Percolator Vs Drip Coffee Maker - A Battle Of The Brew!

Percolator Vs Drip Coffee Maker – A Battle Of The Brew!

If you are weighing up the pros and cons of a Percolator Vs Drip coffee maker then this article is exactly what you are looking for.

It is hotly speculated in the coffee world which makes the best coffee for many years. While the answer is subjective, this article aims to help you to decide which is best for you and which best fits your own needs.

While I do express my own opinion in certain areas, it is based on my own expertise and experience as a coffee enthusiast and coffee lover!

Let’s get talking about these two popular brewing methods.

What Is A Coffee Percolator?

A coffee percolator is something that needs no introduction for most people. They are the classic, and now almost forgotten counter top coffee brewers of the 1960s and before that got replaced by the humble drip coffee maker.

Traditional percolators brew coffee by continually cycling boiling water or almost boiling water through a basket of coffee grounds using gravity until a brew strength has been achieved. This method of brewing coffee uses a slightly higher temperature which recycles brewed “coffee water” over the grounds until a desired strength has been reached.

As a result, inexperienced individuals may over-extract and over brew and get an overtly bitter coffee. These are hazards of this brewing method, which can thankfully be overcome by a careful watchful eye and paying attention.

The percolator was first invented in Paris, France by Joseph Henry Marie Laurens in 1819. The first patent in America was granted to James Nason in 1865, with a more modern version patented by Hanson Goodrich 24 years later.

UK electro-domestic brand Russel Hobbs, claims to be the inventor of the first electrically operated coffee percolator. These claims are questionable as there are other sources that places the electric percolators as having been available since 1920s and 1930s.

I’ll talk about how a percolator works in a jiffy!

What Is A Coffee Percolator
A Cuisinart percolator

Read: SCA Certified Coffee Makers

What Is A Drip Coffee Maker?

A drip coffee maker needs no introductions as, undoubtedly you are already familiar with these also. These are automatic, or better described as semi-automatic coffee makers that have a large tank of water that then gets heated up and then slowly gets released over your coffee grinds which are in the brew basket.

The coffee then drips, slowly into the carafe below. The result is a clean, crisp tasting coffee.

What Is A Drip Coffee Maker
A Drip Coffee Maker

Read: Types Of Japanese Coffee Maker

How Does A Coffee Percolator Work?

The functionality of a coffee percolator is very easy to understand. It works in a very similar way in which a large coffee urn works or a significantly smaller Moka pot.

The lower chamber is where you put your water which travels up a hollow metal tube in the center which then passes over a metal, normally stainless steel, which passes over your coffee grounds.

This metal basket or plate is usually covered with a lid that is porous with a filter at the bottom, below your grounds.

When your water heats up, it rises up through the cylindrical tube in the middle and over the spreader plate in the upper chamber and is distributed over the coffee grounds below. Due to gravity, the water then flows back down to the water chamber as coffee.

This coffee becomes more concentrated as it cycles time and time again through this process and the concentration of coffee gets stronger and stronger. You need to keep a watchful eye for not over brewing and over extracting your coffee.

How Does A Drip Coffee Machine Work?

A drip coffee machine has a separate water reservoir and, thus you have, no danger at all of over brewing or over extraction. This is the distinctive difference between a Percolator Vs Drip coffee.

In the water tank, which is often a removable water tank, a heating element heats up the water which then rises in a combination of steam and bubbles up and through a small narrow tube in a similar fashion to a percolator.

The hot water then rises and a shower of water is evenly distributed over the coffee grounds. The water then drips down through a paper filter and into the carafe.

And viola, you have a well brewed carafe of coffee without any over brewing The carafe is usually kept sitting on a hot plate that keeps your coffee warm.

If the carafe sits on the heated plate for too long it can stew the coffee and start to taste off.

How Does A Drip Coffee Machine Work
How a drip coffee maker works.

Flavor And Brew Strength

Percolated coffee is a stronger coffee, more robust, deeper in taste than a drip coffee maker can produce. Essentially, this is due to you getting a double or triple brewed coffee due to the coffee cycling through and over the coffee grounds more than once.

You get a two very different coffees produced by the two brewing techniques. One is a crisp, flavorful brew with a very clean taste, while the other is a strong, deep, full-bodied brew.

Percolated coffee is known for brewing bold coffee that is strong with a drip coffee maker being better known for a more mild brew.

Percolator Vs Drip Coffee Caffeine Content

There is a lot more to coffee than the caffeine content, it’s a flavor, a taste thing. However, it is important to know how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee for a number of reasons, namely not to drink a strong coffee at night or too late in the evening and, of course, not to overstep the daily limit of 400 mg of caffeine per day.

A 12 ounce (360 ml) cup of percolated coffee has 300 mg of caffeine while a 12 ounce (360 ml) cup of drip coffee has around half as much with 150 mg of caffeine.

Naturally, I can’t give you an exact amount as different coffee beans each have a different amount of caffeine.

Percolator Vs Drip Coffee Caffeine Content
Drip coffee has less caffeine

Brewing Skill Required

Neither classic drip coffee makers nor a percolator require you to be a master barista or to have any coffee brewing skills at all.

The process with both percolator coffee and drip brewing is very automated from start to finish once you have your coffee grounds ready. All that is required is to put your grounds in place, fill with water, switch it on, and you will consistently get a quality cup of coffee every single time.

Programmable drip coffee makers can be a little different. The entire process is automated, just as you would expect, but you have a series of adjustments that you can make regarding pre-infusion, brewing temperature and a few others.

A stovetop percolator, be it a small one like a moka pot or a larger electric percolator, can take a little practice to get used to and requires a bit of experience to get it right. You will need to play around and experiment with the variables before you get it right every time. Percolators are easy to run, be they stovetop or electric version, but they require attention to prevent you from over brewing them.

Ease of brewing, hand down a drip brewer is the winner here.

Brew Size

As I like to joke, size matters!

This one is undoubtedly a tie as both a percolator and drip coffee maker can make many cups of coffee at the same time. A drip coffee machine can brew 10 to 12 cups of coffee. A percolator is around the same.

Smaller stovetop percolators like a Moka pot (strictly speaking is not a percolator) can make up to 6 cups of coffee. A more popular coffee machine for conferences which resembles a coffee percolator is a coffee urn, which can make up to 100 cups of coffee and brews them in a very similar way.

I’m not declaring a winner in this area as it is a straight draw.


The downside of automation is a lack of control that you have. This only partially applies to both. Modern drip coffee makers that are incredibly convenient have less versatility than a percolator.

A percolator, due to being more manual in their nature, allows you to have a greater level of versatility, but not by a lot, it has to be said.

As a coffee fanatic and coffee aficionado, you will know that you can adjust the grind size, brew time and, with a good electric percolator, the brewing temperature controlling these, and you can control the brew strength manually.

A modern drip coffee maker will allow you to make some adjustments to the brew strength and pre-infusion time due to the preset adjustments available and get you coffee exactly as you want it.

The winner here and edging it slightly, is the percolator, as the ability to take it on a camping trip if you should so wish. Most certainly not something you can do with a drip coffee machine.

A stovetop percolator like a moka pot has greater versatility.

Is A Percolator Better Than Drip?

A question I get asked a lot on our social media is ‘Is a percolator better than drip coffee?” While the question is subjective and very much open to opinion as to which is best in terms of which has the better flavor.

Both will make you a great cup of coffee, and a very tasty one at that. A percolator certainly brews stronger coffee mostly due to it being double brewed.

A drip coffee maker, when you change the filter type from paper to a metal filter, leaves all the coffee oils in your brew instead of them getting filtered out by the paper filter. The result of changing your filter is a fuller flavor when using drip or pour over coffee brewing methods. It is slightly bolder but not quite a full on bold coffee.

Can I Use A Drip Coffee In A Percolator?

I don’t advise that you use drip coffee in a percolator at all. If you drip brew your coffee and then put it in your percolator, it will simply end up being too strong and overtly bitter.

I also don’t advise the use of drip coffee grounds as the grind size for a drip coffee machine is much finer than what you would use for a percolator. The result would be coffee that is far too strong and overly bitter.

Can You Use Fine Grind Coffee In A Percolator?

As per above, you cannot and absolutely should not use a fine grind in your percolator to make percolated coffee. The idea grind size is coarsely ground coffee. Medium-Coarse is also ok to use.

If you used a fine grind you would need a very short brew time to avoid the over brewing and bitter taste.

How Do You Make Percolated Coffee Taste Better?

There are a few techniques that you can try to improve the taste of percolated coffee.

  • 1. Use Filtered or bottled water.
  • 2. Use fresh filters or use no filter at all (metal filter).
  • 3. Use fresh coffee beans.
  • 4. Roast your own coffee beans to ensure maximum freshness.
  • 5. Grind your coffee beans immediately before brewing.
  • 6. Clean and descale your machine.

Final Thoughts, Frappé-Ing It All Up – Percolator Vs Drip Coffee

In the battle of the brew Percolator Vs Drip Coffee, it is hard to decide which is the winner, as with me, it is different coffee for different reasons. I tend to like good, well brewed coffee, so taste wise, the percolator nails it. When it comes to convenience, undoubtedly, it is a drip coffee.

If you are the type who just wants to switch a machine on and leave it to brew, then a drip coffee is what you are looking for. I can’t imagine how over brewed my coffee would be if I was to set up my percolator and then jump in the shower and let it brew.

Coffee is love, it's more than love — it's a passion of mine. I've had the luck to have travelled and enjoyed the most exotic of coffee's and unique flavors, brewing methods and techniques of making the perfect coffee from Thai hill tribe coffee to Indonesian volcanic coffee, Malaysian coffee that comes in a tea bag and the array of flavors in Vietnam, from Vanilla to Orange to Coconut to Avocado to even salt coffee and the famous egg coffee. The best part of my coffee adventures is getting to mix with the locals over a nice brew and learning how they make it! I'm cited and referenced on Google Scholar for the topic of coffee.

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