolators are better at caffeinating larger groups of people since you can keep refilling the pot for hours and hours, whereas the moka pot only brews a specific amount of coffee each session.
- You want to make cappuccinos and americanos at home. Moka pot coffee is concentrated enough to make drinks very similar to cappuccinos and americanos (though not exactly the same, since it’s not true espresso). Percolators, on the other hand, cannot make coffee concentrated enough for this.
- You want to make balanced, nuanced specialty coffee. Moka pots give you the chance to brew rich and balanced shots of concentrated coffee. Percolators, sadly, tend to produce bitter coffee that lacks nuance or complexity, thanks largely to the super high brewing temperature.
My preference? Moka pots all the way. They’re simple to use once you get the hang of them, they make versatile concentrated coffee that’s akin to home espresso, and the coffee quality is usually a lot higher.
In the end, it’s not the brewer that really makes or breaks your daily mug of coffee… it’s the beans. If you start with stale and low-grade beans, your final mug will taste stale and low-grade. Use specialty-grade beans, however, and your mug will sing with flavor.
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