Percolator vs. Drip Coffee: Taste, Preparation, How to Make

As a coffee lover on the search for a coffee maker that makes the best cup of Joe, you will plausibly come across percolators and drip coffee makers given that they are two of the most popular coffee brewing methods.

While the percolators are more traditional coffee brewers that have been in use for more than a century and drip coffee makers are a more recent invention, many coffee drinkers still find it harder to choose between them.

Both make some amazing coffee and each has its own pros and cons, and understanding them is the only way to choose what brewing method will work best for you.

With our detailed comparison below, you should have more than enough information to confidently choose your ideal coffee making method.

Comparison Chart

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Percolator

Drip Coffee

Origins

USA, 1865

USA, the 1970s

Ideal Grind Size

Coarse

Medium or fine

How Coffee is Made

Add  water to the pot, add grinds to basket, insert hollow tube and place pot over heat source to brew

Fill up water tank, add grinds to the filter and then push the start button for brewing to begin

Brew Time

5-10 minutes

Around 5 minutes

Brew Capacity

2-12 cups

2-16 cups

Coffee Flavor

Stronger

Milder

Percolator vs. Drip Coffee

Percolators and drip coffee makers are quite straightforward methods of making coffee, but they work differently and will also produce different brew quality and taste. There is still a lot more to them but the points below should make their differences clear enough.

1. Overview and Origin

The coffee making method that you choose between the percolator and drip coffee maker will ultimately depend on your preferences. However, as you try to make up your mind, you should always start by understanding what each is all about and where it originates from.

Percolator

Percolator

Coffee percolators have been universally praised for their ability to make lots of coffee at a go and are often one of the most preferred methods for making coffee for large groups.

A typical percolator will consist of a larger metal pot, a basket for the grinds and a hollow metal tube at the center. And it is a more manual method of making coffee that requires you to add water and grounds to respective chambers and place the pot over a stove or plug it in if it is an electric model.

Percolators have been in use in American homes for more than a century now, and many people remember them for the bubbling sound that they make when brewing coffee.

These traditional coffee makers were invented by an American soldier between 1810 and 1814 but patented in the USA by James Mason in 1865 before being adapted to stove-top coffee makers in 1889.

The percolator continued to be a staple in American kitchens since its invention and only faded away in the 1970s when the automatic drip coffee makers came into the picture.

Drip Coffee

Drip Coffee

Drip coffee makers are more automated coffee makes that will consist of a built-in water tank, heating element and will use paper filters to hold coffee grounds. Hot water then uses gravity to flow through the fine or medium coffee grinds to make coffee.

With these coffee makers the process is mostly automated, and so you can expect more consistent results. This consistency and reliability are what makes it a little more popular than the percolator.

The drip coffee makers have been around for a little over four decades given that they came into the brewing world in the 1970s. However, despite being relatively new, they have almost completely taken over from the traditional percolators.

2. How to Make Coffee

Whether you have the best coffee maker or not, coffee making will always boil down to knowing how to use the machine to make great coffee. With percolators and drip coffee makers, this is still the case and although they employ different brewing mechanisms, both are still quite easy to use.

How a Percolator Works

Percolators are hard to miss when making coffee as they produce a distinct bubbling sound which emanates from the boiling water and hollow tube at its center.

These coffee makers work by forcing the boiling water up through the center tube and onto the coffee grounds on the basket. The coffee maker cycles the water through the coffee grounds several times to create a strong and robust brew.

Here is a step by step breakdown of how to make coffee on a percolator.

Step 1: Add water to the pot up the maximum level

Step 2: Fill the basket with coarsely ground coffee

Step 3: Put the percolator on the stove or plug it in if it is an electric model

Step 4: Allow it to brew for 5-10 minutes

Step 5: Pour coffee into a cup while hot

How Drip Coffee Works

Unlike the percolator, an automatic drip coffee maker will provide a quieter brewing experience, but given that it still has a motor it will still make some noise.

Also, drip coffee makers will only pass the water through the grinds once which means that the resulting brew will be milder. When using a drip coffee maker, here are the steps to follow.

Step 1: Fill up the water tank

Step 2: Add medium or fine coffee grounds to the filter (grind size depends on the filter type)

Step 3: Place the carafe under the filter basket (below the dispenser)

Step 4: Push the brew button or switch and coffee should be ready in around 5 minutes

3. Brewing Capacity

The brewing capacity of both the percolator and drip coffee maker will vary according to the model and manufacturer.

Typically, percolators are associated with making coffee for larger groups because most models for home use should make 12-cups of coffee with ease and on one go. However, you can still get smaller models designed to make as little as two cups of coffee.

With the drip coffee maker, an affordable model for home use is only good enough for making coffee for around two people. But, these coffee makers are also available in different capacities as you can get models that can make anywhere from 1 to 16 cups of coffee at a go. The only catch with drip coffee makers is that the high capacity ones can be quite pricey.

4. Ease of Portability

If you are on the market for a coffee maker that you can easily carry around or tag along with you for your camping trips and outdoor excursions, a percolator is your best bet.

Stovetop percolators will not require any electricity to work which means that you can make coffee by simply placing the percolator over the campfire.

Given that percolators are mostly metal and with no delicate or fragile components, you can easily pack and transport them. And the metal is also rugged enough to withstand the abuse that comes with traveling and outdoor use.

With the drip coffee maker, on the other hand, the machine is relatively bulkier and hence harder to carry around, and you can only use it where there is electricity. But, the good news is that a simple and more portable manual pour-over setup can also make some kind of drip coffee.

5. Ease of Use and Cleaning

Both percolator and drip coffee makers do not take a lot of effort to use. With the percolator, filling up the respective compartments with water and coffee and then putting the pot in a heat source is probably all you need to do.

While still on percolators, you should not take your eyes off the pot to avoid over-extraction which can easily happen and lead to bitter tasting coffee. And this means that percolators will require a little more work.

Drip coffee making, on the other hand, the machine does everything for you once you fill it with water and add coffee grounds, and there is little likelihood of over-extraction.

For the ease of cleaning, the percolator takes the day as most can be easily taken apart for a thorough cleaning, unlike a drip coffee maker which is only cleaned by brewing a cleaning solution.

6. Brew Strength and Flavor

Percolators will generally provide a stronger coffee given that water runs through the coffee several times. But with a drip coffee maker, the brew will be milder because water only flows through the finely ground coffee once.

Also, with a percolator, there is no paper filter which can trap the mineral oils that are responsible for coffee's rich flavor. However, several cycles of water through the coffee can mean that percolator coffee will not have enough flavor depth due to over-extraction.

Brews from a drip coffee maker will be lighter and will have a smoother mouthfeel and you can taste more subtleties in the flavor.

Which Makes Better Coffee?

Both percolator and drip coffee maker are relatively affordable coffee makers that will make amazing brews that will suit the tastes of different people.

If you are looking for a coffee maker that makes big batches of stronger coffee and is designed to be more travel-friendly, a percolator will work best for you.

However, if you hate the bitter taste of over-extracted coffee, are looking for an easier to use coffee maker and want to get maximum depth of flavor, go for a drip coffee maker.

Read More: French Press vs. Drip Coffee