The French Press vs. Coffee Percolator – The Differences Explained

french press vs percolator coffeeDid you know that the percolator was first invented somewhere around 1810 by a man who didn’t like tea and wanted to promote a drink other than alcohol?

I though this was funny because my wife drinks a lot of tea and we always have lighthearted arguments over which is better.

In any event the percolator’s first patents came in the mid-to-late 1800’s where the device (in it’s various forms at the time) was sold to households for the purpose of making coffee. It quickly became the most common method of brewing coffee in American’t homes… at least until the 1970s.

These days there are many different styles of percolators and they are better made now than ever before. Our favorite here at Top Off My Coffee is:

You have to think that a coffee brewing technique that was dominantly used for roughly three to four generations in our country has to have some serious advantages over modern techniques like drip coffee, stovetop espresso, and french press coffee.

Want to know exactly when we recommend the percolator over the french press? I’ll explain, stick with me.

What’s the Difference Between French Press and Percolator Coffee

In today’s article, we will compare these two coffee brewing methods. They each have distinct approaches towards coffee and they each have their own pros and cons.

Let’s Start With the French Press

This coffee maker is known by many other names such as cafetière, сafetière à piston, Cafeteria, press pot, coffee press, or coffee plunger depending on which part of the world one is using this pot.

The French Press is not really as commonly used as other kinds of coffee-making apparatuses (which will be discussed in later articles). Nonetheless, the French Press provides many a unique characteristics which many coffee aficionados find highly useful.

To begin with, the French Press is basically a cylindrical container, commonly made of glass, and a lid with a movable plunger right in the middle. One end of the plunger contains a fine mesh, circular in shape, which takes the shape of the circumference of the container. The cylindrical container also has a beak through which the freshly-brewed coffee passes through.

Our favorite french press is the Espro Press (Insulated) which is designed to keep all grind particles, no matter how small, out of your cup of coffee. You can see our list of large french presses here for more variety.

Since everyone knows what drip coffee is and how it is made I recommend you checking out our french press vs drip article to understand a bit more about what french press coffee is.

Does the French Press Make Better Coffee?

Achieving the right quality of coffee using this device begins with the coffee beans themselves. French Press brews require a coarser grind of coffee beans because the mesh will be unable to sift through the coffee bean and water mixture, leading to a very strong and poor-tasting brew. Related, the liquid will become much thicker, causing the user to push harder on the plunger and consequently increasing the risk of injury.

It is highly recommended that the grind be somewhere between the size of steel cut oats and coarse salt. Also, users should take into consideration the size of their French Press. The rule of thumb is 2 grams of coffee per ounce. For example, a 30 ounce French Press should ideally contain 60 grams of coffee.

The ground coffee is placed inside the container. One then pours an amount of hot water on the beans, enough to submerge it. The mixture is given half a minute to allow the coffee to saturate, a term called offcasting. Once the 30 seconds has passed, the user then proceeds to fill up the container with water. Remember, another golden rule in this method is the 1:10 coffee to water ratio. This means that for every gram of coffee, there are 10 grams of water. In our example, we would then use 600 grams of water.

Once all the water has been poured into the container, let it sit for 3 to 3 and a half minutes. This amount of time enables the coffee to extract the full flavor from the coffee beans. The user then places the lid with the mesh or filter. The plunger is then pushed down towards the bottom until all the beans have been collected. With the extraction process done, the brewer can now serve the fresh coffee.

Related – Check out the following posts to see my favorite insulated French presses and the largest French presses I’ve experimented with.

Three common mistakes in French Press brewing

As discussed above, using the French Press isn’t rocket science. It’s pretty easy, actually. Still, a fresh cup may still not turn out the way you like it primarily due to three common mistakes.

Firstly, one may not grind the beans properly. For novice brewers, this is an error which can only be avoided through practice. A smart tip is to notice how easy/difficult it is to push down the plunger. A grind too fine will require excess push and you’ll notice it. A grind too coarse will cause the plunger to go straight down without the least bit of effort.

Secondly, many people are unable to follow the ratios. Remember, 2 grams per ounce and 1:10 coffee to water ratio. Of course there is a little room for alteration but anything in excess will surely ruin the taste of the brew.

Lastly, users forget to transfer the coffee out of the press and into the cup immediately. Keep in mind that as long as the coffee is still in the pot, the beans are still being brewed. As a result, this may cause the brewed coffee to taste bitter.

Does the Coffee Percolator Make Stronger Coffee?

According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of the word percolate is to pass slowly through something that has many holes in it. From this definition, we get an idea of how a Coffee Percolator works.

The percolator was the most commonly used method of brewing coffee in the United States, until the Mr. Coffee drip coffee machine came out in the market in the 70s and killed it. In fact, the term “cup of Joe” originated when famous baseball player Joe Dimaggio endorsed the Mr. Coffee product. Since then, it was a rare sight to see people brewing through percolators.

See this post for the differences between percolators and drip coffee makers.

Basically, the ground coffee, course like in the French Press, is placed on an elevated filter with a column in the middle. This column is where the steam generated by the boiling water underneath the elevated area where the coffee is placed. A spreading plate, a tin sheet of metal to facilitate the spread of condensation on to the ground coffee beans, is placed on top of the chamber where the coffee is.

Eventually, the water will pass through the coffee beans and back on to the hot body of water, essentially turning it into coffee.

Which Brewing Method is Better for You

From a yield standpoint, the percolator is much better since it can make more cups of coffee as compared to the French Press since the pot used in percolating is much larger. This makes it more convenient to make numerous cups of coffee and in a shorter amount of time as well.

Taste-wise, it really depends on the drinker. Between the two, the best stovetop percolators produce a more robust, stronger taste of coffee since the roasted beans are essentially being roasted again by being placed in what is basically a pressure cooker. This then contributes to a stronger taste.

Meanwhile, the beans of French Press brews are not subjected to the same amount of heat and time in the percolator process so the strength of the coffee can only be so strong.

Percolator and French Press Coffee Compared

Percolator coffee and French press coffee are both great types of coffee, but have you ever wondered how they are different? Although the methods vary quite a bit, the resulting coffee is surprisingly similar in some ways.

Percolator coffee is a bit of an older style of coffee, whereas French press coffee, although somewhat old, has risen greatly in popularity, in recent times. Gamble Bay Coffee is one of the best sources for coffee knowledge you can find and is here to talk about these two methods.

Whether you prefer Percolator coffee or French press coffee, they aren’t all that different from one another, although the processes are.

Let’s look at how these two methods are different.

How are Percolated Coffee and French Press Coffee Different?

PercolatorBefore we look at each of these methods, individually, it would be helpful to go over how they are different.

  • Percolator coffee runs through multiple cycles, while French press coffee runs through a single brewing step.
  • Although both of these methods require babysitting, the percolator coffee is much more customizable. Since the latter runs through multiple cycles, you can stop it whenever you want to get a specific strength in your coffee.
  • Because of the way a percolator is built, the temperature has to be managed and kept at a certain point to avoid burning the beans, while this is not a problem for French press coffee.

So, while both of these coffees require attention and work to make sure they are brewed properly, I would say percolator coffee is much easier to mess up. Most of the time, if you mess up with the French press coffee, you will still be able to drink it, afterwards, whereas messing up with percolator coffee could ruin it, altogether.

Before we move on to the specifics of each brewing method you may want to see one of these post:

Now, let’s look at these brewing methods on an individual level.

Is French Press Coffee Better than Percolator Coffee?

french-pressIn many ways, yes. Although the end product is quite similar in strength, French press coffee gets more of the beneficial stuff out of coffee that percolators simply can’t obtain.

French press coffee uses more of a tight basket filter to allow some of the finer grinds, as well as the oils and minerals from the beans, to flow into the coffee. Doing this gives French press coffee more of a refined and unique taste than percolator coffee.

If you don’t like the “body” of a french press there are also some great coffee presses with double filtration too!

We know that spending a fortune on an automatic grinder and a fancy French press is not feasible for everyone, so for most people, a good manual grinder like this JavaPresse will work just fine.

However, if you can spare the cash for a higher quality home grinder, and you are looking for something different, we have a page on manual grinders here and another page on the best automatic grinders here.

The grinds help give a bold taste and texture to the coffee while also giving it a natural, “fresh coffee” fragrance that you just don’t get from regular brewing. The downside is that for some people this bold taste is a little too much.

The bold taste in French press coffee is different from the strength of the coffee that percolator coffee generally has behind it.

Although it is somewhat time-consuming to brew it, the satisfaction you feel from having a properly brewed cup of hot French press coffee is what makes it so worth it.

Also, unlike percolators there are super convenient travel coffee presses that make making good coffee easy when on the road.

Is Percolator Coffee Better than French Press Coffee?

percolator-coffeeI would have to say no.

Percolator coffee does get more usage out of coffee grinds, since it runs multiple cycles on the same grinds; however, it does not achieve the same effect the French press coffee does, since percolators use paper filters to separate the grinds, rather than a basket like the French press.

A percolator uses a series of chambers similar to a stainless steel moka pot.

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

Now you might think that because of the way that this is done that 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 the 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 roughly equal with that of espresso.

Earlier, I said it requires a bit of management. By this, I was referring to the temperature.

The water in the percolator needs to be kept at a consistent temperature, just below boiling.

The reason for this is because the beans and the water are kept in the same chamber. If the heat is too high, the beans get burned and, thus, will ruin the coffee. This is very easy to mess up if you are using a stovetop percolator, while electric percolators generally have a maximum temperature they can reach 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 reasonably affordable and is well worth the cash for a stovetop type. 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.

>> See the Strongest K-Cup Coffee Pods Made Today

Which of the Two is Best?

french-press-and-percolator-coffeeOverall, I would definitely say that French press coffee is the best choice of the two. Since both methods require time and care in the mornings to be crafted suitably, French press coffee is more worth the time. On the other hand, I will say that the difference in the type of “strength” in the two types of coffee may decide your own preference.

French press coffee has a bold, more natural oil flavor to it. Percolator coffee’s strong taste is from the sheer amount of coffee in it. French press coffee also has more health benefits because of the unfiltered minerals it has in it versus Percolator coffee.

One other things as of yet mentioned has to do with volume. The largest french press coffee makers only make about 51 oz or so. If you want to make a lot of coffee at once then you can’t beat a coffee urn which can make a lot of coffee at once. They are called urns but they really are just really large electric percolators.

In the end, it depends on the way you like your coffee. However, as I stated early on, you can manage the strength of percolator coffee and stop it at any point during the cycles to get your desired strength. Regardless, it still lacks the benefits of French press coffee that I believe make that process worth the effort.

Percolator vs French Press Coffee While Camping: What’s Best?

Do you love camping?

Do you love drinking coffee?

It would be double the fun if you can go camping and enjoy great tasting coffee while surrounded by natural scenery. You get the best of both worlds.

Now, the question is, what type of brewing machine can you bring outdoors?

Without a brewing machine, you can always make coffee with the so-called cowboy style.

How do you that?

  1. You build a bonfire as a source of heat.
  2. Perch a pot with water and let it boil.
  3. Add your coffee grounds.
  4. Let it roll for up to 60 seconds.
  5. Remove from heat and pour into cups.

Now, you can enjoy hot coffee. Notice that it’s just hot coffee. Don’t expect flavorful, aromatic and bold tasting coffee. It’s a crude way to prepare coffee. But if you don’t have any choice, it is good enough.

However, you have really great choices when it comes to using a brewing machine even if you are outdoors.

Factors to Consider When Brewing Coffee Outdoors

Before you buy a brewing machine for your next camping, take a look at these things to consider:

  • Heat source

Remember that when you are outdoor, you have limited sources for heat. You can bring a portable gas stove, like butane powered one-burner. Or you can always build a bonfire and get a fire ready when you need it. In this case, think about the heat requirement of your coffee machine. Does it need direct heat? Does it require gas or electricity? If it needs electricity, you will be in big trouble. Better to leave that drip coffee machine at home.

  • Durability

When outdoors, you can be subject to various conditions beyond your control. You need a durable and sturdy coffee brewing device to withstand any possible hard fall and bumps. Choose something that is made from aluminum and steel. This way, you know that your brewer is safe even if your bags accidentally fall.

  • Easy to clean

Supplies are limited when you are camping. The water source may be limited or the nearest river is still a few minutes away from the campsite. Therefore, you need a brewer that is easy to maintain. Better yet, bring a brewer that only needs a few water for rinsing.

  • Size

Depending on the number of campers, you will most likely need a coffee machine that can make at least 4 cups of coffee. If you are expecting a bigger crowd, go for a 12-cup coffee brewer so that you don’t have to make coffee several times. If there will be left over coffee, make sure to bring an insulated mug to keep the coffee hot.

Now that you have these things in mind, it’s time to choose between a percolator and a French press.

How Does a Percolator Work?

Using a percolator is the most traditional way of preparing brewed coffee. Some of the admirable features of a percolator are as follows:

  • 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.

The percolator is easy to use. Just fill the jug with water. Follow the dotted lines painted or stamped on the percolator’s jug. This helps avoid water spilling during the boiling process. Insert the stem. Put the basket under the knob. If you have filter, put it on the basket and add the coffee grounds.

As the water heats up, it starts to bubble and creates a little pressure. The bubbling water enters the stem and spills over the over basket and pushing through the grounds. Once the water starts bubbling, reduce the heat to avoid burning the coffee.

How Does a French Press Work?

The French press is a household favorite too. It’s very easy to use and requires minimal effort. It also helps if you have a ready hot water because it can quickly reduce the prep time when using a French press.

Why is French press loved by many? Here are the main reasons:

  • French press retains the flavor and aroma that coffee is known for. Paper filters used in almost all coffee makers take out the flavor and oils. Just like in any good food, the fats and oils hold the flavor and when heated, the flavors burst out. French press allows you to enjoy the flavor and the tiny coffee ground that goes into your cup adds to the great tasting coffee up to the last drop.
  • French press allows steeping. Just like with any good tea, to get the full body flavor, taste and aroma of coffee, allow it to steep for up to 4 minutes. Steeping allows water to penetrate the cells of the coffee grounds and get it ready for extracting the coffee when pressed.
  • French press gives you a full cup. Everything is in the cup. All the flavors and aroma are extracted to make one of the best homemade coffee.
  • French press saturates all the coffee grounds. Unlike with a drip machine or percolator, the hot water just passes through the coffee grounds. With the steeping process of the French press, you know that all coffee grounds are penetrated with water. When you add the pressure of the plunger, you extract real coffee goodness.
  • French press can help you make espresso. With the right coffee roast and grind, you can recreate your own espresso at home. If you love espresso to the moon, you’ll love owning a French press at home.

When using a French press, simply place the grounds at the bottom of the carafe. Use coarse grounds for better flavor. Add hot water. Place the plunger but do not push yet. Steep the coffee for 3 to 4 minutes. This will help the coffee bloom so you can get a full bodied coffee. After this, press the plunger down in one consistent motion.

Percolator vs French Press: The Verdict

The French press may be easy to use and convenient because you don’t need to look for any heat source. However, remember that you will need hot water to make coffee. Unless you have a ready hot water, the French press is a good choice.

But, in reality, you will always have to find a way to heat water when camping. In this sense, the percolator is your best option. You can easily place it on top of heat source and let it boil. In few minutes, you can now enjoy a good cup of freshly brewed coffee. The good thing too is that the percolator can double as a pot and water boiler. It is very handy and multi-tasking.

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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