What happened to the Percolator?

in Brewing Coffee, Coffee Gear

percolator2     Question:

“We have an electric Percolator.  You don’t write about that (or I haven’t found it yet).”
– Andy

Answer:

Andy, great to hear from you.  We had an electric percolator in our house for years when I was growing up.  I was in high school before my parents made the switch from a percolator to a drip brewer, and that’s when I started drinking coffee.  I’d never known the joy of percolator coffee until a recent trip to Maui, where the kitchen in the rental home had a percolator for making coffee.

Read: The Melitta – Simple Pour-Over Coffee

percolator

More importantly, what happened to the percolator?  Most of us will remember it from when we were kids.

For starters, what is a percolator?  It is a type of coffee pot that brews the coffee by constantly cycling boiling or near-boiling water over the ground coffee until the desired coffee strength is reached.

What happened to the percolator, and why?  It was replaced in most kitchens in the 1970s-80s by the drip brewer that is familiar today.  The drip brewer emerged as an improvement over the percolator for a few reasons.  First, you spoil some of the flavor of coffee by boiling it, and the percolator relies on boiling water more than once to brew it.  Second, some of the coffee that you keep in the cycle may already be brewed before you remove it, which will cause something called “overextraction”, where the coffee is thicker than is desirable.  The smell of coffee brewing may be nice, but flavor in the cup won’t be.  Third and related to the last point, there is less consistency with the percolator – unlike a coffee maker with a clearly defined cycle end, you can keep brewing the coffee in the percolator as much or as little as you want.

In the late 1970s, many of the large percolator manufacturers were scaling back production.  The drip brewer heated the water, but didn’t require that it boil.  The drip brewer’s cycle runs once, and consistently, and your coffee is ready – the same as the last time you used it.  The percolator because obsolete, but fear not, Andy.  To this day, the percolator has advocates that have learned its nuances and still swear by it.

2 Comments

  1. This is a fantastic and well detailed article on the percolator. Now I am questioning why I use mine almost daily? The thing that I love most about it is the nostalgia and memories of my grandmother using hers for all the adults in the family when I was growing up. She had the clear glass topper that would allow you to watch the coffee being boiled about. I guess I’m sticking with it for nostalgic sake.

    Comment by Becca Niederkrom — July 18, 2014 @ 3:37 pm

  2. Thanks for the message, Becca. There is a great nostalgia with the percolator, but in terms of getting the most out of coffee and everything it has to offer, consider getting a Black and Decker drip brewer for under $30 and seeing if you notice the difference.

    Comment by Marc Wortman — August 5, 2014 @ 12:52 am

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