How To Use A Coffee Percolator-Alternative Brewing

Much maligned in recent years, coffee percolators used to be one of the most popular coffee makers around. So what gives? It's hard to pinpoint one exact cause, but certainly, the invent of the drip coffee machine, the home coffee maker and the spread of espresso culture had an impact on the fate of coffee percolators. More recent so-called advances in coffee making also played their part. Really, the stovetop percolator just started to feel a bit old fashioned.

Some people also claim that stovetop percolator coffee is bitter compared to other brews. Old fashioned and bitter might not sound good on paper, but in reality, neither of these things should dissuade anyone from using a stovetop coffee percolator. Bitter notes in coffee are fine if properly balanced, and just because something's old, doesn't mean it's not also great. Think about the typical record collection, for example. Old is so often gold.

Properly prepared, percolated coffee can be fantastic. Really it's a matter of skill and taste, and if you don't try how will you ever know? That's why we've dusted off our percolator (not really, it's brand new!) and set it on the stovetop. Read on and we'll show you how to use a coffee percolator to make a great cup of coffee.

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How Does A Coffee Percolator Work?

A stove top percolator works by forcing steam through coffee grounds. In this sense alone, they are similar to the espresso machine: but the similarities with this coffee maker end there. A great option is the Bialetti coffee percolator, a classic stove top coffee maker. A percolator, unlike its sophisticated relative, looks like a big metal kettle, and is placed on the kitchen stove. The water boils up through the coffee grounds and is then collected in the third chamber. Only by now, it's not water: it's coffee.

That's all well and good, but does a percolator make good coffee? How do you make coffee with it, and how does it stack up against the moka pot?

Moka Pots vs. Percolators: Which To Buy?

Well, again it's completely a matter of taste. The moka pot produces a thick, dark concentrated coffee which is more similar to espresso. Whereas the percolator brews something a little more akin to your regular drip or black coffee. Arguably, the moka pot is easier to use. The stovetop percolator can be a little temperamental, and you need to be careful not to overheat or over brew with your heat source, as this will make your coffee bitter.

In fact, the percolator's reputation for producing bitter coffee is probably more to do with people percolating coffee for too long. With short brew times and careful temperature control, you can make a very decent cup of coffee, even if it's your first time.

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How Do You Make Coffee In A Percolator?

This is how to use coffee percolator 'tech' to make an old school cup of coffee!


One of the most common questions people ask is how much coffee do you put in percolator? Generally it's a matter of taste - if you overfill the filter basket you will end up with a very strong brew, so work out how much coffee you need for now and go with that. If you make enough for the day and let it sit, it will go very bitter, so we recommend a lower amount and making more brews instead.

Roughly, you will need about 1 tablespoon of ground coffee for every 8 ounces of water. You can also measure out your coffee more precisely using a coffee scale.


Grind to a medium-coarse size, and ideally use a burr grinder for a better grind. This is important because if the grind is too fine it the coffee can pass through the holes with the water and into your cup. If you are using pre-ground coffee, just go medium or coarse.


All well and good, but how do you use a coffee percolator on the stove?

Add water to the bottom chamber of your stovetop percolator and assemble the rest. If you don't know how, the internet will be able to tell you! Although there's no external part, you do use a filter in a percolator. Insert the brewing mechanism, and once you're done, place your ground coffee in the filter basket at the top of the tube. Then place the lid on the stop.

How Long Do You Percolate Coffee?

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Watch The Pot

Don't use too much heat - this will make your coffee bitter. The key here is to get water bubbling up through the coffee steadily, and without boiling! If you allow the water to boil, you will get a very bitter cup of coffee. Keep the heat low and keep a close eye on the kettle. If you see water rushing through into the top, cut the heat back.

Once you see water bubbling at the desired rate, step back and let your coffee brew for 5-10 minutes. It's totally up to you how long you brew. Longer times will make for a stronger coffee, however, it can also make the coffee bitter. Probably somewhere between 6-8 mins will be right for most people. How do you know when percolator coffee is done? When it tastes right to you. See our Moka Pot Brew Guide for more tips on coffee percolators.


And that's it - remove your coffee from the heat and serve. Make sure to remove the basket and interior chamber once your coffee is finished. This will prevent grounds from falling into your coffee, and it will be easier to use the percolator kettle as a coffee pot.

Once you've made your first cup, you may want to experiment by changing the heat, the coarseness of grind, and the brew time, as all of these factors will change the taste of the final cup and make coffee with different characteristics from coffee percolators.

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What Coffee Is Best For Percolator?

There are several schools of thought around what is the best coffee for percolator brews. The stovetop percolator coffee makers work particularly well with less bitter coffee beans, for example Colombian and Ethiopian. But of course it is up to you. You can use regular coffee in percolator coffee makers, but if it's not ground medium-coarse you will have grounds in your coffee.

So there it is, a total guide to percolating. We hope you enjoy your stove top percolator coffee and have fun experimenting with these techniques. Shop on Alternative Brewing for coffee percolators here and add this traditional stovetop coffee maker to your shopping cart today!

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