Percolator vs Drip Coffee Maker

If you have been reading about different coffee brewing methods, you must have surely heard about percolators and drip coffee makers before. While a percolator is one of the oldest tools that is still being used to brew coffee, a drip coffee maker is a newcomer in comparison.

Considering that there is almost a century between the invention of these two coffee makers, it is no surprise that there are very clear differences between the two, with both of these coffee makers serving a different purpose. As these two coffee makers are quite different from each other, there is a lot of personal preference involved when it comes to choosing one over the other.

That being said, an interesting fact is that even with a long amount of time between the invention of these coffee makers, they use the same methodology when it comes to brewing coffee. To put it simply, both of these coffee makers utilize a system where water is forced to drip through the coffee grounds due to the pressure that is caused by boiling water.

On the other hand, there are far more differences between these two coffee makers than there are similarities, which is why we should first get into the details of both to understand the advantages and disadvantages they bring to the table.

Percolator

Simply put, a percolator is a coffee pot that is used to brew coffee by continuously dripping hot water through coffee grounds. The original percolator does not have a built-in heat source, requiring an external heat source such as a stovetop to operate.

The invention of the percolator dates back to 1819, but it wasn’t until 1889 that the percolator as we know it today was patented. Even though there have been modifications to the design of the percolator throughout the years, there haven’t been any considerable changes since 1889.

How Does a Percolator Work?

To understand how a percolator works, let’s first go over the main components that make up a percolator.

The first component is the bottom chamber, where water is added and where brewed coffee ends up. This component is the part of the percolator that comes into direct contact with the heat source, allowing the water to boil.

The second component is the top chamber, where coffee grounds are. Since brewed coffee has to drip down to the bottom chamber again, the top chamber is perforated and has a hole in the middle where the perk tube goes through. This component is completely separated from the bottom chamber, meaning that the water in the bottom chamber doesn’t directly come into contact with coffee grounds unless the percolator is overfilled.

The last component is the perk tube, which is a vertical tube that starts at the bottom of the percolator and extends to the top. The perk tube is responsible for carrying the boiling water to the top chamber where coffee grounds are, which extracts the coffee.

When a percolator is filled with water and coffee grounds and then placed on a heat source, the water eventually starts boiling. The boiling water then rises through the perk tube, comes into contact with coffee grounds, and drips back down to the bottom chamber in the form of coffee. This cycle is repeated until coffee grounds are extracted enough, and the water in the bottom chamber slowly turns into coffee as we know it. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Percolator

Advantages

Percolators are quite budget-friendly due to being inexpensive and not requiring paper filters. A percolator that is taken care of can last you for many years.

Compared to most other coffee makers, they are quite compact and durable, making them a great choice for those who would like to brew coffee in an outdoor environment, such as camping. Since all you need for a percolator to work is a heat source, it’s possible to brew coffee with it even if you don’t have access to electricity.

Percolator coffee is quite strong due to how it brews coffee. If you enjoy a strong cup of coffee with a bitter flavor profile, a percolator is a good choice for you.

Disadvantages

Since the brewing process with a percolator is completely manual with an active heat source involved, it’s not easy to get the correct temperature and brew time down. To ensure that your coffee isn’t over-extracted or burnt, you have to be present during the entire brewing process and understand when to take your percolator off the heat.

On top of the manual work involved for brewing, a percolator needs to be cleaned and refilled with water after every brew, meaning that a decent amount of time is spent on prep work to get your percolator ready for the next time. 

We mentioned this as an advantage, but we feel like it also belongs in the disadvantages section. Due to the way a percolator brews coffee, there isn’t a lot of room to optimize your coffee in a way that it will be less strong. If you don’t enjoy a strong cup of coffee, a percolator isn’t something you should be considering.

How to Brew Coffee with a Percolator

  1. Fill the bottom chamber of your percolator with water.
  2. Fill the top chamber with coffee grounds.
  3. Close the lid and place your percolator on a heat source such as a stovetop. Using a heat setting that is between low and medium is recommended.
  4. It’s hard to explain exactly when to end the brewing process without seeing it,  but you should be looking to maintain a heat level where is water is close to boiling, but not completely boiling, for around 10 minutes. Experiment with the brewing time with each brew to find the sweet spot, and remember that a longer brewing time means stronger coffee.
  5. Watch your percolator as the process takes place so that you can adjust the temperature if required.
  6. To conclude the process, remove your percolator from heat, and remove the used coffee grounds.

Drip Coffee Maker

A drip coffee maker is an automatic coffee maker that also brews coffee by dripping hot water through coffee grounds. While a drip coffee maker doesn’t require an external heat source, it needs electricity to work.

Drip coffee makers are one of the more recent inventions in the coffee world, with the first automatic drip coffee maker dating back to 1954. During the 70s, drip coffee makers quickly took over the coffee brewing world by replacing percolators.

How Does a Drip Coffee Maker Work?

Since a drip coffee maker is fully automatic, how the brewing process happens isn’t something that we see with our own eyes. There is a lot of complex electrical circuitry which allows the magic to happen, which is why we will be simplifying the process to its core elements.

When a drip coffee maker is turned on, it immediately starts heating the water in the water reservoir. 

As the water starts boiling, it starts rising through the tube that connects the water reservoir and the showerhead and eventually drips through the showerhead into the filter basket. A one-way valve prevents the water from going back to the water reservoir, causing all the water to flow in the direction of the showerhead.

The hot water in the filter basket causes coffee to be extracted, which then drips into the carafe in the form of coffee. The paper filter in the basket prevents solid particles from moving into the carafe.

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Drip Coffee Maker

Advantages

A drip coffee maker does everything for you with the push of a button regardless of how much coffee you want to brew, which is why it’s the most preferred way of brewing coffee.

On top of making the brewing process a breeze, it usually comes with conveniences such as the hot plate that keeps your coffee warm, the auto-on feature that allows you to set a timer for your coffee to be brewed, and many more.

Disadvantages

Drip coffee makers can prove to be costly depending on the model you’re planning to buy, and you will need to allocate a decent amount of counter space for your drip coffee maker.

Even though they are the most convenient way of making coffee, they aren’t the biggest favorites in the taste department, especially for specialty coffee lovers. The convenience comes with the cost of not being able to optimize your brew, which is a very important factor for those who enjoy specialty coffee.

Choosing Between a Percolator and a Drip Coffee Maker

Now that we have extensively covered percolators and drip coffee makers, it’s time to see how they compare to each other.

Taste

There’s a clear difference between the taste of the coffee produced by a drip coffee maker and a percolator.

A percolator is known for producing a very strong, bitter coffee due to the same liquid being brewed over and over. For this reason, percolator coffee is usually considered to be over-extracted. 

On the other hand, water only passes through coffee grounds once in the case of drip coffee, producing a coffee that is lighter in comparison, with more flavors available.

Convenience

Drip coffee makers are the undisputed champions of convenience, which is also the reason they replaced percolators so easily.

Compared to percolators, where the entire brewing process is manual, drip coffee makers automate the whole process without you having to worry about things such as temperature or brewing time. 

Not having to watch over your coffee when using a drip coffee maker also saves you a good amount of time, whereas you would have to devote part of your day to brewing coffee in the case of a percolator.

Cost

When it comes to cost, the percolator is the winner. It’s possible to find a percolator that will last you for a very long time for a reasonable price.

On the other hand, buying a decent drip coffee maker requires a certain level of budgetary commitment.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Is percolator better than drip?

It’s not possible to say that one brewing method is better than the other as they both have their strengths and weaknesses, meaning that the choice comes down to personal preference.

A percolator is a good choice for strong coffee lovers, while a drip coffee maker will satisfy those who are looking for a lighter coffee experience and convenience.

How do you keep coffee grounds out of a percolator?

Grind size being too fine is usually the culprit for coffee grounds ending up in your coffee.

By keeping your grind size coarse, you can prevent coffee grounds from falling into your percolator. 

Why is my percolator making weak coffee?

Weak coffee can be caused by a few different factors. Most of the time, the problem is caused by using too little coffee grounds.

By increasing the amount of coffee grounds used, you can strengthen your coffee.

Conclusion

In today’s world, where convenience is extremely important, there is no surprise that drip coffee makers ended the reign of percolators.

That being said, there are still hardcore percolator fans who prefer the strong taste of coffee that can only be achieved with the help of a percolator.

Have a great day!