Coffee aficionados are quick to praise the pour-over, a ritualistic brewing method that offers complete control over the resultant brew. At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the percolator. Though marked by a decades-old nostalgia and a reputation for over-extraction, the percolator yields a fuller-bodied cup when used properly.
The percolator was a household staple during the ’40s and ’50s and laid the foundation for vacuum-powered brewers like the Mokapot and siphon. When heated, water at the base of the vessel is drawn upward through a tube and into a chamber containing coffee grounds. The water passes through the chamber, rains back down and continues to circulate until the percolator is removed from heat — typically seven to 10 minutes after the coffee first perks (or bubbles up into the top chamber).
Adversaries argue that the high heat required to brew with a percolator draws out astringent flavors, but the solution lies, simply, in choosing the right bean. Less acidic coffees, like those from Brazil or Sumatra, and very coarse grounds (coarser than what would be used for a French press) reduce the risk of over-extraction. And note that while electric percolators automatically shut off once coffee has brewed, stovetop percolators allow for greater control over brew strength.
Presto 12-Cup Stainless Steel Percolator
Best electric percolator: Brewing at a rate of one cup per minute, Presto’s percolator can make as few as two or as many as 12 cups of coffee at once. A signal light indicates when the coffee is ready to serve, and hard-wearing stainless steel retains heat to keep coffee warm long after brewing is complete.
GSI Outdoors 12-Cup Stainless Steel Percolator
Best stovetop percolator: Designed for campsite brewing, GSI’s heavy-gauge stainless steel percolator is equally well suited for stovetop perking. A BPA-free, clear resin dome at the top makes it easy to see (not just hear) when water has begun to spill into the top chamber, while a heat-resistant silicone handle makes for easy, controlled pouring. Better yet, it’s dishwasher safe.
Bialetti Original 3-Cup Stovetop Espresso Maker
Best for espresso: The Mokapot is today’s most iconic percolator, marked by an octagonal shape. Created by Bialetti during the ’50s, it’s a household staple in Italy (and across Europe), capable of brewing three two-ounce cups of rich espresso in mere minutes.
Alessi Pulcina 3-Cup Stovetop Espresso Coffee Maker
Best espresso-coffee hybrid: Alessi revamped its Pulcina stovetop espresso percolator by enlarging it and adding a basket for coarser, American-style coffee grounds. The result is a design-forward percolator that brews both espresso and coffee, with a research-backed design intended to reduce over-extraction.
PERK Fully Automated Pour-Over Coffee Machine
Best for the tech fiend: PERK is a fully automated brewer that combines a percolator with a pour-over, promising uniformly saturated coffee grounds through upward-flowing water. Slated to retail for $300, the crowd-funded percolator has gained ample buzz for its ease of use and high-quality brews.