How To Make Great Percolator Coffee vs Drip

The percolator was the go-to brewing method from the mid-1800’s until the introduction of coffee drip brewers in the 1970’s. So, which brewing method is better, percolator coffee vs drip? The answer is all in your process of making percolated coffee vs drip.

Not only are we going to discuss percolator vs. drip, but how to make percolated coffee that rivals other $2,000 coffee machines. So, her's the what and how's of percolator coffee vs drip.

The Great Cup Of Coffee Equation

If you’re just looking for a caffeine jolt, it really doesn’t matter how you brew your coffee. On the other hand, if you want to make a real good cup of coffee, then consider this statement. Finding the best bean, having that bean roasted to perfection, and getting that roasted bean super fresh, into your hands, within hours of roasting; now that is only 50% of the great-cup-of-coffee equation.

The other 50% of the equation is in your brewing technique. Today, we’re going to compare percolator coffee vs drip. Percolated coffee vs drip is pretty much a tossup.  Both brewing methods can produce a decent cup of coffee and both can produce a pretty nasty cup of coffee. Notice that I didn’t say that either can produce a great cup of coffee.

What Is a Great Cup of Coffee?

Pouring coffee from a percolatorIn my opinion, I want my coffee to be smooth as silk, without a hint of bitterness, and discernable notes of chocolate, citrus, berry, nut, etc. Prior to WWI, everyone drank super smooth, fresh roasted, coffee.  Even “Cowboy” coffee was better than what most Americans drink today. Why? Because your great-Grandmother fresh roasted her own beans each week.

But not today. Unfortunately, most Americans expect coffee to taste burnt and bitter. You can thank the U.S. Army for our current proclivity to bitter and burnt coffee.

During WWI (2018-ish), the U.S. Army decided to send our Doughboys (soldiers) to Europe with roasted coffee. The problem is that all coffee starts going stale right after being roasted. Our U.S. Army figured out if they burnt the snot out of the beans, then vacuum sealed the burnt beans in tin cans, the coffee would last for years. Unfortunately, our soldiers got used to this nasty combination of burnt and bitter beans and expected it when they got home. To that end, Maxwell House, Hills Brothers, Yuban, and eventually Charbucks gave the soldiers and their families what they wanted; burnt and bitter coffee.

Man with a pipe spooning coffee into a percolator

Steeped Coffee vs. Passthrough

There are two major methods of brewing coffee. The first is what I call the “passthrough” method. That is allowing the water to “passthrough” the grounds. Examples of this are the drip coffee machines, the pour-over method, and the percolator. I personally find these “passthrough” methods produce a very mediocre cup of coffee.

A much better option is to allow the grounds to soak in the water for a period of time, much like steeping tea. Examples of this “steeping” method is cold-brew, French Press, and the AeroPress.

The Perfect Grind

Older woman with percolator and mailman with coffee cupHow you grind your beans can make a huge difference in taste. One brewing method works best with a course grind (cold-brew, French Press, etc.), while another brewing method works better with a fine grind (drip, espresso, etc.). Course grinds tend to be smoother, less bitter, but also has less flavor. Fine grinds on the other hand tend to be more bitter, but also has more taste.

Then again, your personal palate is different than mine and you might like one grind over another. The key here is to experiment. Recently, I changed my grinder to grind just two notches finer. After a week, I backed it off one notch, so it was a tiny bit courser. I decided I like the coffee better, but it still wasn’t quite as good as my normal grind. So, I backed the grinder off another notch, going back to my original grind, and “BINGO!”, I was back to my normal great cup of coffee.  All this to say, that grinding is a big deal. So, go ye forth and experiment. The right answer is the one that you like.

Woman with head on table pouring morning coffee outside the cup

Drip Coffee Machines

Today drip coffee machines are almost ubiquitous with home brewed coffee. For the most part they’re almost automatic. I have one of the best drip coffee brewers on the market. My personal Cuisinart Grind-n-Brew drip machine will grind the coffee for just moments before brewing. If I wanted to, I could even set the clock on the brewer to brew the coffee precisely 15 minutes before I wake up.  That’s so I can wake up to the smell of fresh brewed coffee.

This is just my personal opinion about drip brewers. I believe that drip coffee machines make just a mediocre cup of coffee. You can have the best and freshest beans on the planet, but the drip machine can only do so much to make a good cup of coffee.

A manual, slow pour-over utilizes the same method as a drip coffee machine. It’s just slower, and does in fact produce a better cup of coffee than a drip machine.

Woman with cup of coffee on her knee

Percolator Coffee Brewer

The percolator has a ubiquitous reputation of producing a very nasty cup of coffee. This perception is so widely known, that I personally never even tried a percolator. I mean, why waste my time? Everyone knows the percolator is for old folks that don’t know any better.

Then one day, I was preparing for a hunting/camping trip. While walking through the local sporting goods store, I saw a percolator for $12. Brand New! What the heck, it was cheap, it’d give me an opportunity to experiment, and besides, as a business expense, it was tax deductible.

6-year old with cowboy hat at stove pouring perked coffee

The Trick To Great Percolated Coffee

The first morning of hunting, I ground my fresh roasted beans, just like I always do (medium course), put the grounds into the percolator insert, filled the percolator with water, put the insert into the percolator, and put the percolator on the Coleman stove

One of the biggest mistakes people make when brewing coffee is brewing the coffee too long. Coffee beans contain over 100 compounds, each with its own flavor. The longer you brew the coffee, the more bitter compounds are extracted. Therefore, regardless of the brewing method, I normally brew my coffee for only 2 minutes.

While watching my percolator on the stove, as soon as I saw the glass bulb on top start to bubble, I timed it for 2 minutes, took it off the stove, and immediately poured out all the coffee into awaiting cups. WOW was I surprised!

Percolator Coffee vs Drip

Woman sitting at oceanside tableSo, which was better, my percolator coffee vs drip coffee machine? I can say this, my 1800’s percolator produced a very fine cup of coffee. There was only a slight hint of bitterness, but more importantly, I could easily taste the coffee’s chocolate notes.

Drip coffee is OK. I make it for my son-in-law, since he’s a fan of Bud Light, I figured why bother making good coffee for him, right? The drip machine is also for when I have a crowd of folks over at the house. I think after this experiment, I’m going to dump that expensive Cuisinart and serve guests from my 1800’s percolator.

Here’s the bottom line. When done correctly, percolated coffee vs drip, there’s no contest; percolated will win most of the time.

Lake City Coffee

Russell and Alisha

Russell and Alisha

When Alisha, my wife, and I started Lake City Coffee our objective was to personally select the smoothest and best tasting beans that money could buy, gently roast them, and ship those wonderful beans within hours.

As I said earlier, great beans, great roast, and super fresh is only half of the good-cup-of-coffee equation. The other half of the equation is knowing how to brew great coffee. That’s the second, and perhaps more important part of our business. We spend a lot of time talking with our customers to coach them to brew an awesome cup of coffee. If you really want to get a handle on Alisha and I and our business, then check out our “Reviews” page at the top of this website. I think you’ll be pretty impressed.

Love Coffee


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