Percolator coffee machines are convenient and were once very popular for making coffee. After the invention of the automatic drip coffee machine, percolator coffee machines saw a decline in usage but like many things in the coffee world, it never really went away. However, many coffee experts advise against using a cheap coffee percolator (or any coffee percolator, no matter the cost). Why? Let’s break down the 3 reasons to avoid coffee percolators. But first, what is a coffee percolator machine and how does it work?
Percolator Coffee Machine: Design & Technique
A percolator coffee machine is a pot that brews coffee by continuously circulating hot water through coffee grounds using gravity.
The pot consists of a small chamber at the bottom, close to where the heat source would be. A narrow tube leads from this chamber to the top of the pot, through a perforated chamber near the top. The water is added to the bottom portion and coarsely ground coffee is placed in the top perforated chamber. As heat is applied, the water starts to boil, creating bubbles that push the hot water through the narrow tube to the top of the pot where it seeps down through the coffee grounds. The freshly brewed coffee then flows down through the perforations and this cycle continues until the heat is stopped.
Most percolator coffee machines require a stovetop but some variants come with their own heat sources. Percolator brewing saw a decline with the invention of automatic drip brewers which brew slightly faster and have a better taste. However, percolator coffee machines still have a small niche following among coffee drinkers who like vintage coffee or prefer to brew on the go, while camping, etc.
Top 3 Reasons To Avoid A Coffee Percolator
There are several reasons that coffee percolators fell out of favor, but here are the 3 major reasons you should avoid a percolator coffee machine:
1. It can over-extract your coffee.
Since the water keeps moving through the coffee grounds until heat is removed, your coffee is almost constantly brewing. This can be hard to control and can lead to over-extraction which will give you a bitter and overly strong final cup. This happens even if you keep a close watch on the pot while it boils. Brewing the grounds over and over like this can also give you unbalanced flavors and acidity, making for a less pleasant cup.
The water is often too hot as well, since it needs to boil in order to brew and we know that boiling water is the wrong temperature for coffee brewing.
2. Percolator coffee machines are inefficient
Coffee percolators aren’t the most efficient way to brew coffee: it takes longer, the results are unpredictable, and you need to keep a constant watch on the pot as it brews. Most people really can’t be bothered with the hassle, especially since it’s highly likely your final cup is going to be bitter and over-extracted anyway. Automatic brewers and faster manual brewing methods like the French press are better alternatives.
3. Coffee percolators are messy
Let’s face it, there are a lot of moving parts in a coffee percolator. Cleaning these components is time-consuming compared to other brewing options. In addition, since the brewed coffee collects at the top, it’s prone to spilling over and potentially ruining your stove or kitchen counter.
Many coffee experts also deride coffee percolators for taking the joy out of the coffee brewing experience. Instead of learning about your particular coffee beans or being involved in the mechanics of brewing, you simply leave the pot to boil and hope for the best. This is a sub-par coffee experience for many and a limiting factor in the adoption of coffee percolators. Even if you prefer quick and uninvolved brewing methods, there are better brewing options. Consider more modern brewing methods or simple brewers like a Moka pot or French Press.
Coffee percolator machines were once a staple of home brewing but their decline in popularity was inevitable. Despite this, if you’d like to try percolator coffee, always remember to select high-quality beans, keep a watchful eye on the pot, and don’t brew for too long.