What Kind of Coffee Do You Use in a Percolator?

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Today I learnt something new.

Using a coffee percolator is one of the most criticised and unpopular ways of making a cup of coffee.

And to think that it is one of my most favourite methods!

Oops…

I found this out as I was researching the answer to the frequently asked question, “What kind of coffee do you use in a percolator?

For those of you who just want some recommendations of the best coffees to buy, the chart below shows my top six. 

Caribou Coffee Caribou Blend, Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 20 Ounce Bag, Rainforest Alliance Certified
Koffee Kult - Medium Roast Coffee Beans, Whole Bean Coffee, 32oz
Kicking Horse Coffee, Three Sisters, Medium Roast, Whole Bean, 2.2 Pound - Certified Organic, Fairtrade, Kosher Coffee
AmazonFresh Colombia Whole Bean Coffee, Medium Roast, 32 Ounce (Pack of 1)
Starbucks Breakfast Blend Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 20 Oz. Bag | Great Holiday Gift for Coffee Lovers
Peet's Coffee Café Domingo, Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 12 Ounce Bags (Pack of 2) Smoothly Sweet, Balanced, & Bright Medium Roast Blend of Latin American Coffees, with A Crisp, Clean Finish
Brand
Caribou
Koffee Kult
Kicking Horse Coffee
Amazon Fresh
Starbuck's Breakfast Blend
Peet's Coffee
Size
20 oz.
32 oz.
2.2 lb | 35 oz
32 oz.
20 oz.
12 oz. (x2)
Grind
Ground
Whole Bean
Whole Bean
Whole Bean
Ground
Ground
Price
$10.98
$25.99
$29.99
$12.39
$10.45
$30.99
Caribou Coffee Caribou Blend, Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 20 Ounce Bag, Rainforest Alliance Certified
Brand
Caribou
Size
20 oz.
Grind
Ground
Price
$10.98
Details
Koffee Kult - Medium Roast Coffee Beans, Whole Bean Coffee, 32oz
Brand
Koffee Kult
Size
32 oz.
Grind
Whole Bean
Price
$25.99
Details
Kicking Horse Coffee, Three Sisters, Medium Roast, Whole Bean, 2.2 Pound - Certified Organic, Fairtrade, Kosher Coffee
Brand
Kicking Horse Coffee
Size
2.2 lb | 35 oz
Grind
Whole Bean
Price
$29.99
Details
AmazonFresh Colombia Whole Bean Coffee, Medium Roast, 32 Ounce (Pack of 1)
Brand
Amazon Fresh
Size
32 oz.
Grind
Whole Bean
Price
$12.39
Details
Starbucks Breakfast Blend Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 20 Oz. Bag | Great Holiday Gift for Coffee Lovers
Brand
Starbuck's Breakfast Blend
Size
20 oz.
Grind
Ground
Price
$10.45
Details
Peet's Coffee Café Domingo, Medium Roast Ground Coffee, 12 Ounce Bags (Pack of 2) Smoothly Sweet, Balanced, & Bright Medium Roast Blend of Latin American Coffees, with A Crisp, Clean Finish
Brand
Peet's Coffee
Size
12 oz. (x2)
Grind
Ground
Price
$30.99
Details

And for those of you that want to buy the best coffee for your percolator, click here

Each of these coffees is described in much more detail later.

But, for now, I want to look in more depth at how to make great coffee using a percolator.

What is a coffee percolator?

A diagram of a coffee percolator (Source: Wikipedia)

Percolation is a process by which a liquid moves (or filters) through a porous substance.

In the case of coffee, it is when steam moves through ground coffee.

A coffee percolator is a sealed “jug” that consists of several compartments.

Source

At the bottom, is a chamber that holds the water.

Sitting above the water is a smaller container that has a vertical tube that sits in the water.

Ground coffee sits in the container and the bottom of the chamber acts like a filter.

How does a percolator work?

This video shows how a coffee percolator works

The video above demonstrates how a coffee percolator works.

The most common type of percolator is stove top.

These percolators sit on an electric ring or gas ring.

As the water in the bottom chamber heats up it will begin to boil and then turn into steam.

When this happens, the steam moves up the tube and enters the top chamber, where it turns back into water.

The hot water spills over the ground coffee and then percolates through the grinds and falls back into the bottom chamber as coffee.

Types of Percolator

Generally, there are two types of coffee percolators;

  • stove top percolators
  • electric percolators

History of the Percolator

There have been three “prototype” coffee percolators that have brought percolators to where they are today.

Prototype #1

Thompson’s coffee pot

Benjamin Thompson invented the first percolating coffee pot, sometime between the 1810 and 1814.

Like many inventions it can trace its roots back to the military.

Benjamin was a British man working in the Bavarian Army and he was a reformer.

He wanted to make soldiers healthier by providing them with an easy way to make coffee, instead of drinking alcohol!

Prototype #2

The second prototype was created by Joseph-Henry-Marie Laurens, a French man, in 1819.

Importantly, Joseph’s pot could be heated on a stove.

Prototype #3

The third and final version was created by Hanson Goodrich, an American farmer, in 1889.

Including a broad base, a central tube and a basket Goodrich’s “invention” was not very different from those of today.

Source

Advantages & Disadvantages of a Percolator

Let’s get the disadvantages out of the way first!

Central to the argument about percolators making “bad” coffee is that the temperature of the water is too high to make great coffee.

Water in a percolator boils (reaches 100 °C), whereas the best coffee is made with a water temperature of 95 °C.

And that 5 °C or (12 °F) makes all the difference.

Other disadvantages to using a coffee percolator are;

  • Over Extraction: this is when the ground coffee and water have been percolating for too long.
  • Messy: percolators, relatively speaking, are harder to clean than other brewing methods.
  • Helicopter Brewing: making coffee in a percolator is not a set it up and leave it method. In order to get the best cup, you need to hover over the stove to watch the process.

However, to prove that making coffee in a percolator it is not all bad news, let’s have a look at the advantages. 

  • Simple & Cheap: There is not much that can go wrong with a percolator and because of this they are very cheap.
  • Economical: Not only is the device cheap, but using your own ground coffee is also a very economical way of making coffee.
  • Eco- Friendly: Unlike modern single serve coffee makers that use plastic “pods” or “capsules” to deliver the perfect “shot” (and then end up in landfill) , percolators just need spoons to deliver the perfect “shot”.
  • Electric Free: Stove top percolators don’t need any electricity to power them. They can be heated on any gas stove which makes them very popular with coffee loving campers and walkers.
  • Compulsive Viewing: If you have a glass percolator then the process of making coffee is a visually awe inspiring event.

How To Use a Percolator

Step 1: Make sure that all the components in your percolator are clean.

Step 2: Pour cold, fresh water into the bottom of the chamber- there should be a “maximum level” mark to show how much water to use.

Step 3: Put the “grounds basket” onto the stem and then “spoon” some coffee grounds into the basket.

A standard measurement is one level tablespoon per cup of coffee- but you can play around (a little) with this measure until the taste is perfect!

Step 4: Place the cover on top of the basket

Step 5: Place the lid on the percolator

Step 6: Gently warm on the hob, until the water starts to “perk”- the boiling noise as the water travels up and out of the stem.

Step 7: Lower the heat and let the coffee perk for about 5 minutes. Experiment with the length of time. If you like your coffee quite bitter, you might want to leave it a bit longer.

Step 8: Take the percolator off the stove.

Step 9: Pour into a cup and enjoy.

If following this method creates a great cup of coffee for you, that is brilliant.

But, there will be many people out there who need to make little adjustments in order to get a cup of coffee that is more to their liking.

In the next section, we will look at some common troubleshooting issues

Troubleshooting Percolators

As with all things coffee, the aim is a perfect cup of “Joe” but sometimes that doesn’t happen.

Despite your best efforts, your coffee tastes “errghhh”…

But don’t panic, you just need to experiment a little.

There are three elements to making coffee in a percolator that you can change but it is important that you only change one of them at a time.

Why is that?

Because if you make more than one change at the same time then you don’t know which of the changes has succeeded or failed.

And the three elements are;

  • Ratio of water to coffee grounds
  • Size of coffee grinds
  • Size of coffee grinds

But before we look at these elements I want to show you a coffee taste chart that looks at how the taste changes depending on whether the coffee is under or over extracted (or brewed.)

The three tastes of “brewed” coffee (Source: SenseCuador)

All coffees, even the most expensive, can be under and over extracted.

If coffee is under extracted it will lack sweetness and taste sour or salty and the taste will not linger on your tongue!

If your coffee is over extracted, amongst other things it will taste bitter and dry.

However, a perfect coffee will taste sweet and ripe (labelled “floral”) and have a great finish.

Now that the different tastes of coffee have been explained, let’s explore the three main ways that we can influence the flavour.

Ratio of water to coffee grounds

The first element to change is the ratio of water to coffee grounds.

If your coffee tastes too watery then try reducing the amount of water that you use.

But, if your coffee tastes too bitter, then you might try increasing the amount of water.

Size of Coffee Grounds

If your coffee still tastes “so, so” then the next thing that you can change is the size of the coffee grounds.

The larger or coarser the particles (or grinds) of coffee, the more likely it is that your cup of coffee has too little flavour (under extracted.)

In contrast, the smaller or finer the particles of coffee, the more likely it is that your cup of coffee will have too much flavour (over extracted.)

It is recommended that the size of coffee grinds to use in a percolator are coarse- about the same size as kosher salt.

However, don’t rigidly stick to this advice.

If you think that you can get a better tasting cup of coffee by varying the size of the grind, then experiment!

Length of Percolation

The final element that you might want to change, is the length of percolation.

As was mentioned in an earlier section, the recommended duration of percolation is 5 minutes.

But once again, if you coffee is too sour percolate for longer and if it is too bitter decrease the time of percolation.

What is the Best Roast?

Having looked at how the size of the coffee grounds affects the taste of percolated coffee, it is time to move on and think about the best type of roast to use in a percolator.

Roasted coffee is defined by the shade of brown (or brown/ black) that the beans are after roasting.

There is a coffee color spectrum from light to very dark and the longer a bean is roasted for (or the higher the temperature that it is roasted at) then the darker it will be.

However, none of this is an exact science.

Firstly, raw coffee beans (which tend to be green) vary widely in color depending on where they were grown in the world.

For instance, beans grown in Mexico will be a different shade of green to those grown in Honduras.

Secondly, different varieties of beans will taste differently even if they are roasted at the same temperature and for the same length of time.

There are 4 main categories of roasted coffee;

  • Light
  • Medium
  • Medium Dark
  • Dark

As a great starting point for brewing coffee in a percolator, buying a medium roast is your best bet.

Best Roasts for Your Percolator

Caribou Blend Medium Roast (Ground | 20 oz.)

This is a 20 oz. bag of medium roast ground coffee

Details

  • Medium Roast
  • 20 oz. 
  • Ground coffee

Description

Using only the top 1% of coffee beans, this immensely popular ground coffee tastes sweet, spicy and with a hint of berry. 

As if that isn’t enough, these beans are certified Rainforest Alliance. 

Koffee Kult

This is a 32 oz. bag of medium roast whole bean coffee

Details

  • Medium Roast
  • 32 oz. 
  • Whole Bean

Description

Made by a family owned and artisan coffee roaster, these beans are fresh and are backed by a no questions asked, satisfaction guarantee.

These are 100% arabica beans which provide a smooth and bold flavor with a crisp, sweet finish. 

Kicking Horse Coffee

Description

  • Medium Roast
  • 2.2 lb | 35 oz.
  • Whole Bean

Description

“Wake up and kiss ass” is the motto of Kicking Horse coffee.

Roasted in the Rocky Mountains in Canada, these arabica beans are organic and fair trade. 

Sourced from Indonesia, Central and South America this blend of beans provide an aroma which is like sweet dried fruit and toasted coconut and deliver tastes of sweet tobacco, stone fruits and cocoa.

“Mmmm hmmm”…

Amazon Fresh

Details

  • Medium Roast
  • 32 oz.
  • Whole Bean 

Description

This pack of whole bean coffee contains medium roasted arabica beans from Colombia, which has a subtle citrus aroma and tastes of cocoa and brown sugar. 

Starbucks Breakfast Blend

Details

  • Medium Roast 
  • 1.25 lb | 20 oz. 
  • Ground

Description

The most popular chain of coffee shops in the world sells bags of coffee for you to enjoy at home. 

And this much loved breakfast blend coffee is the perfect way to wake up, with a lively and citrus tang- which is “more toasty than roasty”. 

Peet’s Coffee

Details

  • Medium Roast
  • 12 oz.
  • Ground Coffee 

Description

Don’t be deceived, for this price you get x2 12 oz. bags.

These packets of “Cafe Domingo” contain ground coffee beans from three Latin American countries. 

And these packs are full of fresh coffee as each pack has a “Roasted On” and “Freshest By” date.  

Conclusion

In this post, hopefully I have answered a couple of basic questions about kind of coffee that you should use in a percolator (a medium roast coffee that is coarsely grounded.)

But by going into much more details on certain related topics I have given you a much wider understanding of how coffee percolators work and how they make great tasting coffee.

This should leave you with enough confidence to experiment as you make coffee in your percolator.

To adjust the size of the coffee grinds, alter the ratio between the water and the coffee grinds and to change the duration that the coffee is perking, in order to get closer to that perfect cup of “java”.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!

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