Percolator Vs Drip (Which Brewing Method Makes The Best Cup?)

Coffee is the second most consumed beverage in the world, after water, and is drunk in literally every country in the world. It has a long history, but coffee really exploded in the 20th Century with more brewing methods, flavors, and styles available than ever before. As a result, we now live in an age where there are infinite coffee possibilities, and it can sometimes be difficult to tell different types of coffee apart.  

Percolator and drip are two of the most popular styles of brewing. This guide will help give the breakdown of percolator vs. drip coffee, the similarities and differences, and the pros and cons of each method.  

Percolators are regarded as the tried and tested method for brewing coffee. First invented in the 1800s by Count Rumford, the percolator has stood the test of time because it’s effective and simple. They come in all shapes and sizes, but they are regarded as giving a consistently good brew no matter where you are.  

Percolators are made up of a metal kettle with a metal tray for your coffee grounds, and a thin tube for the water to travel up. The percolator is placed directly on a heat source, typically a hob or a fire, and as the water heats, it travels up through the pipe and flows through the coffee grounds to give you your brewed coffee. You can then just pour it out into your cup and enjoy. 

Percolated coffee is regarded as one of the less sophisticated brewing methods. You end up with a stronger, bolder, and more bitter coffee than other methods, which is probably why there is a divide in opinion over it. Percolators are popular with some old school people and are often used by those who are traveling or camping because of the simplicity of the process.  

There are two main types of percolators to choose from: 

Electric/Automatic  

Electric percolators are like a cross between a kettle and a coffee machine. They have a base that plugs into your mains and provides the source of heat for the water. This allows it to travel up the pipe and brew the coffee. This has its advantages because it removes the requirement for an external heat source which can be a bit of a hazard. It also means you don't have to monitor the percolator to stop the coffee from burning or overflowing, allowing you to just switch a button and wait until the coffee is done.  

Manual  

Manual percolators are really simple to use but do need a heat source. You simply add the coffee grounds, put the percolator on the hob or over a grill on an outdoor flame, and wait for the water to heat. You will need to watch the percolator so you can take it off the heat when it's ready, or you can end up ruining the coffee. This is a slightly more hands-on method but allows you full control of the process from start to finish. A manual percolator should only take 2-3 minutes for the coffee to be ready.  

coffee cup with spoon

Pros & Cons Of Using Percolators 

Advantages 

  • Long-Lasting
    A percolator is made to be durable and could last you a lifetime if you look after it.
  • Affordable
    Percolators can be purchased for under $20, making them great value for money.
  • Portable
    Percolators are lightweight and easy to move from place to place. They're a great option for traveling or camping.
  • Gives You Control
    You can control the brew time and customize the coffee to meet your style.
  • Strong
    Percolated coffee is much stronger than drip coffee and gives you a bigger caffeine boost.
  • Fast Brewing
    Percolated coffee can be ready in 2-3 minutes. Great for those who need caffeine fast.

Disadvantages 

  • Bitter Taste
    Percolated coffee can be pretty bitter, and it's more of an acquired taste.
  • Small Capacity
    Percolators generally only make 1 or 2 cups at a time. Perfect for single-person use but not for a group.
  • Hands-On
    You need to be quite hands-on to brew percolated coffee. It isn't difficult, but you can't just push a button and walk away.

Drip Coffee Makers: How Do They Work? 

Drip coffee is the industry standard for coffee really, and that's no bad thing. In fact, it shows just how effective a brewing method it is, and you’ll see an electric drip coffee machine in almost every home.  

Drip coffee was invented by Melitta Bentz in 1908, who punched holes in a tin cup and used blotting paper as a filter. She let water flow through the coffee grounds into a cup and created a fantastically simple way to brew coffee. The percolator was already over 100 years old when this method was invented but suddenly percolated coffee had competition.  

The method has been refined over the years, and the first electric drip coffee machine was invented in 1954 by Gottlob WidmanThe method itself is very simple. Pressure and heat are applied to cold water, which is then dripped down onto the coffee grounds and passed through a filter into your cup or jug. All the water passes through the middle of the grounds (rather than the pour over technique where the water is moved by hand), and this gives an even taste to the coffee.  

Drip coffee is popular because it’s so accessible. It’s used in coffee shops to give a quick, authentic taste, and it’s used at home for the exact same reasons. It’s also one of the cheapest brewing methods (outside the cost of the machine) because filters and grounds are only a few cents per cup. Drip coffee gives you an even, well-rounded and simple taste which makes it perfect for all coffee drinkers.  

white drip coffee maker

Pros & Cons Of Using A Drip Coffee Maker 

Advantages 

  • Consistent
    Drip coffee machines will give you a pretty much identical coffee every single time.
  • Simple
    Drip coffee machines are entirely foolproof, so anyone can use them.
  • Good Taste
    Drip coffee is well rounded and full-bodied, perfect for any coffee drinker.
  • Large Capacity
    A drip coffee maker can give you 10-14 cups at a time, making it well suited for busy homes or offices. 
  • Convenient
    You can make a drip coffee at the push of a button, making it completely hassle-free.

Disadvantages 

  • Expensive
    Drip coffee machines are cheap to run but can be expensive to purchase.
  • Not Portable
    You can't move your drip coffee machine easily, and some units are surprisingly heavy.
  • Maintenance Required
    To keep your drip coffee making working correctly, you'll need to put some time into maintaining it.

Percolator Vs. Drip: Which Makes The Best Cup Of Joe? 

There’s actually a lot of similarities between the two brewing techniques, along with a few key differences. We’ve given a quick breakdown of the key factors below so you can make an informed decision: 

1. Coffee Taste 

Drip coffee offers a much simple and well-rounded taste. It has good flavor, but it's smooth and easy to drink, making it a much gentler way to start the day than some alternatives. Percolated coffee is much rougher and can even come across as bitter. This is because the coffee flavor can be over-extracted due to the simpler brewing technique.  

2. Coffee Strength  

Percolated coffee is stronger than drip coffee and has a more noticeable caffeine kick. An 8-ounce serving of percolated coffee will contain about 200mg of caffeine, whereas an 8 ounce drip coffee will only have about 95mg. You can balance this out by using caffeine-rich grounds in your drip coffee, but typically you should expect a much bigger kick from percolated.  

3. Brewing Convenience 

Drip coffee machines aren't too difficult to use, but you need to set them up correctly. There's also some regular maintenance involved to keep them working efficiently. Percolators are pretty much as basic and as simple as it gets because you little just whack it on the heat and leave it. Percolators definitely win in this category.  

4. Brewing Time 

Percolated coffee will take anywhere from 2-10 minutes to brew, and this will be heavily influenced by the heat source you’re using for the water and the amount of water being boiled. Drip coffee takes about 4-6 minutes though this will be influenced by the make and model of the machine you're using. If you're making a single cup, then percolated is a lot quicker than drip.  

5. Brewing Capacity 

Percolators are generally only made in small sizes and are designed to be quite portable. This makes them unsuitable for a big crowd unless you’ve bought a specifically large model. Drip coffee machines come in literally all shapes and sizes, and they can make 10-14 cups at a time. If you’re catering for a lot of coffee drinkers, then drip coffee machines are a better choice for you.  

6. Coffee Grind Size 

The size of the coffee grind you use will impact the ability of the water to pick up the flavor. If you use fine grinds, then the water only needs to pass through it quickly, but courser coffee grinds need to sit in the water for longer. Drip coffee uses a medium/fine coffee grind because water passes through it quite quickly. Percolators use a thicker, courser coffee grind because the water has more time to absorb the flavor.  

7. Portability 

Drip coffee machines aren't portable at all. They need to be set up and plugged in pretty much all the time, so you shouldn't expect to be able to take it with you easily. Percolators, on the other hand, are designed with portability in mind. They are lightweight and easy to use in all locations, making them perfect for trips away and camping excursions.  

8. Ease Of Cleaning 

Drip coffee machines are generally easier to clean. You’ll only really have to focus on the coffee pot and some of the other elements that can be hand washed pretty easily, but you will need to put some time to maintain the machine. Percolators aren’t too difficult to clean, but because they're typically made of metal, the coffee can stain easily. You'll need to make sure you wash them soon after every use and soak them every 2-3 uses, so there are no stains on the interior of the percolator.  

9. Purchase Price Range 

Percolators are far cheaper than drip coffee machines. A basic percolator can be purchased for less than $20, and even the expensive models won’t get much higher than $70. For a high-end drip coffee machine, you're looking at spending hundreds of dollars, and even the cheap options will be over $50. If you want a cheap coffee brewer, then the percolator is for you.  

10. Length Of Use  

Percolators win in this category because they are designed to last. In fact, a good percolator could last you a lifetime because of the simplicity of the device and the materials used. Drip coffee machine's longevity is influenced by the make and model of your machine. A good machine will last 5-10 years, but you will need to put the time in to maintain it. 


Popular Alternative Option: French Press Method 

french press with mug

French press is another popular brewing method that is an alternative to percolators or drip methods. The technique has been around for a long time and offers another simple way to make coffee. The device itself is made up of a large coffee pot style device and a metal plunger. The coffee grounds are put in the base of the French press, and boiling water is added. A filter is attached to the bottom of the plunger in the device, and as you press it down, it forces the water and grounds to combine and allows the water to pick up the flavor but filters out the bits themselves.  

French press coffee has a more complex flavor than drip or percolated coffee. It's richer than drip coffee with a lot more depth of flavor but less robust than percolated coffee which can be quite rich. French press is a sort of halfway house between drip coffee and percolated coffee in terms of taste, but it takes a little more effort to make.  

French press is a popular method with coffee enthusiasts because it gives you more control than drip or percolated coffee. You can decide how long to steep the grounds, the thickness of grounds used, and the exact temperature of the water. This makes it less well suited for simple coffee drinkers who might typically opt for drip or percolated.  


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can I use a filter in a percolator? 

Yes. Specialized percolators have been created, which allow you to use a filter in the brewing process. This helps remove some of the grounds and the bitterness from the coffee.  

How do you keep coffee grounds out of a percolator? 

The best way to prevent grounds out of your percolator is to use course grounds. These are less likely to get picked up by the water as it flows through the device.  

Why does my percolator make weak coffee? 

Percolators typically make very strong hot, strong coffee. If it's coming out weaker, then the water probably isn’t enough. Always aim to get your percolator to 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit to brew the coffee correctly.  

How many times can you use drip coffee? 

Grounds in a drip coffee machine should never be used more than twice. Past this point, you won't get the flavor or caffeine in your coffee. 

How much coffee do you put in a drip coffee maker? 

As a rule, you want to put in 1-2 tablespoons of ground coffee per six ounces of water. 


Conclusion

Percolated coffee and drip coffee are more different than you might realize. Drip coffee has a more well-rounded, even taste which makes it well suited for casual coffee drinkers. Percolated coffee has a rougher, more bitter taste which is better suited for those who like a strong kick.  

If you want a hassle-free morning brew with no issues or stress, then you can't beat a drip coffee machine because it's completely foolproof. If you want a strong, hot, jolt you awake style of coffee, then percolated coffee is more up your street. 

With coffee, there's no right or wrong answer, but hopefully, this article has given you all the information you need to choose between percolated and drip coffee.