Percolator Vs French Press (Brewing Differences Compared)

When preparing your coffee in the morning, two unique options have befallen you; a percolator and a French press. Both possibilities make great coffee. But the question is which one is best for you?  

With either option, you’re going to get a coffee with a rich, strong flavor. The key differences are in the boldness and intensity, and here we will discuss those differences and which will deliver the coffee you desire.  

coffee percolator on stove

A percolator was once a staple of American households until the 1970s when it was slowly replaced with drip coffee methods. It consists of a water chamber and a basket above for the coffee grounds. 

The water chamber is heated by a stovetop, or if it’s electrified, the water will be heated by a heating plate. The steam from the water passes through a small tube and into the filter basket for brewing. It uses a process of heating and reheating to brew. Some are timed, but they also come with an indicator to show when your brew is ready.  

The coffee itself is very strong and works best with a medium or dark roast. Some may find it too intense, but for those hardcore coffee heads out there, it’s a perfect addition to your morning.  


Pros & Cons Of Using Percolators 

What We Like 
  • Very strong, rich flavor 
  • Brew’s a lot of coffee very quickly 
  • Inexpensive 
  • Uses less electricity 
  • Reusable basket rather than filter 
  • Longer lasting 
Things We Don’t 
  • Can contain small sediments 
  • Not as easy to clean
  • Can burn the coffee if not careful 
  • Requires more attention and skill 

French Press Overview & Brewing Method 

The French press has been a strong contender in the coffee business since the 1930s. They produce coffee in a pour over method and require the water to be preboiled. It is made up of a beaker (or chamber), a plunger with a mesh filter attached, and a lid. Brewing is simple: 

  • Pour coffee grind into the beaker, about 2 – 4 tbsp. 
  • Pour boiling water to the top. 
  • Let the coffee brew for 3 –5 minutes. 
  • Slowly push the plunger to the bottom. 
  • Serve, and enjoy! 

The brilliance of a French press is that it works best with any roast; a lighter roast will retain the sweeter, more acidic flavors in the brew, whereas a darker roast will be punchier and keep its nutty, chocolatey notes. This is because there’s no filter to stop the natural oils or impurities from entering the brew. Because of its design, you can also brew loose tea leaves. A French press is a real treat for any home! 

french press with mug

Pros & Cons Of Using A French Press 

What We Like 
  • Strong flavor 
  • No filter required 
  • Easy operation 
  • Cleanup is quicker 
  • Versatile 
Things We Don’t 
  • Coffee grounds stick to sides 
  • Can have very acidic undertones 

Percolator Vs. French Press (Key Differences & Which Is Better?) 

1. Capacity 

The French press, at its limit, will make roughly 4 – 5 cups of coffee. As it uses a pour over method, your espresso won’t be as strong, which makes it better for milky coffees or black coffee.  

A percolator, due to its strength, will make much better espressos and therefore can make up to 20 drinks at once. It’s a better choice for stronger coffees in less time, but for a lighter coffee, a French press is better. 

2. Extraction 

The percolator uses a drip method, which means steam is sent through a tube in the percolator and drips onto the coffee. The water is cooled and reheated multiple times, so the coffee is much, much more robust. The French press immerses the ground into the water from the get-go, and the volume of water weakens the coffee. The extraction time is roughly the same, at 5 – 8 minutes on average.  

3. Ease Of Use 

The percolator makes very strong, great coffee, but it takes time to perfect the method. Because the water is under a direct heat source, it's much easier to burn the coffee at the speed it takes to brew.  

A French press uses water that’s already boiled, so it's impossible to burn the grind. They require less attention and can be left alone to brew. Percolators require constant attention to ensure a smooth operation.  

4. Versatility 

The percolator is renowned for making one type of coffee: strong. You aren’t going to get much else from it. Because of the drip method, it’s unable to create a weaker tasting coffee. The French press is designed for versatility. You can make a weaker brew with fewer grounds or stronger depending on your preference. You can even brew loose tea leaves if you so desire. The possibilities are endless! 

5. Taste 

As mentioned, a percolator makes very strong coffee. The taste is incredibly punchy, bold, and intense if done correctly.  There really isn’t any variation, as the brewing method lends itself to one brew type. 

A French press can vary in taste; a lighter roast will give you the sweet, fruity flavors, and the darker roasts will retain their nutty, chocolate flavor. A French press is the way to go for variety. 

6. Portability 

When you are planning your coffee for camping or caravanning, you will be limited with a French press. It requires water that has been preboiled, and the grounds are immersed in this. A percolator works with any heat source, so it is much better for remote retreats. Plus, French press designs come in glass, which is much less likely to withstand backpacking or camping.  

7. Cleaning & Maintenance 

Both the percolator and French press are easy to clean and maintain. The mesh on a French press is unscrewed from the plunger, and the beaker is easy to clean with soapy water. The only difficulty you may find with a percolator is the steam tube, which will require cleaning regularly to avoid any buildup of minerals.  

8. Length Of Use 

Percolators are designed for lifetime use. They’re made with materials to keep them safe from the heat source and so will continue to work for decades. The French press is more likely to break than a percolator because they’re usually designed from glass. A more fragile design, in longevity terms, the percolator wins.  


Percolator Vs. French Press For Camping: Which Is Better? 

For variety in your morning drinks, the French press is the obvious choice to make. But you also need to consider that you’ll need hot water already. Finding a way to heat water while camping shouldn’t be an issue, but you should consider a few things before deciding: 

  • Quality – do you prefer percolated or French press coffee? 
  • Durability – is your choice going to withstand camping? 
  • Use – do you find a French press or percolator easier to use? 
  • Cleanliness – which one would be easiest to clean? 

The percolator is ideal for camping – it works on any heat source and brews the coffee as it works. It would also be easier to clean as you can just rinse the chambers with warm, soapy water. It's also far more durable; your French press is probably made from glass and will break in the right circumstance.  

coffee by fire

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Why does my percolated coffee taste burnt? 

This is usually because it has brewed for too long – the percolator doesn’t take long to brew coffee and should usually be stopped as it starts perking. This is when the indicator begins to burble.  

Is a light or dark roast better in a French press? 

You can use any roast in a French press. But, the most popular choice is a medium to dark roast, as this will retain the beans naturally occurring oils, which gives your brew a bold flavor.  

Is French Press coffee smoother? 

Yes – a French press immerses the ground in water for a longer time than a percolator, which gives your brew a smoother, more subtle flavor.  

Does percolator coffee have more caffeine? 

Percolated coffee has roughly 80mg of caffeine per serving. A standard drip serve coffee will have roughly 150mg of caffeine in your cup.  

What type of grind should I use in a percolator? 

The filter basket in a percolator is not as fine as normal coffee makers, which means you should use coarse grounds to avoid coffee grounds in your cup. 


Conclusion

Both a percolator and a French press have their merits. Each type of coffee will deliver a punchy, strong cup, but for an extra kick, a percolator is a perfect choice. For those who prefer their coffee to be more subtle, then a French press is ideal. Whatever you choose, you’ll get a great cup of joe to kick start your morning!