percolator vs drip coffee

The Difference Between the Automatic Drip Coffee Maker and the Coffee Percolator

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percolator vs drip coffeeIn our previous article, we compared two methods of brewing coffee, the French Press and the Coffee Percolator. Both methods have their own pros and cons.

In this article, however, we will discuss the Coffee Percolator a lot more and compare it with the coffee machine that ultimately put it out of business, the Automatic Drip Coffee maker.

It wasn’t long ago, maybe 40 years or so, that automatic drip coffee makers only started to replace percolators in America’s kitchens. It’s easy to use that as proof that drip is better but is that the case?

We don’t really think so. A modern electric percolator like this bestselling Presto 12-cup model can make really good strong coffee in just a few minutes and then keep it warm just like a drip machine.

The two types of coffee makers use differing approaches in brewing coffee but the drip coffee maker is so simple that maybe it came to dominance based merely on easy of use alone.

Stay with me; I’d like to let you in on a little secret…

Percolator vs Drip Coffee – How are they Different

In our previously mentioned article above the Coffee Percolator was the most common way of brewing coffee in the US dating from the 1800s all the way up through the 1970s. Around the 70’s automatic drip machines started overtaking percolators mostly because they were automatic, electric, and didn’t need to be babysat on the stovetop – never mind that that’s not the case any more.

The Coffee Percolator primarily works by containing a huge body of water. This huge body of water generates steam, but the steam passes through a small crevice only. The small crevice leads to another chamber separated from the body of water by a filter where the coarsely ground coffee beans are placed. The steam eventually turns into small dew drops which then fall on the ground coffee beans and back into the body of boiling water.

The process is aided by a piece of metal with holes called a spreading plate. The spreading plate ensures that an equal amount of water goes through coarsely ground coffee beans. This ensures that an even taste is gathered.

Percolators these days are found easily in electric, stainless steel, aluminum, or even glass. For camping and general use around the home the Farberware Yosemite percolator is a really awesome value while this Farberware 12 cup model is good for larger batches of coffee and automatic features common in drip coffee makers.

One should be wary of temperature control when brewing with a percolator. This means keeping the temperature of the water hot but not boiling. It is necessary to keep maintain the temperature in the pot to avoid overcooking the beans inside the pot.

Just like the French Press coffee ratios, when brewing using percolators similar ratios should also be kept in mind. The guide below gives a concrete example of how much coffee you should use per amount of coffee

  • 12 – 18 Cups Coffee = 1 – 1 1/4 Cups Grounds
  • 20 – 25 Cups Coffee = 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 Cups Grounds
  • 28 – 36 Cups Coffee = 1 1/2 – 2 Cups Grounds
  • 40 – 45 Cups Coffee = 2 – 2 1/2 Cups Grounds
  • 50 – 60 Cups Coffee = 3 – 4 Cups Grounds
  • 70 – 80 Cups Coffee = 4 1/2 – 5 Cups Grounds
  • 90 – 100 Cups Coffee = 5 1/2 – 6 1/4 Cups Grounds

Coffee Percolator Highlights

The Coffee Percolator is universally praised for its ability to brew a large batch of coffee with an even, consistent taste, something which other coffee brewing mechanisms are unable to do. Even more impressive is that the percolator is able to brew huge batches of consistently tasting coffee in such a short time. Thus, the percolator is very convenient during times when your friends drop by and you need to make a batch on the fly.

Percolators also some sort of versatility. Metal or glassware percolators can be used on a stovetop, microwave or over a campfire as many campers prefer. One should always consider the instructions stated along with their preferred method but the good part is that users are not limited to only one cooking appliance.

Some electric percolators come with their own heating device which is not a bad thing at all. Electric models actually make it a lot easier to control temperature and brew under the right amount of heat.

Is Percolator Coffee Stronger than Drip?

The percolator also produces a more robust tasting coffee compared to other brewing devices. This is mainly a result of the over extraction that the percolation process tends to have. This over-extraction has everything to do with either:

  1. the length of time percolators brew compared to how much time they need to brew, or
  2. the level of heat a percolator is subjected to.

Since the beans are constantly being brewed in the high temperature of the pot, they develop a stronger, bitter flavor if that heat source is causing the water in the lower chamber to boil vigorously. In addition, the percolation process constantly reuses the body of water inside the pot. This means that the liquid, already with the coffee’s particles, flows back into the chamber where it passes through the coffee beans again.

Automatic Drip Coffee Maker

Before the drip coffee maker went automatic, coffee brewers used to drip coffee by using paper filters. The method was invented in 1908 by German housewife Melitta Bentz. The cupcake shaped filter held the coffee and allowed water to pass through it, making the first drip brews.

The Automatic Drip Coffeemaker, also known as dripolators, simply automates this process. Basically, the coffee maker contains a reservoir where water is held. An aluminium tube which is attached to a heating element carries the hot water from the reservoir to the drip area, the area where coffee is placed. This method is referred to as thermosiphoning. A showerhead is connected to the tube carrying the hot water and this sprays the hot water all over the collection of beans. Finally, the water passes through the beans, turning it into coffee and this is placed in the pot where we pour our nice cup of Joe.

Related Reading – See our french press vs drip coffee article to compare two super common brewing techniques.

How the Automatic Drip Coffee Killed the Percolator

Comparing the Coffee Percolator and the Automatic Drip Coffee Maker, one can say that the processes are actually similar. Both approaches have a similar setup wherein water and coffee are stored in separate areas. Both approaches utilize the dripping of hot water to make coffee. The only difference is that the percolator reuses the coffee to produce steam and dripping factor unlike the Automatic Drip method where in water passes once and brews the coffee.

Why then did people prefer the Automatic Drip over the Percolator? Well, simply put, the former is found to be more convenient as compared to the latter. As discussed above, users have to manually maintain the temperature in percolators by toning down the heat. The Automatic Drip does this…automatically. One can just sit back and relax while waiting for the machine to finish brewing.

Secondly, many people favor the taste of automatic drip brews more over percolators. Since the water in the Automatic Drip passes through the coffee once, this lessens the strength of the coffee. Also, since the beans are kept in a separate chamber in Automatic brews, they are not over extracted. The resulting coffee thus tastes smoother as compared to percolator brews.

To each his own…

If you are one of those people that like lighter coffee then you will probably prefer drip coffee. We have a few pages on this site where we talk about some of our favorite drip coffee makers. We particularly like these single cup or full pot coffee makers for maximum versatility.

We also love the idea of having coffee makers with built in grinders in the kitchen and we’re sure you would too. Give them a look and see what you think.

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