When it comes to brewing a cup of Joe, percolators were once the coffee brewer of choice but the electric drip coffee maker has come on strong in recent years. Here is how these two brewing technologies stack up against each other.
A drip coffee maker brews coffee by spraying heated water over ground coffee inside a filter basket. The water passes through the beans, through a filter and drips into a carafe placed below. Unlike percolators, the water only passes through the coffee grounds once.
In technical terms, a thermosiphoning process is employed to draw the water through a heated pipe where it heats up and is then uniformly deposited onto the coffee with a spray head. The carafe is usually heated to keep the coffee warm after it is made.
Many drip coffee makers include useful features such as automatic timers to start the brewing process and a safety shutoff timer that turns off the heating element under the carafe after a set period time.
Coffee made with a drip coffee maker is smoother and less bitter tasting than coffee made with the percolator because the water only passes through the grounds once. In addition, the filtering system prevents sentiments from collecting in the finished product.
The quality of the brew produced in a drip coffee maker will degrade if the unit is not kept clean. Once a month or so, run a mixture of water and baking soda or vinegar through the coffee maker followed by a few cycles of just plain water.
A coffee percolator brews coffee at higher temperatures than a drip coffee maker. This higher temperature, coupled with the recirculation of the brewed coffee through the grounds multiple times, results in a brew that is strong and sometimes bitter due to over extraction. The bitterness is amplified if the brewed coffee is left on the heat too long.
Many coffee drinkers have abandoned the percolator because it produces such a strong brew. But, there are still plenty of percolator enthusiasts that love the strong, more robust flavor that it offers.
A coffee percolator brews coffee by continuously passing hot water over coffee grounds via a process known as percolation. A typical percolator consists of a metal pot, often made from aluminum, a metal basket to hold the coffee grounds, and a long tube, known as a pump stem, that sits in the middle of the pot and supports the coffee basket. The pot sits on a stovetop or may have an electrically heated base.
When the water in a percolator reaches the boiling point, it travels up the pump stem and is directed onto the coffee grounds. The water will seep through the grounds and fall back into the bottom of the pot. This process continues over and over. As the temperature of the coffee approaches the boiling point, a distinctive perking sound will be emitted from the pot. This means the coffee is ready for drinking.
The coffee percolator has been around much longer than most other brewing devices. In fact, it was a fixture in most homes until as recently as the 1970s. However, it has largely been replaced by automatic drip coffee makers, French presses, vacuum brewers, and other coffee brewing technologies. The electric drip coffee maker has arguably been the most popular coffee maker in the home over the last 30 years or so.
Coffee percolators are popular for travel, camping and other outdoor pursuits since they don't require electricity, have very few parts and hold up to long-term wear and tear better than many other types of coffee makers.