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Percolators


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I've worked in cookware stores off and on for 10 years, and have seen and used just about every new type of coffee maker or "system" that's come along in that time. Lately, I've noticed that people seem to be buying percolators. Not a lot -- maybe 3 in the last 6 months. But that's three more than I've sold in the previous 9.5 years. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Michael Ruhlman was singing the praises of percolators on his blog as well.

As far as I know, there haven't been any improvements in percolator technology in the past 20 years, have there? Both from personal experience and from everything I've read on the subject, it's clear that it's just not a good way to make coffee. So what's the deal? Is it nostalgia?

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For me, it's nostalgia. My stepmother STILL percolates coffee in an almost 60 year old stovetop pot.

I don't think that her coffee is good, in fact, as coffee, it's awful.

Well, it's better than the instant stuff that she makes when I'm not there(Taster's Choice is her favorite).

BUT, I sometimes crave it, just because that overbrewed and boiled flavor profile reminds me of the coffees that she's offered me from her tiny pot... the times that she's smiled at me, and, being the loving person that she is, has wanted to offer me her 'best' coffee (yes, the beans I had ordered specially roasted and ground for her)... even though she cannot tell the difference to this day between instant and brewed coffee.

I find myself looking at percolators, and thinking of her old and tiny stovetop pot, with it's Bakelite handle, and it's glass cap. I'm attracted to percolators, because of my lovely wonderful stepmother, and her lovingly made, and affectionately served, awful beyond terrible, and yet tasty beyond delicious, percolated coffee.

edited to add this coda: She has been gifted with coffeemaking systems over the years- they become regifted items anon. My stepmother doesn't even own an ibrik! And, we're Syrian!

Edited by Rebecca263 (log)

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depends on the coffee! when I buy dark roast I would not perk ..I use a press or drip ..when I buy a medium roast perking is the way to go for me ...different coffee's I think taste better prepared differently!

perked coffee has it's place and holds its flavor well too

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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No, it's not nostalgia. Perked coffee is rich, HOT, and has great aroma and depth of flavor.

Interesting. Ruhlman mentions the temperature of perked coffee in his blog too.

That its biggest advantage—percolators keep the coffee HOT, auto-drips burn it.

Hasn't he heard of drip machines that brew into a thermal carafe? My Capresso produces coffee that's over 160F when poured into a cup -- and that's a half pot, poured into a cold cup. (It's closer to 170 if I brew a full pot and pour into a warmed cup.) Second cup, 15 or 20 minutes later, is 158F. How hot does it need to be?

As for "burning the coffee," again, I'd point to a thermal carafe. If there's no heat source, there's no burning.

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I've worked in cookware stores off and on for 10 years, and have seen and used just about every new type of coffee maker or "system" that's come along in that time. Lately, I've noticed that people seem to be buying percolators. Not a lot -- maybe 3 in the last 6 months. But that's three more than I've sold in the previous 9.5 years. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Michael Ruhlman was singing the praises of percolators on his blog as well.

As far as I know, there haven't been any improvements in percolator technology in the past 20 years, have there? Both from personal experience and from everything I've read on the subject, it's clear that it's just not a good way to make coffee. So what's the deal? Is it nostalgia?

Stovetop or electric?

Coincidentally I was watching an ep of Lidia just a couple of nights ago where she was explaining the various methods of brewing coffee, apparently for total novices. Athough she didn't pick a favorite, when she finished with the stovetop percolator demo I found myself thinking "Gosh, that looks good!" There was just something about the Italian percolator & the whole process that was instrinsically appealing.

So if you're selling Italian stovetops, maybe Lidia is responsible.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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ghostrider, I believe you're thinking of a moka, which isn't exactly what I'd call an "Italian percolator."

In a moka, as the temperature of the water in the bottom chamber rises, the increase in pressure forces water up a central tube, directly through the coffee grounds under pressure and then into an upper chamber where it is collected and consumed more or less immediately. The ratio of coffee grounds to water is quite high, somewhere in the same range as it is for espresso.

In a percolator, the increase in temperature/pressure at the bottom of the put forces water up the tube where it sprays into the top and is distributed over a perforated basket of coffee grounds. At this point, there is very little difference between percolated coffee and drip coffee, considering that the coffee drips through the bottom of the perforated basket by gravity just as with drip coffee. What makes a percolator different is that the coffee grounds are continuously re-infused: As the coffee drips out of the bottom of the basket, it re-collects in the bottom of the percolator together with whatever liquid hasn't yet gone up the pipe. Since the percolator's heating element is still on, the already-brewed coffee is forced up the tube again where it is sprayed into the little clear cap, is distributed back over the perforated basket of coffee grounds, seeps through the basket and finds its way back to the bottom of the percolator. Repeat this continuous re-infusion cycle again and again and again, with the overall temperature of the liquid continuously rising towards the boiling point until it reaches a temperature near boiling and the percolator stops bubbling. At this point, the thirty-times-infused acidic brew is "ready" for drinking. One could, I suppose, mimic this process with a drip coffee machine by pouring the brewed coffee back in to the water reservoir and running it back through the same coffee grounds 20-30 times.

If I want a super-rich cup of traditional coffee, I'll use a high ratio of coffee-to-water in my French press and have a rish cup of coffee that doesn't taste like I could use it to clean the tarnish off of copper.

Edited by slkinsey (log)

--

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For the reasons Sam mentioned, I can't imagine prefering perked coffee over drip, not to mention over French Press or Mocha pot methods. And I have drunk plenty of perk in the past at home, in cafes and around the camp fire. The good (kinda), the bad and the truly ugly.

In the past, in addition to using a carafe for drip coffee to prevent it burning, I have used a plastic "wire" like product that keeps the pot just off the burner. Doesn't work as well as a carafe perhaps, but helps keep it drinkable for 20 minutes or so.

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ghostrider, I believe you're thinking of a moka, which isn't exactly what I'd call an "Italian percolator."

Right you are. This is very similiar to the one on Lidia's show.

I dropped coffee from my daily routine many years ago, so I'm not really up to speed on these things any more. I found myself wishing I'd had one of those moka things before I gave the stuff up.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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I've worked in cookware stores off and on for 10 years, and have seen and used just about every new type of coffee maker or "system" that's come along in that time. Lately, I've noticed that people seem to be buying percolators. Not a lot -- maybe 3 in the last 6 months. But that's three more than I've sold in the previous 9.5 years. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that Michael Ruhlman was singing the praises of percolators on his blog as well.

As far as I know, there haven't been any improvements in percolator technology in the past 20 years, have there? Both from personal experience and from everything I've read on the subject, it's clear that it's just not a good way to make coffee. So what's the deal? Is it nostalgia?

One must remember that in Rhulman's blog he mentions hauling out the big green can. So take it for what it's worth.

perc coffee would not be bad if it brewed for 3-4 min tops and then was poured into a carafe. Some people associate bitter with strong coffee and strong coffee with good.

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One must remember that in Rhulman's blog he mentions hauling out the big green can.  So take it for what it's worth.

Yeah, this was one of the more puzzling things I've read from Ruhlman. Here's a guy whose books have literally improved my life in ways I can't count. His latest in particular...it's amazing. He's so knowledgable, such a stickler for objectivity in food. Yet he drinks nasty coffee prepared poorly. I agree that a perc is fine if you decant to a carafe. But otherwise it's awful.

I'm a total coffee/espresso maven. I buy fresh beans and use them within week. I have a high end espresso machine and a French press. I take it very, very seriously. Coffee is like Ruhlman's veal stock or Proust's madeleines to me. Michael needs to go out to Seattle and spend a day with David Schomer at Espresso Vivace. That dude is the truth.

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Yeah, this was one of the more puzzling things I've read from Ruhlman. Here's a guy whose books have literally improved my life in ways I can't count. His latest in particular...it's amazing. He's so knowledgable, such a stickler for objectivity in food. Yet he drinks nasty coffee prepared poorly. I agree that a perc is fine if you decant to a carafe. But otherwise it's awful.

I know just from the trilogy of Ruhlman books I've purchased, I've given him a nice down payment for a Technivorm (which as many of you know, brews at 200F into a thermal carafe).

Rich Westerfield

Mt. Lebanon, PA

Drinking great coffee makes you a better lover.

There is no scientific data to support this conclusion, but try to prove otherwise. Go on. Try it. Right now.

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  • 2 months later...

I love mine. It's the sense-memories, I think, of waking in childhood with that cheery little burble sending the scent of morning through the house. My parents never used anything else; in fact, our last gift to them before my Mother passed away was a new Presto, shining magically from the wrappings, its slender spout emerging ready to report for duty. And on every one of Daddy's visits, I emerged each morning to the early pot he'd plugged in and was enjoying in my easy chair, under the big lamp, riding the range with Louis L'Amour or conquering the seas with Admiral Hornblower.

And though I'm the only regular-morning drinker here, we're probably on our third or fourth pot, always shiny, always sharp-spouted in a graceful arc mirroring the stream into the cup. Of course, we ALL have to confess a cheery little daisy-strewn Farberware, in college dorms or first apartments, with its greige plastic body and spout like a baby's pouty underlip.

And there's a big old silver one knocking around here, in a closet or box somewhere, that was elegant enough for the Duke's breakfast---beautiful Grecian spout, tall graceful curves tapering to the little skylight at the top, and a swag of olive branches garnishing its waist.

I like to fill the pot at night, filling just to an inch under the inside spout opening, clicking the long pipe into the basket, then fitting it into the recess with one twist. A crisp, fragrant SCOOOOOP of the copper 1/3 cup into the big glass cannister, a fingertip over the pipehole to prevent errant crumbs, guard in, lid on, and ready for morning.

I sometimes find myself wishing it WERE morning, for some odd reason. Just to smell it and await that first steamy stream---the tired of night and the caffeine prevent, but sometimes I'm tempted to plug it in RIGHT THEN.

And morning is the best time---someone usually plugs it in before I wake, but I enjoy coming to the kitchen in the lone quiet, reaching for the black cord, setting it just SO into the notch, and hearing that faithful SHUUUUUSSSSHHH begin. The scent and the comforting, easy morning sound as I take down the little pink glass bowl of Sweet&Low, reach in for the little bright red milk jug, set out skyblue cup and a spoon. Easy gestures, slow morning wakenings, percolator music---what's not to love?

(I must, however, in pursuit of all honesty, confess to an absolute addiction for the truck-stop machines that dispense cappuccino, the French Vanilla kind, with a big cold dispenser of real cream, ditto French Vanilla. It's absolutely the best coffee I've ever tasted anywhere---amazing in that hustlebustle of nationwide commerce crossing through every day. It's unbelievably good, with the flavors of vanilla and whatever spice makes it French, as mere undernotes to the coffee-est of coffee).

Edited cause I can NEVER get those P's and C's right. I oughta just drink latte.

Edited by racheld (log)
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