How Does A Percolator Work - A Coffee Lovers Low Down On Percolators

How Does A Percolator Work? – A Coffee Lovers Low Down On Percolators

Last updated on May 22nd, 2024 at 14:06

Understanding how a coffee maker works helps you to understand the brewing process and how it extracts the flavor from the coffee grounds and will help you to make better coffee. After getting asked on our social media “how does a percolator work?” We have dug down and answered this question and many others related to percolators and percolating coffee.

I’ll give you the quick and short answer now if you are in a rush. A more detailed answer you will find below the brief explanation.

Coffee percolators function slightly differently from drip coffee machines as the drip coffee makers essentially drain hot water through your coffee grounds and a filter once. A percolator coffee maker functions by recirculating hot, almost boiling water over the coffee grounds many times. The temperature of the water is the same, but the entire brewing method is different in the way that it functions.

Hot, almost boiling water is pushed up a central stem, the tube in the middle, which then overflows and into the coffee basket where your coffee grounds are and then down and into the water chamber, which after repeated cycles becomes the coffee chamber.

For a more detailed explanation of how a percolator works, keep reading this article.

What Is A Percolator?

A coffee percolator is an old-fashioned, old-school way of brewing coffee that is still popular today, but not as it once was 30 to 40 years ago. The introduction of drip coffee machines put coffee percolators on the back burner for quite a while.

A percolator is, of course, a coffee brewing device that brews a very strong coffee due to the recycling of the coffee, resulting in a double brewed cup of coffee that is high in caffeine.

Often, a percolator looks like a kettle, but this is not always the case, and it is either electric or stovetop. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and both function in the same way, with the only difference being the external heat source used with a stovetop percolator and an internal heat source with an electric coffee percolator.

The main advantage of electric percolators is they are much easier to use and brew as they are more automated. The main advantage of a modern stovetop percolator is the ability to take it to the great outdoors and go camping and still enjoy a great cup of coffee.

What Is A Percolator
A Coffee Percolator

Read: How long to percolate coffee

Percolator Or Moka Pot – Are They The Same?

This is included in the “what is a percolator” as some readers have a little confusion between moka pots and percolators.

Moka pots and percolators are two very different brewing methods, despite a moka pot looking like a mini percolator. The confusion is due to both having a water chamber and a basket of coffee.

Here is where they differ.

A moka pot functions due to steam pressure. The steam pressure forces water through the coffee only one time. A Moka pot has a much faster extraction time and needs a finer grind of coffee. The result of which is a cup of coffee that is strong and has a different flavor than had you brewed with the same beans and percolated coffee. The result of a moka pot coffee is very similar to that of an espresso.

A Percolator, on the other hand, uses the principles of gravity to cycle hot water over your coffee grounds, which are coarsely ground. The result is a strong double brewed cup of coffee.

Percolator or Moka Pot - Are They The Same
A Moka Pot

Read: Coffee filter sizes

How Does A Percolator Work?

How a coffee percolator, electric or stovetop functions is very simple. The stem, a vertical tube runs from the bottom to the top of the percolator, moves hot water from the bottom chamber, the chamber with water up and over the perforated basket, the coffee basket and back down as coffee.

The heat source can be internal as it is in an electric percolator or external as it is with a stovetop percolator.

The principles of percolator coffee are easy to understand and follow. You first fill the lower chamber with water, preferably bottled or filtered water, and your coffee basket with freshly coarse ground coffee, preferably grinding your beans immediately before you brew.

The heat source creates bubbles which rise and take the water up and through the hollow stem, the central tube, which then comes down over the coffee grounds and back to the lower water chamber, creating a coffee and water mix initially and ultimately, through various cycles, a well brewed coffee is the end result.

While brewing on your stove, maintain an even temperature as a gentle bubbling is what you are looking for. Most will have a glass knob or a lid from which you can watch it percolate.

How Does A Percolator Work
How A Percolator Works

The Percolator Coffee Bubbling Action

The percolation process is one in which a fluid slowly, gradually passes a permeable substance, and in our case, coffee and the coffee basket, and then emerges as a fluid with a different characteristic and quality than it previously had prior to the percolation process.

A percolator coffee machine works by taking advantage of the bubbling action of the bubbles which concentrate at the center of the central tube, the stem and forcing the water to flow in an upwards direction. The hot water will then spray over the coffee grounds.

The spreader plate has a dual function of evenly saturating your coffee grounds and stopping coffee from splashing up and into the rest of the coffee pot.

The Percolator Coffee Brewing Cycle

When your coffee is brewing and percolating, it can splash through the rear of the coffee basket, which has an effect on the grounds from both sides as the hot water is also flowing down from the coffee grounds and through the coffee basket and into the water chamber with the rest of the hot water.

The hot water continues this cycle continuously, which makes the coffee stronger and doubled brewed when the water below, in the water chamber becomes coffee and continues through this cycle until you remove the coffee pot from the heat source.

Different Percolator Coffee Maker Styles

There are different types of coffee percolators and different styles exist. The majority have some kind of plastic or glass viewing area, usually a lid where you can monitor the color of the coffee and see when it is ready.

The lid, of course, is at the very top of the percolator. The stem, which is a natural non-mechanical pump which functions on the principles of physics, is in the center and runs through the coffee basket and the center of the spreader plate.

A stainless steel percolator coffee pot is the most common for stovetop design. Heat-resistant glass is a common design for both electric and stovetop designs. The standard coffee pot design for a percolator looks like a kettle.

A coffee filter is not necessary with a percolator as the basket functions as a filter. However, you can use a filter if you want to. The type of filter you use can, and will influence the flavor of your coffee. A paper filter will result in a clean, crisp flavor due to filtering out all the coffee oils.

A metal filter will result in a deeper, bolder flavor as it will leave all the coffee oils in the brew. A cotton filter will filter out only some but not all coffee oils.

How Long Does A Percolator Take To Brew Coffee?

How long it a percolator takes to brew coffee depends entirely on how the user wants his or her coffee to taste.

If he or she wants a strong coffee, then 10 mins is a good time to percolate for. If he or she wants a weaker coffee, then 7 minutes is fine. Anything less than 7 minutes will result in a weak under brewed coffee.

Why Use A Percolator?

A true coffee lover and fans of percolated coffee love this style of coffee due to there being no other brewing method or technique that quickly makes a strong and hot coffee.

The technique quickly makes doubled brewed coffee. Other methods of double brewing are much slower.

The high temperature and hotter water used can be problematic for other methods of brewing coffee which would result in overtly bitter flavors.

With other brewing techniques, you can keep an eye on the temperature during the brewing and extraction process. A coffee percolator handles this incredibly well.


above all, percolated coffee tastes great! Which is the principal reason for brewing coffee this way.

Why Use A Percolator
A Percolator Makes Great Coffee

Why Percolated Coffee Is Better?

Coffee percolators have first class heat retention and extract the high temperature flavor compounds. Due to being brewed at high temperature you get a strong, bold and intense tasting cup of coffee that stays hot for a little longer than other brewing methods.

Does A Percolator Make Good Coffee?

Yes, when brewed well, a percolator does make great coffee that is rich, smooth, intense, bold and creamy. It’s a brewing method and brewing process for extracting and brewing good strong coffee.

What Is The Disadvantage Of Percolator?

The biggest disadvantage of a percolator is their brewing method. The way in which a percolator works rebrews coffee over and over again. This can have the effect of shocking the coffee grounds and if you don’t time it right, over brewed coffee that is overtly bitter and has too strong a coffee taste.

Do Coffee Percolators Use A Lot Of Electricity?

No, a coffee percolator just like other coffee makers do not consume a lot of electricity. The biggest use of power is to heat the water, which only takes a few minutes. In the case of a percolator, the machine can consume additional power when maintaining the water hot.

It is not a good idea to use a percolator or a coffee urn to maintain the temperature as the resulting cup of coffee can taste stewed and over brewed.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Does A Percolator Work

How Does An Electric Percolator Know When To Stop?

An electric coffee percolator has a sensor, a thermostat that detects the temperature of the water recirculated, which gets hotter as time passes. When a predetermined temperature is reached, the coffee percolator automatically switches or turns on to the keep warm mode.

Are Percolators Bad For Coffee?


percolators are not bad for coffee and percolated coffee is not bad for you. However, due to the high caffeine content of percolated coffee, I advise you keep an eye on your caffeine content and don’t have more than 2 cups of coffee of this type.

Percolator Vs Drip: What Is The Difference Between A Coffee Percolator And A Drip Coffee Maker

The main difference between percolator coffee and drip brewed coffee is the way in which they are brewed. Drip brewed coffee functions via gravity where the hot water is channelled through the ground coffee only one time. Percolated coffee, the water is forced up through a stem and is brewed more than once.

With drip coffee, you are undoubtedly using a filter of some kind, where a percolated coffee a filter is optional.

Percolator Vs French Press: What Is The Difference Between A French Press And A Percolator?

The difference between French press brewing and percolator coffee is night and day. The two brewing methods are very different.

French press brewing gives you full control of all the variables that affect the flavor and outcome of your coffee. The method uses immersion to extract the flavor. The flavor from the coffee grounds is due to them being steeped in hot water for 4 min to 5 min and then are filtered. The result is a full-bodied coffee.

A French press is by far the best technique for brewing your specialty coffee beans.

Frappé-Ing It All Up – How Does A Percolator Work?

If you have read this far, you know exactly how does a percolator work. This brewing method is scientific in its use of the principles of heat conduction and convection, which causes the water to rise up the stem and gravity for the hot water to fall over the coffee grounds.

This continues on an ongoing basis until the heat source is removed. The result is a great tasting strong and highly caffeinated coffee.

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Derek Marshall, a certified barista by the Specialty Coffee Association possesses over two decades of experience in specialty coffee shops. He holds professional certifications for coffee brewing and barista skills. Derek is also an author with authoritative books covering various coffee topics including specialty coffee, sustainability and coffee, coffee brewing, coffee recipes, coffee cocktails and books focusing on Brazilian coffee, Vietnamese coffee, Indonesian coffee and Malaysian coffee. As a barista for over two decades, Derek Marshall has worked in specialty coffee shops across the United Kingdom, Spain, Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. His expertise extends to the distinct coffee cultures, specialty beverages, and brewing techniques of each nation. Functioning as a coffee consultant, Derek charges US$50 per hour. To learn more about Derek Marshall and Latte Love Brew, visit his About Me Page. For coffee inquiries, contact him at +34-639-410-375 or, mentioning your name and location

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