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

Coffee is the second most popular drink in the world, but there are so many ways to make it it's hard to know which is best.

Drip and percolator coffee and two popular brewing methods, and both can give you a quick, clean cup of coffee. However, while there are some similarities between these brews, there are also some key differences. 

In this guide we'll give the full percolator vs drip coffee breakdown so you can decide which is best for you. 

A coffee percolator and drip machine both make coffee - so what's the difference? Well, even though they both pour water over coffee grounds, the techniques are quite different. 

Here are the main differences which separate drip and percolator coffee:

1. Brewing Process

Fundamentally, the two processes are pretty similar as water is poured through coffee grounds to create your brew. However there are a few key differences.

With drip, the water only cycles through the grounds once. The drip coffee maker directs the hot water to fall right through the grounds and collect as coffee in a coffee pot or jug. 

A percolator works by cycling hot water through the grounds many times. The water is heated and cool several times and channeled through a tube system over the grounds more than once. This is what makes it a stronger cup of coffee. 

2. Brewing Equipment

The brewed coffee is made differently, so it makes sense they both use different equipment. 

Drip coffee makers are used for drip brewed coffee. These are all electrical and modern drip coffee makers come in all shapes and sizes, with a water reservoir on the back.

Percolated coffee is made with a coffee percolator. You can get electrical or stovetop percolators, but they are all coffee pots with a chamber for grounds, a water chamber, and a steam tube to drip water through the grounds. 

When comparing a percolator vs drip coffee maker there are some key differences between the two machine, but most notably, drip machines are more mainstream and you'll see them everywhere. Percolators are a bit more niche, but not too difficult to find. 

3. Brewing Convenience 

Most drip coffee makers are really simple to use. You just load up the grounds, pour in the hot water, and flick a button. In a few minutes you'll have coffee brewed for your to enjoy. Most drip machines will also have a warming plate to keep the coffee warm in the jug for hours.

Percolator coffee machines are a bit more hands on. The concept is simple, but because you use an external heating energy it's easier to burn the coffee which can make it really bitter. However, if you're using an electric percolator then you won't have this issue. 

Drip machines can take some time to set up, but are generally better for beginners. Coffee percolators are better suited for experienced coffee enthusiasts.

4. Brewing Time 

Percolator coffee will generally take 7-9 minutes. This factors in the time to heat the water, but the brew time will also be influenced by how much coffee you're making. Most drip machines will also store the coffee in the pot so you can come back later and instantly get a cup of already brewed coffee. 

An automatic drip coffee maker generally takes 4-6 minutes. This does vary depending on the coffee drip machine you're using, but it's usually not much longer. 

When it comes to the speed of a percolator vs drip coffee maker - a drip machine wins, and it's the best option for those who want a fast brew.

5. Coffee Taste 

Taste is the key factor for most people, and while both of these methods can produce amazing coffee - there is a big difference between them.

Drip has a simple and well-rounded taste. It's smooth, easy to drink, and more gentle than some other coffee alternatives. 

Percolator is much stronger coffee which is rough and slightly bitter. The percolated coffee brewing methods make a much more robust cup of coffee which probably isn't for everyone. 

When it comes to taste of coffee from a percolator vs drip coffee maker - a percolated coffee is much stronger. So, if you like stronger coffee, go with percolated, but if you prefer a gentler drink then use a drip brewer. 

6. Coffee Strength  

A drip machine will produce coffee that has about 80-90mg of caffeine. There's no risk of over extraction with this method and you'll always get piping hot coffee that's the same brew strength.

A percolated fresh coffee will have 180-250mg of caffeine. This is because when you're making coffee this way the water is circulated through the grounds in the bottom chamber multiple times, giving it a greater brew strength.

If you want a perked coffee that's going to really wake you up - go for percolated.

7. Coffee Grind Size 

The coffee beans you choose will impact the taste and strength of your coffee, and the grind size is just as important. 

Drip uses a medium grind. A classic coffee maker has a paper filter, and a medium grind allows the water to pass through quickly, while also picking up the flavor. 

A percolator works best with a coarse grind of coffee. This is because there's more time to absorb the flavor from the coarse grind of coffee without over extraction occurring.

Drip and pour over coffee need finer grinds, but percolated coffee needs coarse grounds.

8. Brewing Capacity 

The number of cups of coffee you're making at once is a key factor in choosing the right brewing method, and when it comes to drip coffee maker vs percolator there's a big difference. 

Drip machines can produce 10-14 cups of coffee at once. They have a large coffee pot to collect the brewed coffee, and a warming plate to keep it hot. 

Percolators generally produce 1-3 cups of coffee at once. The make bold coffee, but generally only for 1 or 2 people at a time unless you specifically buy a larger model.

Drip brewers are probably more effective at making large batches of coffee than any other brewing methods. If you're a coffee lover brewing for a crowd then this is the one for you.

9. Portability 

Percolators are specifically designed to be portable. They are capable of heating water pretty much anywhere, and you can get a great cup of coffee on the go. 

Drip coffee makers aren't portable at all. They're big, have a heavy water reservoir, and need an electrical outlet to function - so they only work in a fixed location.

A percolator, even a stovetop percolator, is much more portable - and makes a perfect camping coffee.

10. Ease Of Cleaning 

Most coffee lovers enjoy a good brew, but they don't think about the clean up. The amount of work associated with each brewing method can vary - so it's worth considering.

Drip coffee makers are easy to clean. You only really have to remove the used paper filter and coffee grinds, and then scrub the coffee pot and drip area clean. 

Percolators aren't too difficult to clean, but they can stain more easily. You'll need to soak the device every 2-3 uses to keep it clean - and you may need to use baking soda to get stubborn marks off the outside. 

Drip coffee makers are definitely easier to maintain, but if you look after the devices you should be fine. 

11. Purchase Price Range 

A drip machine can cost anywhere from $50-$500, but they aren't cheap. You also have to pay separately for paper filters.

A Percolator coffee maker can be purchased for under $20, and there's no need to pay for anything else except coffee grounds.

Both of these options are obviously more expensive than instant coffee, but they also produce better coffee. Percolators tend to be cheaper and can give you great coffee without spending a lot.

12. Length Of Use  

Stove top percolator coffee makers can last a whole lifetime. Modern percolators are built really solidly with metal, and if you maintain them you may never need to get a replacement. 

Auto drip coffee machines generally last 5-10 years. This can vary depending on the make and model, but the heating element tends to go first, making it difficult to create heated water for your coffee.

Your brewing equipment will always need a bit of maintenance, but a percolator is much more durable and offers better long term value.


Coffee Percolators: How Do They Work?

Some people think percolators are for coffee snobs, but they're one of the oldest tried and tested method for brewing coffee after being first invented in the 1800s by Count Rumford. The percolator has stood the test of time because it’s effective and simple and they now come in all shapes and sizes. 

Percolators are pretty simple devices. They have:

  • metal kettle with an upper chamber and lower chamber
  • A metal tray for your coffee grounds
  • A thin tube for the water to travel up

As the percolator heats up, the water travels through the pipe and flows over the coffee grounds. you can then pour it out and enjoy your piping hot brewed coffee. 

Some people love percolated coffee, while others really don't enjoy it. It's regarded as one of the less sophisticated brewing methods which gives a very strong, rough coffee. Percolators are popular with some old school people and are often used by those who are traveling or camping.  

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 which either plugs into your mains or has a battery powered heating element in the bottom chamber which is used to heat the water. Then, the hot water passes over the coffee grounds to brew coffee. 

Benefits:

  • You can use the percolator anywhere and get a better brew on the go
  • The percolator will turn off automatically, so there's less risk the coffee is over extracted

Drawbacks:

  • This can be a hazard or fire risk 
  • It's generally only an option for small, single cup percolators 

Manual  

Manual percolators rely on an external heat source to warm the water tank. These are generally stove top percolators which you place on the hob, grill, or an outdoor flame to heat the water. 

Benefits:

  • Gives you full control over the brew time 
  • It can be used an any external heat source (as long as the water gets near boiling point)
  • They're usually very portable and won't take up counter space when not in use

Drawbacks:

  • It's easier for the coffee to be over extracted and become bitter coffee if you don't pay attention
  • They're useless without a heat source
Percolator with coffee mug

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. It's a really effective a brewing method and you’ll see an electric drip coffee maker 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 Widman.[1]

white drip coffee maker

The method is simple:

  • Pressure and heat are applied to cold water in a water chamber, which then drips down onto coffee grounds 
  • The hot water passes through a cloth or paper filter into your cup or jug
  • The coffee collects in the bottom and you can enjoy a good cup of coffee

The key difference with drip vs pour over coffee is that all the water flows through the middle of the grounds, whereas in pour over the water is directed by hand over all the grounds. This gives the drip coffee a more balanced flavor.

Drip coffee is so popular because it's simple, and can be made in big batches. Automatic coffee makers remove the risk of human error, and it's remarkably cheap (only a few cents per cup for filters and coffee grounds). 

Drip coffee has a bit of a bad rap and some people think it tastes weak or watery. However, if you make it right it has a well-rounded flavor that's perfect for all coffee drinkers.


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.

Popular Alternative Option: French Press Method 

french press with mug

This is another simple way of making coffee. It's different to percolator coffee or a drip coffee maker because it uses an immersion technique, not a pour over. 

Brewing coffee with immersion involves covering the ground coffee in hot water and leaving it to steep. The coffee absorbs the flavor and caffeine, giving it a distinctive taste. 

French presses are made up of several parts:

  • A large coffee pot style holder
  • A metal filter
  • A plunger

To make the coffee you add the grounds into the coffee maker, pour in boiling water, leave it for 3-5 minutes, and then press the plunger to filter out the grounds.

Coffee brewed with French presses is usually thick, rich, and with a depth of flavor. It's less robust than percolated coffee, but makes bolder coffee than most modern drip coffee makers.

A French press cup of coffee is a halfway house in terms of flavor, but takes a little more effort to make. You have a lot control over the coffee brewed because you can decide how long to steep the grounds.

This makes it perfect for coffee enthusiasts who like to experiment, but less well suited for simple coffee drinkers.


Percolator Vs Drip Common 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

A drip coffee maker and a coffee percolator can be useful brewing tools. A drip machine makes large batches of balanced, well-rounded coffee.

In contrast, a percolator coffee is strong and a bit rough - a better cup for lovers of strong coffee. 

There's no right or wrong answer and it all comes down to personal preference. If you want a hassle free first cup of morning coffee then a drip machine is best. If you want a bit of kick in your coffee, go for a stronger cup of coffee percolator.

References:

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wigomat

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