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Aug 2, 2008 01:12 AM

Drip or Percolator?

My coffee maker has seen its last days, thank goodness. Now, I am considering what to buy. Husband's biggest complaint is that it was never hot enough. Mine was flavour, no matter how much we spent on coffee beans and using distilled water.

We are considering many options and need advice:
~percolator (vintage Pyrex), stove top
~percolator (vintage, electric) plug in, GE or Farberware
~another electric drip coffee "maker"
~have a French press, not impressed (no pun intended)

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  1. Of the choices listed the last two have the best chance of satisfying both of you. Drip coffee needs to be brewed at 200-205F and manufacturers seem fearful of producing machines which work at that temp for (I suspect) liability issues.

    But that's puting the cart before the horse. You need to use fresh whole beans and grind them correctly. Freshly ground store coffee only lasts a short time and most people don't drink coffee that fast. Get a good conical burr grinder (about $150) for starters. Most people who follow that advice are amazed by the improvement in flavor regardless of brewing method. These grinders have a wide range of 'particle size' and you can produce the correct size grind for say french press vs. drip.

    For advice and sources for the best online prices for brewers and grinders check Check out Technivorm coffee makers and Baratza grinders.

    1 Reply
    1. re: RichardM

      I need a coffee to get through that coffeegeek website. It is so jam packed!

    2. It is generally agreed the percolator is the worst possible way to make coffee, because it violates two cardinal rules of coffee making, namely the coffee is reboiled as it goes around, and coffee is sent through the grounds more than once.

      I have read in several places that of all brewing methods coffee experts generally prefer the french press. Take it FWIW.

      The drip method is the most common. Cook's Illustrated Sept. Oct. issue,, which appeared in my mailbox today, does a rating of several and likes the Technivorm, expensive at $240. Apparently it has a copper heating element while the others all have aluminum, and the former delivers the water to the grounds consistently at the correct temperature. Check it out on your local newsstand. If not that, they like the Krups 10 cup next, at $95.

      I have had several grinders and brewers in my days, and perhaps my tastebuds are shot, but I really can't see that buying super fresh beans and grinding them yourself is all that big a deal. I buy beans in the store and grind them there. I freeze the ground coffee at home except for a few days supply that I keep in a sealed Rubbermaid container. Works for me--coffee tastes fine. Again, take it FWIW.

      If you decide to go the grind-your-own route, I would avoid combined grinder/brewers myself.

      2 Replies
      1. re: johnb

        Percolators I know don't reboil! You maybe thinking of a cafeteria HotPot, and yes, IF and only IF, left over say 1 hour, The HOTPOT stays on and keeps it warm. I would agree with what you are saying. But any home percolator.... As long as it have an auto shut off on it(all I know do), it simply shuts off after it reaches the set temp (Like a electric kettle...hopfully above 180F/below210F) you shouldn't have a "reboil" happening AT ALL.
        My 1960's Presto has auto off and NEVER reboils the coffee. And it isn't a matter of IF the coffee goes through the grounds, its a matter of when. If it is happening during the steep boil time, that is when it is supposed to be happening. There is no chemical make or any difference if the water is taking up coffee vs a preinfusion drip method. (Thats what better drip makers do, and come close to the Perc/temp still low). They hold the water in the grounds longer. Maybe you're talking about a different machine? French press is the same idea as the Percolator as the water and grounds get mixed up and some force is playing the part of pushing water through grounds. Drip is gravity method. The percolator was "marketed" away to sell more coffee, more paper consumables, and make the now working woman spend less time making coffee, or cleaning a pot.
        I find it perfectly fine to rinse my percolator. If an extra 20-30 seconds isn't worth a better tasting cup of coffee.

        1. re: Phil_Indeblanc

          When people talk about re-boil they are talking about the boiling, or percking, that forces water up the tube to the basket full of grounds. Initially that is plain water that is boiling at the base of the tube, but later, it is partially brewed coffee.

          Many drip makers use the same boiling water approach to force water from the reservoir to the top of the grounds. But in those the water passes through the grounds only once. The drip machine uses a finer grind (and hence needs a finer paper filter) to achieve sufficient extraction.

      2. When automatic drip models came along, many people switched to them because they felt they made better coffee. I've always used drip, earlier Chemex, now a Black & Decker auto thermal (keeping coffee on a hot plate very long definitely ruins the flavor, IMO),

        There's a difference of opinion about grinders. Cook's Iillustrated tested ome models and decided a compratively cheap blade grinder made better tasting coffee than a burr grinder. Personally, I'm not about to spend $150 unless it also does the dishes.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mpalmer6c

          Good point. The thermal style pot is definitely better IMO than the type that have a little hot plate on the coffeemaker---safer, and you get better tasting coffee as time goes along. If it gets too cool you can always juice it up in the microwave (gasp!).

          1. re: johnb

            I didn't realize the thermal was better. I will be doing some more research.

            1. re: johnb

              We just decant the freshly brewed pot into a thermal carafe

          2. First... I wouldn't recommend distilled water for anything besides chemistry experiments, in the words of Alton Brown "'s too molecularly squeaky clean to work as a good solvent...". I'm not sure if the science of this is completely acurate (as I assume the polar nature of water is what does a lot of work as a solvent) but I think it might be affecting your coffee brewing experience.

            Second, I would agree with Johnb, percolators are just about the worse way to brew coffee.

            Third, I would completely and utterly disagree with Johnb, about having freshly roasted coffee beans and grinding them daily -- there is a massive difference. I can noticed the difference (especially when brewing espresso) between a few days out of the roaster, which is only exacerbated by grinding all the beans at once.

            I have heard very good things about the Techivorm brewers... it has much higher quality parts, as stated. But I think of the big difference is that the water must reach a boil before leaving the heating chamber, thus reaching 212, and then cooling a few degrees as it travels before hitting the coffee at the correct temperature. My favorite everyday brewer is a Chemex -- more body than any drip style I've tried, and there is something I prefer over french press.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mateo21

              First... I wouldn't recommend distilled water for anything besides chemistry experiments, in the words of Alton Brown "'s too molecularly squeaky clean to work as a good solvent...".

              As he is a drama school graduate I'm not going to jump on too hard but this is scientifically 100% wrong. Water is known as the 'Univerisal Solvent' among chemists. Distilled (actually most is deminerialized/dionized today) is unbufferred and will try to buffer itself by dissolving anything it is in contact with. Coffee flavor is very subjective so taste testing by others is of limited value.

              Minerals in water often impart a slight taste of their own. Using distilled water will eliminate this but is hard on the coffee maker if the water is heated by contact with a metallic heating element instead of laying down a slight lime scale film which requires periodic cleaning it will corrode (dissolve) the metal and eventually result in failure of the heating element. Copper will be attacked more slowly than aluminum but will still corrode. If you want to use distilled water best to use a brewing system in which the water only comes into contact with glass such as Chemex or pour over such as a Mellita funnel.

              1. re: RichardM

                True... although, I suppose it would have been better to say that using distilled water isn't going to really do anything to your coffee... versus plain old charcoal filtered water. Technically distilled water is not simply demineralized, e.g. reverse osmosis water; or at least, the distilled water I am familiar with. Also, AB is indeed a drama graduate, but also a cooking school graduate, and usually his science is right on, if not a little watered down for a general audience.

            2. I would certainly recommend a good-quality drip brewer, such as the Technivorm or the Bunn NHBX-B 10-Cup Coffee Maker, over any percolator. Comparing the wattage ratings of electric brewers can often (though not always) give you an indication of how hot they brew and how quickly they will recover to make the next batch. When in doubt, go with the higher wattage.

              You might also consider a large gold-cone filter that sets atop an insulated serving carafe. You can preheat the carafe with hot water and then brew directly into it. It’s simple, elegant, relatively easy to clean, and can brew an excellent cup if you start with good fresh coffee and get the grind and steeping-time right. Saves money on filters in the long run, too. All you need is a kettle and a decent grinder to make it work.

              Here’s a link to a discussion of coffee grinders:


              Regarding the water issue, distilled water is not recommended for brewing coffee (or tea), as it generally results in a duller, flatter flavor. As numerous taste-tests have repeatedly shown, a certain amount of mineral content is desirable for coffee brewing; it results in a better extraction and livelier flavor. (Desirable minerals include calcium, certain bicarbonates and chloride compounds.) If your tap water tastes bad or is excessively mineral-laden, try using a reputable bottled water, such as Volvic, Fiji or Panna. Or you might consider installing a simple taste-and-odor filter or a reverse-osmosis water purifier. Your water, and everything you use it in will taste better. Happy brewing!