How to Use a Percolator: Step-by-Step Brewing Tips

Learn how to use a percolator effectively to brew rich and flavorful coffee at home.

What Is a Coffee Percolator?

what is a coffee percolator

A coffee percolator is a type of pot used to brew coffee by continually cycling the boiling or nearly boiling brew through the grounds using gravity until the desired strength is reached. This method involves two main parts: a pot with a small chamber at the bottom, and a vertical tube leading from this chamber to the top of the percolator. Ground coffee is placed above the chamber in a perforated basket. As water heats, it travels up the tube and sprinkles over the coffee grounds, soaking them and then dripping back down to repeat the process. This technique is favored for its ability to intensify coffee flavors, extracting a robust and hearty brew. While modern drip coffee makers often eclipse percolators in popularity, the latter still holds a beloved spot among coffee aficionados for its rich, nostalgic character.

How Does a Percolator Work?

A percolator brews coffee by cycling boiling water through coffee grounds using gravity. As the water heats, it rises from the bottom chamber through a vertical tube. This hot water then sprinkles over the coffee grounds held in a separate basket at the top. Once infused with coffee flavors, the water drips back down into the lower chamber, repeating the process. This cycle enhances the richness and depth of the coffee’s flavor, making each cup a delightful experience. Keep in mind that the key to perfect percolation is controlling the heat; too hot, and your coffee may taste bitter.

How to Make Coffee in a Percolator

Begin by filling the percolator’s lower chamber with cold water up to the level you need depending on the number of cups you’re making. The rule of thumb is about 1 cup of water per coffee cup.

Next, grind your coffee to a coarse consistency, akin to raw sugar. Avoid a fine grind to prevent grounds from slipping through the basket and into your brew. Typically, you’ll need one tablespoon of coffee per cup of water, but feel free to adjust to taste.

Insert the coffee basket into the percolator. Then, fill it with your freshly ground coffee. Level the surface, but don’t tamp it down as this can affect the upward flow of water and extraction rate.

Now, assemble the percolator. Place it on your heat source, which can be a stove or a campfire if you’re outdoors. Heat it until you see water percolating, which is easy to spot as it involves water bubbling up into the upper chamber.

Once brewing starts, lower the heat. Allow percolating for about 7 to 10 minutes. Listen for the change in perking speed and look for a lighter bubbling. This indicates that your coffee is nearly ready.

Remember, every pot and heat source varies, so your first brew might be a bit experimental. Adjust the brewing time based on your taste preference.


For a classic brew, you’ll need a few simple yet essential items:

  • Coffee Beans: Choose fresh, high-quality beans for the best flavor. A medium grind works best in a percolator.
  • Water: Fresh, cold water is crucial, as it affects the taste of your coffee.
  • Measurements: Generally, a good rule of thumb is to use one tablespoon of coffee per cup of water. Adjust according to your taste preference.

These ingredients are the foundation for crafting a delicious cup of coffee with your percolator. Experiment with different beans and ratios to find your perfect brew.


Start by filling the percolator’s bottom chamber with cold water up to the desired level, usually indicated by a marking inside. Next, insert the funnel-shaped filter basket into the percolator. Measure a tablespoon of coarsely ground coffee for every cup of water you’ve poured. Spread the grounds evenly in the basket to promote uniform extraction.

Place the percolator on your heat source, whether it’s a stove or a campfire. Heat it until the water starts to percolate, which means water is cycling through the grounds. Keep the heat medium-high; too hot and your coffee might come out bitter.

The key to perfect percolator coffee is timing. Start timing once percolating begins. Let it perk for about 7 to 10 minutes. For lighter coffee, lean towards the shorter time. Adjust according to your taste preference.

Once done, remove the percolator from the heat to avoid over-extraction. Serve the coffee immediately for peak flavor. Remember, the longer coffee sits, the more its nuanced flavors start to diminish. Enjoy your handcrafted brew!