Percolator Vs French Press (Brewing Differences Compared)

Looking for a flavorful cup of coffee? Then you should consider using a percolator or French press. 

Both options give you a more full bodied coffee compared to a standard drip machine, but there are some key differences when it comes to boldness and intensity.

In this article we'll discuss those differences, and show you which brewing process will make the best cup of coffee to meet your tastes.

1. Brewing Equipment

Let's start with the obvious difference - the type of coffee maker used. 

French press is made with a specific French press coffee maker. This has a brewing chamber, metal filter, and plunger to complete the brewing process. 

Percolated coffee requires a percolator. This is a coffee pot which has a coffee basket for coffee grounds, and a chamber for water. You can use a manual stovetop percolator which requires an external heat source, or an electric percolator which has its own heating element.

These are two very different techniques for brewing coffee, and the coffee brewing devices involved are completely different. French presses are more commonly used, but you can pick up a percolator very cheaply. 

2. Extraction Process

Part of the reason different equipment is needed for percolator vs French press coffee is because the brewing techniques are completely different. 

The percolator uses a drip method to create the hot coffee. Water is heated until it becomes steam and then dripped through a tube onto the ground coffee. 

A French press coffee maker uses an immersion coffee brewing method. The coffee grounds are completely submerged in water to extract the caffeine and great coffee flavor. 

The coffee making process is fundamentally different with French press vs percolator, which is why the end product is noticeably different. 

3. Brew Time

The differences between each flavorful coffee are also influenced by the brew time. 

French press takes 3-5 minutes to make a brewed coffee. Hot water is added and left to steep for about 5 minutes until the coffee press is pushed down to filter it out. 

A percolator takes 7-10 minutes. It takes longer because the water has to heat and then gradually drip through the ground coffee beans to create your drink. 

The brew time may change depending on how much coffee you put in, but coffee drinkers who want a delicious coffee, fast, should go with French press. 

4. Capacity 

Capacity is almost as important as brew time when you consider the different brewing methods, because you need to know how many cups of coffee it can make in one go. 

Your average French press coffee maker will make 4-8 cups of coffee. You can get French presses which make up to 12 cups, and some individual French presses which make a single cup.

A typical percolator will make 3-6 cups of coffee. Single serving percolators are common, but you can also get larger percolators which make up to 12 cups. 

A drip coffee machine can make up to 12 cups of coffee as standard - so neither of these brewing methods are exactly designed for volume. However, both French presses and percolators come in a range of sizes so you have a good amount of choice. 

Percolators are better for making a lot of strong, espresso style coffees, whereas a French press is better if you want to brew large batches of lighter cups of coffee. 

5. Coffee Taste 

Probably the most important difference between these two coffees is the taste, and even those who don't drink coffee often should notice a difference. 

A percolator makes very strong, punchy, and slightly bitter coffee. It's one of the most intense home made options out there and the perfect morning cup for those who love strong coffee.

French press is also strong, but a bit lighter with more delicate flavors. There are usually some sweet, fruity notes, but it depends if you use roasted dark pre ground coffee which has a more nutty, chocolatey flavor. 

There's more variety when it comes to French press because and you can alter the taste by using different grounds and ratios. However, if you prefer a full bodied brew you should go for a percolator. 

6. Caffeine Content

We all love the energy boost we get from coffee, which is why it's such a popular morning drink. Given percolated coffee tastes so much stronger it's not too surprising that it also has more caffeine. 

A percolated coffee has 180-200mg of caffeine per cup, whereas a French press has 80-140mg of caffeine per cup. This is largely due to the differences in brewing method, but it can vary depending on the coffee beans being used. 

To put that in perspective, a regular Americano has about 80mg of caffeine, and a cold brew has about 250mg of caffeine - so while a French press is pretty standard, a percolator coffee is definitely on the strong side.

If you want a bit energy kick from your coffee you should definitely go for a stovetop percolator.

7. Ease Of Use 

If you just love drinking coffee then you probably want to be able to make it quickly and easily. 

A percolator coffee maker can be difficult to use at first. Coffee percolators generally rely on outside heating sources applied directly to the device. This means it's much easier to burn the coffee, and you can't really leave it alone. 

In contrast, French press coffee is really simple to make. You just pour the boiled water in so there's no risk of burning anything, and once it's in there you can literally leave it for 3-5 minutes while the coffee steeps before you press the coffee plunger.

With a French press there's much less risk of something going wrong, so it's probably the best brewing method for beginners.

8. Portability 

A lot of coffee machines are designed to be static, and not all equipment is suitable for making coffee on the move. 

A French press is slightly portable, but won't be suitable for camping or caravanning. The French press method relies on boiling water, so without it you won't be able to make your coffee.

A percolator is designed specifically to be portable. It offers the perfect camping coffee because it's completely contained and has everything it needs built it. It also has a solid frame so you can transport it and get a full flavored coffee wherever you are. 

If you're looking to avoid weak coffee when you're on holiday you should definitely look into electric percolators. 

9. Cleaning & Maintenance 

Nobody wants to face the cleaning after a cup of coffee, so it's good to choose an easy clean method. 

A French press is pretty easy to clean. Once you've finished brewing coffee you just need to remove the coffee grounds and take the pieces apart. You can then wash them all separately with hot water.

Percolators are also pretty easy to maintain. Once you're done making coffee you can just scrub it down with soap and water, though it's worth doing it regularly to stop the steam tube from becoming blocked. 

Both coffee makers are easy to clean and maintain, but a percolator is made from metal and therefore more durable. If you maintain it well then it should last a lifetime. 

10. Durability

It's worth considering the durability of your brewer because that impacts the long term value from the device. 

Percolators are designed to last a life time. They're generally made from stainless steel and if you maintain them properly they'll give you robust coffee for life. 

French presses will generally only last for a few years. This is because of the more fragile design they're more likely to break. 

A percolator definitely offers better long term value, but remember that for either coffee maker it's worth spending a little more to get a more durable model. 


Coffee Percolator Overview: Brewing Method Explained 

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 the coffee collects in the top.  

The coffee itself is very strong and works best with a dark or medium 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 For Camping: Which To Take?

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 being made while camping

Percolator & French Press Brewing 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 the percolator and a French press can make a flavorful coffee, but they are quite different.

A percolator makes stronger, punchier coffee - and it's perfect as a camping coffee brewer. A French press makes more subtle coffee, but it's easier to produce large batches. 

Hopefully this guide has given you the French press vs percolator breakdown, and you now know which you'll use to make your next cup of coffee.