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What is a Percolator?

The percolator consists of a pot with a chamber at the bottom, closest to the source of heat. A vertical tube leads from this chamber to the top of the percolator. Just below the upper end of this tube is a perforated chamber. The grounds go in the top chamber, water in the bottom. When the water boils, it travels up the tube, over the grounds, cooling the water, then back down to the bottom chamber to cycle again.

What do I need?

A percolator and a heat source, coffee, water, and a complete lack of respect for the coffee bean.

What type of coffee grind?

The percolator uses a coarse grind. The water will be very hot and in a lot of contact with the grounds.

What else should I know?

Water temperature is vital. Ideally, you want the temperature between 195 and 200 degrees F. Older style percolators are placed directly on a heat source (often a campfire). They basically continually boil the coffee (over 210 degrees, typically). Newer electric percolators stop the continual cycling but nonetheless get too hot, boil the water hence extracting acids and other unwanted flavors.

Step 1:

Open the percolator. Pour cool water into the bottom chamber ... six to eight ounces per cup desired. The total amount of water must be below the top chamber when assembled.

Step 2:

Put the chamber and tube assembly into the percolator. Add coffee to the top chamber, two teaspoons per cup.

Step 3:

Place the percolator on the heat source. 

The water temperature rises until the water in the bottom chamber boils, forcing some of it up the tube to the top where it splashes down onto the perforated lid of the coffee chamber. This water then seeps through the coffee grounds, out through the bottom of the coffee chamber, and drops back into the water in the bottom of the pot.

After a few seconds it again boils and the process is repeated. In this way liquid is continually dripping through the grounds until the temperature of the liquid (now brewed coffee) in the pot approaches (but has not yet reached) boiling point, at which stage the “perking” action stops and the coffee is ready for drinking. In a manual percolator it is most important to remove or reduce the heat at this point, as most coffee-drinkers agree that it should never be allowed to boil. 

Step 4:

Pour the coffee, add your cream and sugar, and enjoy (or not ...)


Coffee in a percolator is inevitably boiled several times over, leading to significant over extraction and the tarry bitterness which boiling produces. If you HAVE to use a percolator, choose a coffee which is low in acidity and VERY smooth, and grind it even coarser than for the French press. Allow it to perk for no more than 3 minutes.


Craig A. Haller 2006 | All Rights Reserved