The Differences Between Regular Drip and Percolator Coffee

Have you ever wondered how percolator coffee and regular drip coffee are different?

Both of these coffee brewing methods are still widely used in the US, although drip coffee makers are much more commonly used in home these days compared to usage back in the 70’s.

Despite being less widely popular, percolator coffee generally makes a much stronger brew than most other alternative methods, so many people still use them for this reason alone.

It’s true you can get a pretty strong cup of coffee from a french press or from an Aeropress but short of brewing espresso, using a moka pot, or pulling a long black from a new-fangled Nespresso machine the electric percolator is one of the easiest ways to get strong coffee without having to babysit the brewing cycle.

Here is a quick summary of the differences between black coffee from a drip machine vs a percolator:

  • Drip coffee makers typically filter coffee through paper eliminating almost all of the fines and coffee oils.

    Although percolators can brew through paper filters most people don’t use them meaning your coffee will have more body (fine coffee ground particulate) and will also include the oils much like a french press or any other form of unfiltered coffee.

  • Drip coffee makers brew your coffee at one speed. Gravity pulls water through the grind basket and it slowly fills up the carafe.

    The only way to strengthen your brew is to use more grounds, use a finer grind size or to brew with less water.

    A percolator is different, much like a french press a percolator brews based on the amount and size of grind particles but also based on time.

    If you want a stronger cup of coffee then you just percolate your coffee longer before turning it off. This will mean that your coffee will be a bit more bitter but some people like this. Conversely by decreasing the time for percolation your coffee can be a bit weaker if that’s what you like.

  • Percolators come in both electric and stovetop models. Obviously electric models are far more automatic than stovetop models but the non-electric percolators are also usually good for making coffee off the grid in a camping or hiking scenario.

    You can usually set a percolator up over a direct heat source like a camp fire and make coffee just as you would at home.

    Drip coffee makers are simply not portable and they can’t be used without electricity which is why most people who brew from auto-drip coffee makers tend to have alternative methods on hand for those times they head out to a campsite.

I run this major coffee blog and as such I own a lot of coffee making equipment. I personally don’t make percolator coffee very often but I can tell you that this GSI percolator is a great bargain for making coffee on the campsite. I’ve done it myself a number of times.

For home use however I greatly recommend you use an electric model because they work so much better and make coffee that is consistent day to day.

One of the best on the market in my opinion is this Presto 12-cup which balances the quality of coffee with a good price tag.

But Wait! There’s Another Style of Percolator Which is Way Better Than Drip Under the Right Circumstances!

Brewing coffee in a percolator is a much older method than drip. It tends to make stronger and more bitter coffee which is why auto drip coffee makers are now more commonly used.

That is except for when huge amounts of coffee need to be made at one time.

These days large commercial style coffee urns are the go to device for caterers, churches, and even some restaurants when they have to make big batches of 40-100 cups at a time.

Electric coffee urns are basically just large stationary electric percolators that have a coffee dispenser located on the side rather than a top pour spout.

Smaller urns are usually sized for 20-40 cups of coffee at a time and are great for use in the home when you make coffee for a larger group of people, say a dinner party or for relatives that stay overnight.

Most percolator urns are easy to use, small enough to store, make better coffee than vintage percolators. They brew large amounts of coffee quickly and they don’t cost very much either.

If you have ever made a bunch of coffee for a larger group of people then you know how nice it is (or would be) to only have to automatically brew a single batch of coffee and then forget about it.

A top rated percolator urn is the Hamilton Beach Brew Station but we have a full page on this site reviewing some of the best on the market right here.

Let’s review some facts and then explore some basic questions many people have about percolators.

How are Percolator Coffee and Regular Drip Coffee Different?

PercolatorBefore we look at these two methods, we first need to go over how they are different.

  • There are two types of percolators, corded and stovetop. Stovetop percolators require more manual labor, as you have to watch it and manage the stove. Corded ones are easier because they allow for a more sit-and-wait style preparation.
  • Drip coffee runs through once, whereas percolator coffee runs through the coffee grounds multiple times. This makes percolator coffee much more potent than drip coffee.
  • The percolator method was much more common in older days, around the 1800’s up to around 1970. Drip coffee is a newer method.
  • Percolators use steam to do the job, while drip coffee just uses boiling water.
  • Percolators keep the beans/grounds in the same chamber as the water, giving it a bit of a rougher taste than that of drip coffee, which has separate chambers for the beans and the finished product.

The differences may seem kind of small and insignificant, but they are very important and, while the choice of which you prefer is ultimately up to you, these methods make a vastly different product.

Here are a few common questions we get at GBC almost daily:

Is Percolator Coffee better than Regular Drip Coffee?

As I said, this is more of a preference thing, but largely I would say yes. Percolator coffee uses the same coffee grounds more than drip coffee does. So, overall, you’re getting more out of what you’re paying for than you would be with regular drip coffee.

A percolator uses a series of chambers. One chamber holds a large body of water. This large body of water comes to a boil and the steam from the boiling water comes through a small crevice and passes to the top of the percolator. When the steam starts to cool, the dew that comes down drips through the coffee grounds and back down into the boiling water to be reprocessed.

Now, because of the way this is done you might think the strength of the coffee would be uneven, but actually, the process is aided by a small plate in the pot called a spreading plate. The spreading plate ensures that an equal amount of water goes through coarsely ground coffee beans. That way your coffee always has an even taste.

This process ensures you get the most value out of your coffee, although some people may not enjoy the sheer strength that percolator coffee tends to have. The caffeine content is also roughly equal with that of espresso.

Earlier, I said it requires a bit of management. By this, I was referring to the temperature. It needs to be kept at a consistent temperature that’s just below boiling.

If it is heated too high, the beans/grounds will burn and be wasted, which will ruin the coffee. This is very easy to mess up if you are using a stovetop percolator.  However, electric percolators generally have a maximum temperature they can get to that is just right to avoid burning the beans or ground.

If you are interested in a percolator, even just to try it out, you can find some pretty inexpensive ones that work well. This Farberware Percolator is pretty inexpensive and is well worth the cash if you want a stovetop option. If you’re looking for an electric percolator, the Hamilton Beach Percolator is one worth checking out.

So, if you enjoy really dark roasted coffee with a strong scent and stronger taste, you will likely love percolated coffee.

Is Regular Drip Coffee better than Percolator Coffee?

If you are looking to avoid strong coffee, regular drip coffee is a perfectly fine choice. Drip coffee is the most widely consumed form of coffee, today, and is generally the consumer choice. Drip coffee is strong enough to really taste the coffee, but not too unbearably so.

Most drip coffee machines are around the same range as percolators, so neither will set you back all that much. The nice thing about drip coffee is that the machines range widely, you can find some advanced coffee makers that can be set to start automatically, including shortly before you wake up. There’s a large range of versatility when it comes to drip coffee makers because of how widely popular they are.

The downside to drip coffee is that it wastes a bit of the coffee compared to percolator coffee. Drip coffee only runs through the coffee once, so there is much less value in using one. So the big determining factor between the two is how strong you want the taste of your coffee. Either one will be a great choice, but the strength of percolator coffee may be a bit too strong for some people.

If you are looking into getting a good drip machine, I would recommend a coffee maker like this BESTEK one. It is inexpensive and has the programmable timer option I mentioned earlier.

So overall, I would say that if you can spare the time for it, percolator coffee can be the better choice if you can handle the strong taste.

Does Percolator Coffee Have More Caffeine?

As I said above, a percolator can make stronger coffee that includes the oils which is what I like. This is why I think percolators can make better coffee than drip.

The reason for this is because you can brew your coffee longer (assuming you maintain even temperature control) to achieve a better and fuller extraction of flavors from your coffee grind.

The longer you brew your grounds the more flavors come out and the more caffeine will make it to your cup as well.

On average the standard 8-ounce cup of drip coffee will contain approximately 150mg of caffeine whereas the average cup of percolated coffee will contain approximately 200mg of caffeine but both quantities can be adjusted easily up or down by adjusting the inputs.

The problem with most percolator coffee has to do usually with human error in the brewing process.

Brewing too long or too hot will extract all the good flavors, all the caffeine but also the bitters than follow.

If you manage your temperature well you can brew longer extracting more caffeine and strength without the bitters that most people don’t want.

Of course, a drip coffee maker can extract more caffeine to but to get it you will likely have to use more grounds than you normally would and use possibly a finer grind size too.

So Which Brewing Method is Best?

percolator-coffeeFor getting the most value for your money, the percolator would be the best value. It makes the most out of the coffee it uses, but again, choosing drip coffee is better for those who can’t handle the stronger taste or bitters that most people dislike.

I still recommend at least trying percolated coffee once or twice and seeing if you can refine the brew to your liking. With manual percolators you can make really great or really terrible coffee but you can adjust just about everything to really make it your own.

Now, percolated coffee may not be feasible for some people, because it does require a bit of time to prepare, the length depending on how strong you prefer your coffee, but, overall, it still takes a while.

Percolated coffee is somewhat similar to French press coffee, in that it takes a bit of babysitting to make it properly.

It’s also similar to espresso in that with skill and practice you can make awesome coffee or horrible coffee… it’s all up to you and your desire to be involved in the brew cycle from start to finish.

Is Drip Coffee Better Than Percolator Coffee?

What are the most common coffee brewing machines in an average household?

I can think of at least two: drip coffee machine and percolator. And we have both of them. The French press is also a runner up. But in reality, the first two brewing machines are a staple in many homes.

The idea of brewing coffee at home is very convenient. You can enjoy freshly brewed coffee anytime of the day. This also works well if you want coffee first thing in the morning and you don’t like the idea of dressing up and hitting the coffee shop. You can also brew a whole pot of coffee and store it in an insulated mug for later consumption.

But, many are still wondering which one is better. Many say that drip coffee is better than percolator coffee. Still, there are people who will fight for percolator coffee.

Let’s break down the details and see the pros and cons of each brewing machine.

The history of percolator

It is arguably the oldest type of coffee brewing method. According to historical records, the percolator was invented by Count Rumford or also known as Benjamin Thompson, in 1753. He was an American soldier and inventor and he invented the percolator during his stint as the Minister of War for the British elector of Bavaria.

But it was not patented under his name. The first patent was awarded to James Mason for the percolator he made in 1865. The second patent went to Hanson Goodrich, a farmer who invented the stovetop percolator.

Americans fell in love with the concept of stovetop percolator. And it was so popular until the 1970s. Imagine, that’s almost a hundred years of percolator sovereignty.

But the popularity of percolator dwindled when drip coffee machine came in the picture.

The launch of the drip coffee machine

It was in 1954 when the world first saw the electrical drip brewer. The Wigomat was invented by Gottlob Widmann. He got the first patent for the drip coffee maker in Germany.

It was in the 1970s when drip coffee maker took over the coffee brewing world and replaced the percolator, due to the fact that it the boiling water over-extracted coffee making it bitter and burnt-tasting.

Percolator features

Percolator often refers to the type of pot used to brew coffee. The secret to percolator coffee is the boiling water that creates pressure as it passes through the coffee grounds to extract its flavor, taste and aroma.

Here are the main features of a percolator:

  • Brew quality – For percolator fans, you will hear them say that percolator coffee is more flavorful. They allude this to the pressure exerted by boiling water as it passes through the coffee grounds. Especially if you are using coarse ground coffee, the boiling water creates enough pressure to seep in between the particles of the ground coffee and extract all its flavor.
  • Durability – Percolator is made from aluminum/stainless steel. By principle, these materials are built to last for years and years. They don’t have any fancy parts or electronic parts. It is considered as a good initial investment for everyday home brewing.
  • Easy to use and clean – Brewing coffee with a percolator does not require much training. You just need to measure the correct ration of coffee grounds to water, turn on your stove and put the percolator or plug in the electric percolator and you will have freshly brewed coffee within minutes. After use, just rinse the percolator with water. For deep cleaning you can add some mild soap and rinse.

Drip coffee maker features

This is the most common type of coffee makers found in homes today. Most families get the 8 to 12 cups per carafe to maximize the use of the coffee maker.

Here are the main features of drip coffee maker:

  • Multi-function – Some models of drip coffee makers make coffee and dispense hot water for people who loves tea.
  • Carafe size – Drip machines come in 4, 6, 8 to 12-cup sizes. Some can even have two hot plates for two carafes.
  • Programmability – Some models are fully automatic. You can set it the night before and have it brewing your coffee on a specified time in the morning.
  • Flavor and temperature selections – You can also program the desired temperature and steeping time to create a more flavorful cup.
  • Carafe type – Most drip coffee machines have a glass carafe. But some model features insulated mugs for effective heat management.
  • Coffee grinder – Newer models feature a built-in coffee grinder.
  • Filter basket or paper filters – You can choose between getting a filter basket so you don’t have to buy paper filters. But be ready to clean it all the time.

Drip coffee maker or percolator: the verdict?

There will always be pros and cons when it comes to using different brewing methods. However, you can make a good choice if you consider certain factors, such as the following:

As they say, you can only tell one brewing method from the other if you try it and taste the resulting coffee. This is also true when it comes to choosing between drip coffee maker and percolator.

Drip coffee can preserve some of the subtle flavor and taste of coffee. You can still enjoy the fruity, floral or herbal notes of the coffee grounds you are using. Especially if you are using a permanent filter instead of a paper filter. Paper filter tends to absorb the flavor and you end up with a less bodied coffee.

Percolator takes pride in yielding a strong and bold cup of coffee. Thanks to the pressure exerted by the boiling water, water penetrates well on the coffee grounds and yields a nice, strong cup of Joe, perfect for kickstarting your day.

Both are convenient to use; but, a drip coffee is more convenient than stovetop percolator.

A drip coffee can be set to a certain time or a fully automatic drip coffee is as easy as click and brew. It turns off automatically when the brewing process is complete. You can leave it to brew, perform your task or daily morning routine and get back to it to enjoy a nice cup of coffee.

A percolator needs overseeing. Because it relies on boiling water, you need to check it from time to time until the water is boiling and making that “perk” sound. You can now turn it off, and pour the brewed coffee in your cup.

Handling and cleaning
Drip coffee is easy to operate. Likewise, the percolator is also easy to use. No rocket science here.

However, you need to be careful with a percolator, especially the stovetops, because some parts of it can be very hot to handle.

Meanwhile, you also need to be careful with a drip coffee because the carafe can be hot too.

The percolator is super easy to clean. You can run water, a little amount of dishwashing liquid, rinse well and you are done. You know that you can avoid getting stale coffee because all parts of the percolator can be washed with water.

The drip coffee is not that easy to clean. The carafe and the filter basket can be hand-washed. But the main chamber is should not be washed. Over time, minerals from water can build up and affect the taste of your coffee. You need to perform deep cleaning by using water and baking soda solution.

Price and affordability

No doubt both machines are very affordable. Either you buy will give you value for money.

In the end, it all boils down to you preference. If you want convenience, affordability and more flavorful coffee, go for the drip coffee brewer.

If you have more time and loves strong, full bodied coffee, go for a percolator coffee.

Differences Between Auto Drip Coffee Makers & Percolators

percolator vs drip coffeeIn our previous article, we compared two methods of brewing coffee, the French Press and the Coffee Percolator. Both methods have their own pros and cons.

In this article, however, we will discuss the Coffee Percolator a lot more and compare it with the coffee machine that ultimately put it out of business, the Automatic Drip Coffee maker.

It wasn’t long ago, maybe 40 years or so, that automatic drip coffee makers only started to replace percolators in America’s kitchens. It’s easy to use that as proof that drip is better but is that the case?

We don’t really think so.

A modern electric percolator like this bestselling Presto 12-cup model can make really good strong coffee in just a few minutes and then keep it warm just like a drip machine.

Which is better however is a personal preference.

The two types of coffee makers use differing approaches in brewing coffee but the drip coffee maker is so simple that maybe it came to dominance based merely on easy of use alone.

Stay with me; I’d like to let you in on a little secret…

Percolator vs Drip Coffee – How they are Different

differences between percolator and drip coffeeA coffee percolator is actually a lot like a drip coffee maker. Water heats up in the lower chamber and steam rises through the center funnel before condensing and dripping down through the grounds producing coffee in the lower chamber. At first percolator coffee is weaker than drip but it strengthens while it brews. With a percolator you can fine tune your coffee strength easily. Typically percolator coffee is unfiltered giving it more body than drip coffee.

The process is aided by a piece of metal with holes called a spreading plate. The spreading plate ensures that an equal amount of water goes through coarsely ground coffee beans. This ensures that an even taste is gathered.

Percolators these days are found easily in electric, stainless steel, aluminum, or even glass. For camping and general use around the home the Farberware Yosemite percolator is a really awesome value while this Farberware 12 cup model is good for larger batches of coffee and automatic features common in drip coffee makers.

One should be wary of temperature control when brewing with a percolator. This means keeping the temperature of the water hot but not boiling. It is necessary to keep maintain the temperature in the pot to avoid overcooking the beans inside the pot.

In our previously mentioned article above the Coffee Percolator was the most common way of brewing coffee in the US dating from the 1800s all the way up through the 1970s. Around the 70’s auto drip machines started overtaking percolators mostly because they were automatic, electric, and didn’t need to be babysat on the stovetop – never mind that that’s not the case any more.

Just like the French Press coffee ratios, when brewing using percolators similar ratios should also be kept in mind. The guide below gives a concrete example of how much coffee you should use per amount of coffee

  • 12 – 18 Cups Coffee = 1 – 1 1/4 Cups Grounds
  • 20 – 25 Cups Coffee = 1 1/4 – 1 1/2 Cups Grounds
  • 28 – 36 Cups Coffee = 1 1/2 – 2 Cups Grounds
  • 40 – 45 Cups Coffee = 2 – 2 1/2 Cups Grounds
  • 50 – 60 Cups Coffee = 3 – 4 Cups Grounds
  • 70 – 80 Cups Coffee = 4 1/2 – 5 Cups Grounds
  • 90 – 100 Cups Coffee = 5 1/2 – 6 1/4 Cups Grounds

Coffee Percolator Highlights

The Coffee Percolator is universally praised for its ability to brew a large batch of coffee with an even, consistent taste, something which other coffee brewing mechanisms are unable to do. Even more impressive is that the percolator is able to brew huge batches of consistently tasting coffee in such a short time. Thus, the percolator is very convenient during times when your friends drop by and you need to make a batch on the fly.

Percolators also some sort of versatility. Metal or glassware percolators can be used on a stovetop, microwave or over a campfire as many campers prefer. One should always consider the instructions stated along with their preferred method but the good part is that users are not limited to only one cooking appliance.

Some electric percolators come with their own heating device which is not a bad thing at all. Electric models actually make it a lot easier to control temperature and brew under the right amount of heat.

Click through to see some of the best percolators made today.

Is Percolator Coffee Stronger than Drip?

The percolator also produces a more robust tasting coffee compared to other brewing devices. This is mainly a result of the over extraction that the percolation process tends to have.

This over-extraction has everything to do with either:

  1. the length of time percolators brew compared to how much time they need to brew, or
  2. the level of heat a percolator is subjected to.

Since the beans are constantly being brewed in the high temperature of the pot, they develop a stronger, bitter flavor if that heat source is causing the water in the lower chamber to boil vigorously. In addition, the percolation process constantly reuses the body of water inside the pot. This means that the liquid, already with the coffee’s particles, flows back into the chamber where it passes through the coffee beans again.

Automatic Drip Coffee Maker

Before the drip coffee maker went automatic, coffee brewers used to drip coffee by using paper filters. The method was invented in 1908 by German housewife Melitta Bentz. The cupcake shaped filter held the coffee and allowed water to pass through it, making the first drip brews.

The Automatic Drip Coffeemaker, also known as dripolators, simply automates this process. Basically, the coffee maker contains a reservoir where water is held. An aluminium tube which is attached to a heating element carries the hot water from the reservoir to the drip area, the area where coffee is placed. This method is referred to as thermosiphoning. A showerhead is connected to the tube carrying the hot water and this sprays the hot water all over the collection of beans. Finally, the water passes through the beans, turning it into coffee and this is placed in the pot where we pour our nice cup of Joe.

Related Reading – See our french press vs drip coffee article to compare two super common brewing techniques.

How the Automatic Drip Coffee Killed the Percolator

Comparing the Coffee Percolator and the Automatic Drip Coffee Maker, one can say that the processes are actually similar. Both approaches have a similar setup wherein water and coffee are stored in separate areas. Both approaches utilize the dripping of hot water to make coffee. The only difference is that the percolator reuses the coffee to produce steam and dripping factor unlike the Automatic Drip method where in water passes once and brews the coffee.

Why then did people prefer the Automatic Drip over the Percolator?

Well, simply put, the former is found to be more convenient as compared to the latter. As discussed above, users have to manually maintain the temperature in percolators by toning down the heat. The Automatic Drip does this…automatically. One can just sit back and relax while waiting for the machine to finish brewing.

Secondly, many people favor the taste of automatic drip brews more over percolators. Since the water in the Automatic Drip passes through the coffee once, this lessens the strength of the coffee. Also, since the beans are kept in a separate chamber in Automatic brews, they are not over extracted. The resulting coffee thus tastes smoother as compared to percolator brews.

To each his own…

If you are one of those people that like lighter coffee then you will probably prefer drip coffee. We have a few pages on this site where we talk about some of our favorite drip coffee makers. We particularly like these single cup or full pot coffee makers for maximum versatility.

We also love the idea of having coffee makers with built in grinders in the kitchen and we’re sure you would too. Give them a look and see what you think.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

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