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Drip or Percolator?

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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 www.coffeegeek.com. 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

        WronG!
        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 "...it'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 "...it'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:

              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/526832

              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!

              1. It's too bad you don't like French press... that and pour-over is the best way to brew coffee imho. I've also had good results with a friend's Braun "vacuum" cofee maker in the past.

                The burr grinder I bought was under $50, and has worked great. It's a Cuisinart DBM-8. like it much better than all the burr grinders under $200 I've tried so far.

                1. I have a Technivorm drip coffee maker, and it is the best coffee maker I have owned, by far (and we have owned pretty much every major brand). The coffee comes out HOT, and that makes all the difference.

                  The design is really simple, and the appliance is well made. There are only two controls, an on/off switch and a switch for the hot plate. We don't even use the hot plate switch since I don't think it's advisable to scorch the coffee once it has been perfectly brewed. No fancy timers or anything, but IMO that just means there's less to break. I was skeptical at first spending so much for a drip coffee maker, but I'm a convert now.

                  Our burr grinder is a Cuisinart. I think it was $25 at Costco. It has held up well for years, and is just as good as the pricier one we used to have. And worlds away from the regular blade grinders.

                  I think grinding your own beans makes a huge difference. But we roast our own beans, too, so I may be pickier than some about freshness.

                  1. Setting aside the issues of the water, the coffee, and the way the coffee is roasted and ground, we've settled on a $13 Melita cone for brewing, and only brewing one cup (for each of us) at a time. When you're retired you can do that sort of thing.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Veloce

                      I hear you brother (sister??). As to the coffee, the Melita in small batches is probably a good way to go. You pour in enough nearly boiling water from your tea kettle to do the job all at once, and the grounds and gravity do the rest. Simple and effective.

                      1. re: johnb

                        Just get a drip coffee-maker (we have a 10-cup Braun unit that has served us well). They are nearly fool-proof and will get you a decent cup every time.

                        French presses OK if you just need a couple of cups, but not so good if you need more.

                        Unless you grew up on perc coffee, it really is something of an acquired taste. Percolators produce a whole different sort of coffee. It tends be very rich, bitter, complicated. Buy a pot for the stovetop and do it that way (get a stainless unit, never aluminum). As soon as the pot percs, turn the heat way down, just enough to keep the perc going. Keep the heat low, and you shouldn't burn the coffee (electric models tend to overcook the brew). Done properly, it isn't an abomination. Strange but true: percs do really well with cheap coffe (Maxwell House, Folger, Hills Bros) but will make a complete hash out of the high end stuff.

                        Melitta's are a Jekyll-Hyde product. I have gotten some of the best cups of joe from one of those. Unfortunately I have gotten more rotten cups than good. The process is pretty simple: put paper filter in plastic cone, put plastic cone on carafe, put coffee in paper filter, pour hot water into cone, allow water to seep through filter and enjoy. The devil is in the details. Mess up the coffee ground, water temp, or pour water in too fast (or slow) and you end with terrible coffee. The process is just really sensitive and just found it hard to consistently get good results.

                    2. As others have mentioned, the keys to good coffee are good beans, good grind, good water, proper temperature, proper saturation time, and best storage of the finished product.

                      I use a KitchenAid Proline drip coffee maker and KitchenAid Proline burr grinder. I like the grinder because with one unit I can get perfect grinds for french press, drip, and espresso without muddling around with it. Plus it looks great.

                      The KA Proline drip machine is also excellent. The 1350 watt heating element gets the water up to a consistent 204 degrees and it's got a built-in carbon filter to make sure I've got good water. Most drip machines have a crummy little hole in a tube to drip water onto the beans; my KA has a showerhead design to evenly saturate ALL the beans. It's also got a basket style grind chamber instead of a cone, so the bottom isn't overly extracted like on a typical cone. I use a gold filter basket (about $8) instead of paper which allows more oils to come through and gives a more complex flavor. The only thing I don't like is that the glass carafe sits on a hot plate. I do like that the KA comes with 2 glass carafes and a second carafe hot plate, which would be good for entertaining or parties, or just brewing a fresh batch while finishing off an old one ( :) ).

                      Based on the features set, I liked this machine better than the Technivorm, but by all accounts the Tech. is a wonderful machine. The icing on the cake for me however: I got the coffee maker and grinder together for $120, open box, at a local store. I'd never have paid regular retail ($600) for them, but for that price, I leapt on it and love 'em.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Zedeff

                        French Press is the way to go for me.. I wish I could find an inexpensive expresso maker for daily use.

                        1. re: mjbarb

                          I've been on Chowhound a few months now and have seen the subject of brewing coffee come up many times. Frequently someone has mentioned the Aeropress as the absolute best way to brew coffee. Finally I decided to try it. I used some fresh roasted beans from Peru and ground them just before brewing. It was the best cup of coffee I've ever had. For regular coffee you use a small amount of water to extract the . . . for lack of better words . . . coffee juice and then add hot water to make normal strength coffee. This water can be as hot or cold as you wish. We make the coffee directly into a thermal carafe. This actually makes coffee hotter than my wife likes and she is one of those people who microwaves the coffee made in a drip coffee maker because she finds it too cold.

                          1. re: mjbarb

                            How about a $3 Vietnamese coffee maker?

                            http://www.ineedcoffee.com/04/vietnam...

                        2. The extra cost of the Technivorm coffee maker is worth every penny. There simply is no comparison between what it delivers and all the pretenders. I bought mine 18 months ago and would buy it again in a heartbeat. There is no substitute for excellent coffee.

                          1. I have a feeling you want simplicity but an Aeropress is an inexpensive coffeemaker that makes one of the best cups of very flavorful coffee. As to water pass on distilled, it has too flat a flavor. Do you normally drink distilled? Use a good filtered water or spring water instead. Regardless of the instructions you can use as hot of water as you like. The Aeropress will allow you to make coffee that resembles espresso, an Americano or diluted to a regular cup of coffee

                            1. I love my Technivorm!

                              Fill it with filtered water, some fresh-ground beans (I have a KitchenAid burr grinder -- great for drip coffee & press pot grinds) and watch the coffee goodness come out. We use a SwissGold filter instead of paper; the metal filter allows more oils to flow through. And the thermal carafe means no more baked coffee.

                              We bought ours from Sweet Maria's:

                              www.sweetmarias.com/prod.technivorm.s...

                              They have a great explanation at that link and a tip sheet to get the best coffee out of your Technivorm:

                              www.sweetmarias.com/Tip-Sheets_PDF_fi...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: sarasparagus

                                Not sure spending lots on a drip maker is as important as getting really good coffee and grinding it properly.

                                We like Alterra here in Milwaukee (www.alterracoffeepro.com ); lucky you if you have local joe anywhere as good.

                                Then spend some money and get a burr grinder. Blade grinders are OK for spices and not much else.

                                The Braun drip maker that we got a couple of years ago does a great job and is very reasonably priced -- under $50. They have a model with the thermal carafe -- it's expensive, so for my money, you can buy a thermal carafe or thermos bottle. The thermal carafes are kind of a bear to clean, so can't say I like them for everyday use.

                              2. I just recently found a vintage glass pyrex stovetop percolator--what fun to watch it percolate! My husband and I are still fiddling with it--there's definitely differences with the temperature control and the amount of time that you let the coffee percolate. Generally, we think it tastes better than drip and the coffee is hot! BTW, some posts were concerned that the coffee would not taste good because the coffee would be boiled while it percolates; however the coffee is never actually boiling, more like a slow simmer which is probably closer to the 205F ideal temp.
                                I just found a Corningware electric percolator and a Farberware electric percolator--haven't tried them out yet, but it'll be interesting to compare. The electrics work a lot faster but there'll be a lot less control, no adjustments to temp or time.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: breadfanatic

                                  As I was reading this thread, I kept thinking that the Silex seemed to fill all the requirements for good coffee. I also remember,as a kid in the '50s, watching mesmerized as the hot water rushed up the neck and then went back down! I think I'm going to find a Proctor Silex and try it!
                                  Bob

                                2. What "generally" happened is that manufacturers thought of a way for you to use MORE coffee and perhaps a disposable filter to get the coffee flavour. This was done by the few shortfalls of a Percolator, which is the auto off switch most didn't have once it came to boil, and this was perfect timing in the 70's for the transition. The auot off would help it NOT "violate" the reboil and recirculate problems that SOME people may have. (its really the reboil that makes a bigger difference)...

                                  So this was simply seasoned over with commercials showing how dirty grounds are a mess and the 70's wife or household need not spend time cleaning when there is other work to do (Think of any cleaning commecial from the 60-70 and you got the picture). And so OUT went the percolator. You can call it corporate, media use, combo greed on how to make MORE of a buck, to convince you of the drip being the "better" way to brew coffee.

                                  Now you will have experts recommend the French press, or the drip coffee, but that underlying reason is that they can't sell you any other machine as most percolators are unavailable....AND mainly that you would use less coffee and less consumables with a percolator ....Even if they personally don't want to sell you a machine...at least they have you in their playing field. And I am sure comapnies can show statistics of what ever they want. to "prove" otherwise.

                                  So yes, a percolator WILL get you far better flavor than a drip coffee machine would simply by DESIGN alone, BECAUSE... besides temp and other factors. French press is very much a Percolator, HELLO!! It is just manual, so it is force "filtered", and you likely won't get a hot enough cup as the steeping an stirring often cools things down just enough for a couple hot sips.

                                  THIS IS THE REAL ANSWER! ENJOY YOUR COFFEE

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Phil_Indeblanc

                                    I think a lot of people who have no interest in selling anything just have different experiences. The brewing temperature of a percolator can be problematic, depending on how you like your coffee. And you're discounting a lot of the very nice effects that a french press or drip machine or pour-over cup, etc, can achieve.

                                    My personal experience: I'm a little younger and didn't come up when percolators were popular. When I was in my 20s, my dad went and bought a percolator, which I had never tried before. And I was somewhat surprised to find I didn't hate it. It has some bitterness, but I don't find that unpleasant. He always serves his coffee with a lot of cream, which might help. But here was the other thing I found, from buying him a few kinds of my favorite coffee beans - using especially high quality, well (and recently) roasted beans in the percolator was pretty much a waste. With very few exceptions, the percolator just completely obliterated the subtleties between different beans. And beans that still have a lot of stored CO2 in them seemed to have trouble brewing properly anyway. So my dad sticks with the pre-ground, cost-effective, tinned coffee. And I enjoy it when I'm over there. But I use an Aeropress at home, try to capture what's distinctive about the coffee I buy in the cups I brew, and have served my dad some coffee that's really impressed him.

                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                      Your response is valid. I think my overload of hearing how bad a percolator is from people who haven't even used one got to me and my observations a bit much.... and very true about how you like your coffee! It is the ultimate goal...Keeping in mind not all have high standards or expectations of what they put in their mouth.

                                      If you look for subtle flavors in a 6 to 12oz cup of coffee, I think French press maybe more control

                                      I drink an espresso shot 2 times a day. Beans either local or shipped within 5 days of roast, and I buy good coffee(Handsoms, RedBird, Verve, Cafecito, 49th Street, etc). 40-100ppm filter water hardness, regular machine cleaning, etc. But when I make American coffee, I do like it with cream most of the time. :-) I know that is not the "proper" way to test coffee flavor,it just isn't. So I have done black drip machine to steeping tests, and by far the steep black coffee was more full body and pleasurable.

                                      In many instructions it says to use very coarse grind in percolators. This I found not to be the standard among experienced coffee dinkers that use percolators. They use a medium grind. Doing some "testing", I often use my botched grinds from my espresso grinder, when dailing in for new beans and it tastes just fine to very good. For me I am very specific about my shot for espresso. It is either fantastic, or its a dumped shot. For an American cup of coffee, I'm really not that careful. But if I use the drip machine I can get bad cups that I won't drink easy, while I think the percolator gets out all it can from the bean, and so far mostly good cups.

                                      I wasn't drinking coffee back then nor was the perc around either, but working with Europeans, and those that like a full body cup, still use the percolator! (or espresso).

                                      Pour over is what I often do BUT, in a mesh screen into a larger wide cup so it allows the coffee to steep for 10, 20 or so seconds. This is much like French Press and Percolator method. The Honeycomb drip is just not a well controlled method, I don't care how much the SCAA wants to validate it.

                                      I don't mean to discount these methods. I just think it cools too quickly to enjoy sipping over a period of time....Your water shouldn't scald the coffee, so IF 190- 205 is the max temp. by the time you steep ~ stir and pour the French Press, in my experience , even with warmed cups, the coffee cools rapidly due to the stirring and steeping due to being off heat. Besides.....These are along the methods of Percolator!....except the heat is continued during the steep up until the pour. No need to heat the cups before hand !

                                      Looking forward to hear more expereinces

                                      1. re: Phil_Indeblanc

                                        I wish I could edit my last post...As I kinda retracted from my initial post when I replied to Cowboyardee. The Perc IS much like the French press, as it uses force, either physical or temperature to push the flavor out of the beans vs gravity in drip systems.

                                        So since I can't edit the above post, I'll simply add toit, as it is more clear to my how superior a percolator is. Hands down, after me, mother, aunt, in laws, and housekeeper, along with 3 guests...Except my wife didn't care) all agree that they like the full flavor of the percolator over both my drip coffee machines. These are people who enjoy coffee, unlike my brother who never drank it, or my wife that drinks it every day and can care less, as long as it is a bit sweet, no cream, and overall decent. FYI, 3 of the tasters above, let me know they liked it more without me asking or explaining what I did. (Same Major Dickson 3-5 day of roast Peet beans. Personal preferences are surely important ....as long as you look for good coffee flavor :-)