Recently, our family went on vacation, and I left all of my coffee gear at home (as mentioned here). I did call ahead and ask what kind of brewer the kitchen in our suite would have. The hotel’s response: a percolator. No filter needed. Since I’d never used a percolator before, I did a little reading and decided that I’d need to grind fairly coarse, somewhere between my usual drip and press settings. And that’s exactly what I did, with the three coffees below, all bought through ROASTe.
These are the beans that came with us to Barbados to sustain four adults for a week. Here’s what happened.
First, we all survived. Some days the coffee was better than others, but nobody ever really complained. In that sense, our admittedly low expectations concerning perked coffee were exceeded.
Second, we had what I gather was a modern experience in the land of the percolator. Ours, a Presto 12-cup shown below, didn’t have a glass lid or cutaway allowing us to see the coffee perking. That didn’t really bother me because the Presto also features a ready light indicating when your coffee is ready to serve. How this light actually works is still a bit of a mystery to me. Is it based on brew time? Strength as measured by some sort of sensor? Regardless, once the ready light had illuminated percolation effectively stopped as far as I could tell (despite a few reviews I’d read to the contrary). Just in case, I tended to use a dish towel to remove the hot grounds basket and percolator tube at this point each morning so the machine wouldn’t be able to continue brewing and would simply keep the coffee hot instead (something the Presto was very good at), but my caution was probably unnecessary.
Third, I discovered that not all percolators boil coffee (if, indeed, any do). Our coffee was never bitter or overextracted like you’d expect from an inferior machine that failed to regulate brew temperature adequately.
Overall, I thought the percolator tended to mute the distinctive flavors of the beans I brewed in it more than I would have liked, but it managed to deliver relatively tasty coffee with decent body consistently. Some of the Presto's "failings" could simply be attributed to operator error, as I was eyeballing the coffee-to-water ratios. Scales don’t belong in paradise, you know? Otherwise, brew times fell on the high side (around one minute per brewed cup), sediment in the cup was minimal as long as I didn’t fill above the 8-cup water line (this could have been avoided if I’d brought little disc filters), and clean-up struck me as easy.
The bottom line: Don’t fear the percolator. It's worth playing around with.