How To Use A Percolator

About 7 minutes of reading time

Avatar for Amit

Home  /  How-to  /  How To Use A Percolator
How to use a Percolator

Traditionally, people used to take pride in coffee preparation. It was a ‘job’ for them – measuring an accurate amount of coffee beans, brewing at a precise temperature, and carefully straining the coffee grounds.

Only a handful do it today. While automated machines have simplified the human effort exerted on making coffee, it has “siphoned out” the true essence and emotion people had with it in the old times. The stovetop percolator seems to revive that!

What is Stovetop Percolator

It is a device that performs the old-fashioned method of coffee brewing. This involves sending streams of boiling water upwards and making it rain over coffee grounds. The coffee grounds rest on a sieve and water drains through them to fall back into the pool of boiling water again.

This process is repeated multiple times which extracts the ‘true’ flavor out of the coffee beans. It can also be called over-extraction because coffee grounds are oversaturated with boiling water several times.

Types of Stovetop Percolators

Primarily, there are two types of stovetop percolators:

Gravity percolator: This percolator follows the same mechanism we have been discussing previously; the water is circulated up the tube and falls on the coffee grounds through gravity.

Pressure percolator: It is more commonly known as the Moka pot. It has a spraying method. The boiling water is similarly transferred to the central tube. But it’s steam now that is pressurized on the coffee grounds (We have a guide to the best Moka Pots if you are interested in a non-electric espresso maker. It’s considered one of the best portable coffee makers for espresso needs).

How to Use a Percolator

Yes! The moment you all have been waiting for – the actual method of preparing coffee on a stovetop percolator. It’s not that much rocket science but we would try to present a comprehensive account of the ingredients needed and how to use them effectively.

You see; the time, method, and amount of ingredient addition is the deciding factor as to what kind of end product will you receive.

Things needed

Here is a list of required items.

  1. Medium Roast Coffee beans
  2. Measuring Spoon
  3. Scale
  4. Grinder
  5. Water
  6. Percolator
  7. Stove

Step by Step Stovetop Percolator Coffee

  1. Measure the beans – A general recommendation is to use 20 gm of coffee with every 300 grams of water. Let’s discuss an example to simplify things. Generally, a tablespoon holds about 5g of coffee. If you have a 10-ounce coffee mug, it can hold about 300g of water. That’s the water you need. Suppose we are working on a 1:15 ratio, which is considered to be the sweet coffee-to-water ratio. Divide 300 by 15 to get the amount of coffee you require and it’s 20g. Now for the tablespoons, divide 20 gm by 5 gm and you get 4 tablespoons of coffee. Work out the size of your coffee mug and then set out to work.
  2. Grind The Coffee – Now this is the second most important step to be taken care of when brewing coffee. You would need a grind size set to medium-coarse so that you don’t end up with any coffee grain going through these holes into the water because that will eventually become part of your drinkable coffee. The filters of the percolator are not as fine as the ones in a drip coffeemaker and that’s why we need a bigger particle size.
  3. Fill the Percolator – Pour in the amount of water as per your needs. We have already discussed the general volumes in the first step. There is a series of holes on the inner side adjacent to the spout location. Always keep water at least an inch below those otherwise the coffee will splutter out and create a mess.
  4. Assemble the Assembly – If your percolator has an assembly where the stem and coffee basket are separate; first attach the stem securely to the bottom of the pot and then tighten up the basket on top of the stem. If your stem and basket are attached, simply secure the whole assembly onto the bottom of the pot. Some percolators have a separate lid for the basket and a separate one for the percolator itself. Be sure to put them in the right places. All percolators carry this type of assembly, more or less. Only the method of fastening may be different. Some might feature a clip-on fastener, others a nut and bolt system while many get secured by the interlocking thread’s method.
  5. Add coffee grounds – Now fill the basket with coffee grounds. Be sure to add the amount according to the measurement narrated above. Ensure that none of the ground enters the hole of the stem or you will get grains in your cup. Place the basket lid on if it has any and then the lid of the percolator. You should not just place it ‘on’ but airtight it by closing it safely as there will be a lot of pressure build-up that can launch a loose lid upwards in the air.
  6. Start Heating – Now when everything is “secured”, put the percolator on the stove and turn on the heat. You can switch to high heat at the start but not for too long. ‘Temperature’ is one of the very important factors to consider when brewing coffee. How do you decide when the water has reached the correct temperature to be taken off the stove? That’s an art you need to master. This is the reason why percolator is associated with bitter coffee cups – the heat causes the brewed coffee to be recirculated many times ending up in an acidic taste. That’s why you should always be on the check of the top lid viewfinder that shows the color of the water each time it gets ‘perked’. As you see the first perk, turn down the heat after a few seconds as gentle heating will give a better taste.
  7. Set the Timer and watch it carefully – This is the stage that will define the strength of your coffee. The longer you let it boil, the stronger your coffee will be. There is a glass knob on the top of the lid where you will see the sign of the first “perk” in the form of bubbles. Congrats, the water has neared boiling but don’t be too excited. The real work has just begun. Set your timer to 5 minutes, as a general rule, and maintain this heat for a few seconds until you see the bubbles appearing continuously. After this, turn down the heat and notice the color change in the glass knob. The sizzling sound at this point must be occurring every 4-5 seconds which indicates you are going really well. After the timer dings, see if the water has changed to coffee-colored. If it hasn’t, give it about half a minute or more. The stated time varies massively for different people. Play with it each time you brew coffee to decipher the “sweet” time for yourself.
  8. Stop the Heating and remove Coffee Grounds – Now stop the heating process and remove the percolator from the stove. It will be scorching so you have to either use oven mitts or kitchen gloves to hold it. We also recommend letting the coffee sit for a minute. Take a mug and pour your freshly brewed coffee in it – but wait! You are forgetting something. Coffee grounds resting peacefully on the basket can easily become part of your poured beverage if you don’t remove them first. Some percolators might have strong barriers separating the basket from the reservoir but not all of them are equipped with them so why take the risk? Carefully remove the basket and throw it away or better use the coffee grounds as your garden compost. There might still be some grains left in the coffee as a result of the percolating process so those who are very particular about having grain-free coffee should strain it while pouring them in the mug.
  9. Sip And Enjoy – You have received the gift of your morning hard work. Add milk or sugar to it or just have it raw on side of bread or cake. Take pleasure from it now by sipping it slowly.
  10. Clean up – You might remember what we discussed in the ‘Advantages’ section above: stovetop percolators are very easy to clean. Unsecure the basket assembly and rinse it with the dishwasher before doing the same for the rest of the pot. If there are some spilled coffee beans on the kitchen counter, wipe them off with a cloth and get ready for your office or school. It’s already been so late!

Here is a video if you are among the visual seekers!

Percolator vs Drip Coffee

Percolators were patented by Jason Mason in 1865 and added to stove-tops by Hanson Goodrich in 1889. It was the only method of coffee brewing then but in 1970, drip coffee took over it. So what’s the difference between the two?

It’s quite simple; The heated water will be filtered through the coffee grounds once in case of a drip coffee while in a percolator, this cycle is repeated several times.

As a result, you would get a much stronger, even bitter sometimes, coffee with a stovetop percolator. Already brewed coffee water will also seep through the coffee grounds sucking up all of their taste.

Because of the possibility of this bitterness, one needs to be careful while preparing his morning coffee on a percolator. Instead of infusing your body with a fresh commitment to face a hard day ahead, it can aggrieve you with a biting taste.

The Advantages of Percolators

Black Coffee

It’s entirely personal as to which kind of coffee one likes but as we are talking about percolators here, we would discuss the pros it provides over drip brewers.

  1. It provides a fuller and stronger taste which many coffee drinkers want. Nothing is more cheerful than a sizzling mug of strong coffee in the morning for them. It prepares them for a demanding day, full of daunting tasks ahead.
  2. It’s uncomplicated. Unlike some electric drip brewers and Espresso machines, it doesn’t require you to undergo complex settings and press different buttons. You can simply add water, coffee beans and you are good to go.
  3. The construction is simple with only the filter basket and coffee reservoir section, so it can be easily cleaned. It doesn’t have to be de-scaled from hot water neither does it need a particular cleaning brush.
  4. They are quite inexpensive compared to drip brewers or Espresso machines. Why spend handsomely on a coffee pot when you can get a stronger taste with something that is way cheaper than it!

Even if it malfunctions after the warranty period, you won’t have a heavy heart throwing it up.

  1. One big advantage of a percolator is the ability to brew tiny portions of coffee. Instead of buying a costly Ninja to prepare one cup for you every day, it’s smarter you go with these.
  2. It’s the perfect coffee maker when you go on trips and camping. Even if you don’t have a portable stove, you can always fire up twigs/wood and put the percolator on flames to prepare a mouth-watering, night-awakening pot of coffee.

Just imagine you decided to camp on side of a cascading waterfall where there is no sign of electricity. What use will be your expensive electric percolator or coffee machine then be?


  1. How does a percolator work?

    The percolator works by sending boiling water upwards through a central stem before being poured over the coffee grounds which extracts the flavor out of them. This cycle continues several times depending on the strength of coffee you desire.

  2. How long do you perk on stovetop?

    It differs according to each person. Although percolators are associated with brewing stronger coffee than other brewing methods but still, if you need it strong, let it “perk” for 6-8 minutes after the first bubbles start to appear. Take the time down successively according to the desired bitterness.

  3. How do I know when my coffee percolator is done?

    That is a skill that will come with practice. You may get a perfectly brewed coffee on the first attempt but a bitter one on the second. Generally, the coffee is ready when the color of water shifts from clear to reddish-brown in the glass knob.
    It depends largely on the type of coffee grounds, the number of coffee beans, and the time of brewing.

  4. How long does a stovetop percolator take to brew?

    The total time taken by a stovetop percolator will be somewhere between 8-12 minutes from preparation to the clean up.

  5. Is percolator coffee good?

    This is an open-ended question. Every single person likes a different kind of coffee so while percolator coffee will be ideal for some, it will also be undrinkable for others. An ideal percolated coffee will be stronger, cloudier, and hotter than others.

  6. Is a stovetop percolator better than an electric percolator?

    It is surely better if you can afford to stand next to a percolator the entire time. The only advantage an electric percolator has on the stovetop one is the automatic feature of being turned off when properly brewed.
    Otherwise, a stovetop percolator is cheaper, simpler to use, and easier to wash.

  7. What’s the Best Roast for coffee beans for percolator coffee

    As for the roasting intensity, use medium roast coffee beans because the process will snatch all the flavor from it and if it is dark roasted, chances of getting a bitter, acidic beverage enhance greatly.
    The most suitable choices for coffee beans are Ethiopian coffee, Sumatran coffee, and Colombian coffee.

Wrap Up

“Old is gold” is a common saying and quite true often. Although stovetop percolator is a traditional method of coffee brewing, it is also the simplest and purest of all. While other modern machines have so many controls and buttons on them and need electricity to power up, this can easily be taken to camping trips and need nothing more than a stove or a source of fire; merely woods would do. It emotionally attaches you to your daily cup of coffee. Don’t let this connection break!