5 Easy Steps to Using a Percolator

coffee percolator

coffee percolator

In this modern age of espresso machines, single pack coffee makers, and French presses, there is one device that I reach for over and over again.  It doesn’t rely on steam pressure, special coffee packets or even a particular roast of coffee.  In fact, I don’t think that this device will ever wear out since it has no moving parts.   My particular model has been going strong since at least the 1960s (though original models have been around with all of their inner parts since the 1800s).  This wonder device?  It is my humble enamelware percolator.

What is a percolator you ask?  It is a pot used to brew coffee by circulating nearly boiling water to the top of the pot where the water then percolates through the coffee grounds.  Water travels up through a vertical tube and tumbles out into the basket where the grounds are placed.  The bottom of the basket is perforated so the liquid seeps through and drops down to the lower part of the pot.  With a heat source  (usually stove top or in some cases… campfire) located under the pot, the cooler liquid is forced back up the tube and the cycle repeats itself until the resulting brew reaches your desired strength.

percolator and basket

percolator and basket

The parts of a percolator does vary from the modern drip style coffee makers.  There is the cover, or lid of the pot.  Within the cover is a glass knob which allows you see the liquid as it percolates.  Next is the basket with a perforated bottom designed to hold the coffee grounds.  This basket may or may not have a ‘spreader’ which is a cover for the top of the basket and it is also perforated.  The basket sets upon the pump tube which the vertical tube which water (and later becomes coffee) is forced up as the liquid is heated.  The pump tube sets within a pump based whose main job is to provide stability to the pump tube.  In most models, the pump base is almost as large as the interior base of the percolator.  The percolator container itself has a handle for holding as well as spout for pouring.  Most spouts of a percolator as also perforated which helps keep coffee grounds out of your waiting cup.

To use a percolator, follow these steps:

1) Determine the amount of coffee you wish to make ( 4 Cups, 6 Cups, etc…)

coffee grounds in basket

coffee grounds in basket

2) Measure water based on number of cups, but determine a coffee cup to be 6 ounces.  This means that if I want 4 Cups of coffee, I add 24 ounces of water.  NOTE: coffee strength is a personal choice and some may choose to measure out 5 ounces of water for each cup of coffee desired.

3) Add ground coffee to the desired measurement mark on the coffee basket.  You may use a coarse grind for this type of coffee maker.

4) Place the percolator over a heat source (note: this is assuming you are not using an electric percolator).  If using a stove top, set the burner to a medium high heat setting.

coffee percolating

coffee percolating

5) Allow the coffee to percolate.  You will be able to see the water “perk” up into the knob and during the course of percolating, become darker until it becomes the desired strength of coffee.   (Be careful and do not allow the coffee to boil.  Boiled coffee will take on a bitter taste.)  My mother and grandmother knew exactly the shade of ‘coffee brown’ they were looking for and took the percolator off of the heat at the right time.  Some folks listen to the ‘perks’ and then wait until perking sound subsides before removing from heat.  Me?  I experiment and have watched the color as well as listen to my percolator.

Even in this modern age, you too, can enjoy a nostalgic cup of coffee.  Percolator coffee; enjoy it over breakfast.   Share it with friends.  Savor it to the last drop.


18 responses »

  1. I just purchased a vintage one, I don’t know why, my mom only used a percolator, and I can still smell the coffee..I may use it when the power goes out, but manly I want to country-fy my kitchen stove..

    • I have fond memories of my mom’s and grandma’s kitchens… smelling coffee freshly made in the percolator. While we have a modern drip coffee maker, I still use my percolator.

  2. I LOVE the old Percolator 😀 It looks so sweet 😀 I have one and i wanted to make my coffee like that every day but my husband want a coffee machine to set the time LOL lazy guy 😀

  3. Oh my, I remember my grandmother brewing coffee every morning in her percolator. The hubby and I are currently looking in thrift stores now searching for one. Thanks so much for bringing a wonderful memory back to me.

    • I too, have fond memories of my grandmother and mom making coffee in a percolator. We still see them show up in thrift stores and at garage sales for not much money. Good luck with your search!

  4. My sister still uses our grandmothers percolator every day.
    We’ve tried using the reusable filters in drip coffee makers but haven’t been happy with them. Maybe we need to get a percolator, eliminating the need to buy coffee filters…

  5. Oh, you just made me nostalgic for my old time coffee percolator, which I gave up many years ago in favour of one of those new-fangled, bells and whistles fully automated coffee makers that never did make a decent cup of coffee…… I have since returned to the old fashioned plunger which makes a decent cup, but I remember the full bodied richness of the percolated coffee I drank as a young mother. I must keep a look-out and see if I can find one again. Great post!!

    • Yes. When it is cool enough to handle, raise the cover (lid) and then grab the top of the pump tube and pull up. That will pull out the ‘inner workings’ of the percolator. Then just pull up on the basket and dump the grounds out. I run water over the basket (while holding it upside down) to get any remaining grounds out of it.

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