Coffee on a small scale

by andrewodom on September 14, 2010 · 35 comments


Crystal and I begin our day almost the same way – day after day. The first one of us to roll out of bed puts the coffee in the filter, closes the lid, and pushes start. We typically fill the water the night before. Why we don’t put the coffee in too, I don’t know. I think it has something to do with my caffeine paranoia that also will not let me keep the grounds anywhere other than the freezer.

Our automatic drip pot brings up an interesting line of thought though. Is this something we could do without? Could we change the way we make coffee? What if we went with a percolator rather than an electric pot? Would it effect the taste? Would it be more time consuming? Is the effort worth saving the energy?

A coffee percolator is nothing more than a type of pot used to brew coffee. Its name stems from the word “percolate” which literally means to cause (a solvent) to pass through a permeable substance for extracting a soluble constituent. In the case of coffee-brewing the solvent is water, the permeable substance is the coffee grounds, and the soluble constituents are the chemical compounds that give coffee its color, taste, and aroma. There are two basic types of percolator:

  • One which forces boiling water under pressure through the grounds into a separate chamber; and
  • One which continually cycles the boiling brew through the grounds using gravity until the required strength is reached.

Coffee percolators were really popular up until the mid-70s where they were replaced by auto drip makers. We have seen though that they are still very popular with the camping set which relies on propane heating/cooking sources almost exclusively.

I do understand that percolators often expose the grounds to higher temperatures than other brewing methods, and may recirculate already brewed coffee through the beans. As a result, coffee brewed with a percolator is susceptible to over-extraction. I like to think of that as really good, robust, coffee though. And if you have one cup of strong coffee wouldn’t that cancel out two, weaker, cups, thereby allowing you to buy and use less actual coffee?

I am thinking the only way to really see the difference is to purchase a small perculator which, we are hoping, can be found at a goodwill or second-hand store.

Do you use a percolator? Would you? What do you think makes your auto-drip more feasible?

  • http://twitter.com/victoriadunmire Victoria Dunmire

    I love the idea of percolators, but after drinking coffee from it for 2 years, I can say that the taste is just not the same, unfortunately. I’ve gone back to the drip.

  • Andrew Odom

    What was the taste different Victoria? Do you think it was too weak or too strong? Or is there another word? hahahaha

    • http://twitter.com/victoriadunmire Victoria Dunmire

      I think it just tasted…overdone…definitely got the “burned” taste more easily. That’s the best I can do. But, to each their own. It was my roommates and he loves it and swears by it.

  • Scissorsanddrumsticks

    I see you keep your grinds in the freezer. There are conflicting statements stating it doesn’t stay as fresh in the freezer and should be kept at room temp. Any thoughts on this?

  • Andrew Odom

    @Scissorsanddrumsticks – Okay, okay. So I have done some quick research and this is what I came up with.

    Storing coffee in your freezer is a bad idea:

    Coffee is porous. This is a good thing for fans of flavored coffee as the beans absorb the coffee flavoring syrups and oils that are used to make flavored coffee. However, if given the chance, coffee can also absorb other things like the flavor of seafood or the moisture that your freezer produces. This moisture will in turn deteriorate the coffee and even make it taste like, well… like a freezer.

    When coffee is roasted, the beans release their oils and essences to give the coffee its distinct flavor. You’ll notice these oils are more prominent on dark-roasted coffee and espresso. When you break down these oils by freezing, you are removing the flavor.

    I guess if coffee tasted better and fresher from the freezer, then we would buy it in the frozen food section, S’bucks would look just like Coldstone, and our power bills would be through the roof trying to maintain a meat-locker the size of a warehouse. hahahahah!

    • http://twitter.com/ScissorSticks Kevin/Nadine Gilkes

      I see. I remember reading something about that when we were re-vamping our coffee practices here. I don’t drink a lot of coffee, maybe 2 cups a day at best. Nadine used to brew a whole pot and never finish it. So, I took up some readings and came up with the same you just posted.

      Normally, I would be happy about enourmous power bills to regfrigerate all the coffee necessary seeing the industry in which I work. But, my day of new has changed as well as my personal practices and outlook on Mom Nature.

  • Scissorsanddrumsticks

    We used to have a drip pot. We switched to the Keurig machine that uses the K-Cups which we recycle. We found we were wasting too much coffee everyday using the drip

  • Fjact3boys

    I use a percolator in the winter. We have a wood stove that I can put it on. It does take some getting used to, but once you get the hang of determining the strength of your coffee, it’s as easy as an automatic drip.

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us andrewodom

      What do you use in the summer…or do you refrain from coffee altogether during the warmer months? Yeah, I think once we buy one it will take a bit to get used to it and the strength of the coffee. But I am a determined person, for sure!

    • Andrew Odom

      What do you use in the summer…or do you avoid coffee altogether in those months? Oh, and I am a determined bugger so I would be relentless about figuring out what strength I prefer. hahahaha.

  • ~Tara

    Justin recently switched to a French Press and prefers it. It might take a few extra minutes, but not enough to really notice. He heats the water on the stove (or campfire), puts the ground in the bottom of the glass French Press and adss the water, after a few minutes he presses down the…er, filtering thingy.

    I’m intrigued by the electric kettles. They heat water in seconds and use very little power, compared to the energy used with a propane stove or fire. On solar the impact is practically zilch. Of course I don’t know how long they’d last being electrical components that would eventually wear out.

    • http://www.tinyrevolution.us andrewodom

      I have used an electric kettle when I was in Japan. They are actually pretty sturdy and you are right, they heat up quick. Our Tiny House will be solar as well so it is nice to hear that you – another solar person – confirms the power load would be next to nothing.

      I may have to do some taste tests soon. hahahahah!

  • Andrew Odom

    Testing the new update of Disqus.

  • JMcLeod76

    Another possibility is a manual cone drip. My closest friends are total coffee snobs, and they swear by it. They even brought their cone with them when they came to stay with me last month. They heat the water in a teapot. The trick, they say, is to brew the coffee at double strength and add additional hot water to your cup until you achieve your preferred strength.

    • Andrew Odom

      Crystal lived in the Ukraine for a while and she used a drip cone. She claims it isn’t that bad really. I would be willing to try one of those as well.

      Okay, that settles it. I am going to do a coffee taste test very soon! Be on the lookout for some pics.

  • Danielle

    i use a press and kettle and LOVE my coffee, i can decide how hot the water should be (190* in my opinion) and how long the coffee brews for (3 minutes) and also how fine my grind is (large)

    yum! and i love the action of boiling my kettle, pouring in my fresh ground coffee and pushing down the plunger, its a very satisfying routine for me.

    mmmmm…… coffee.

    i use about half the grounds of my old auto drip and i NEVER have gross burnt coffee.

    • Danielle

      oh and i see there was a disscusion about the freezer, never store your coffee in the freezer, it totally ruins it.
      i store mine in a glass gallon mason jar in my pantry, glass is best in my opinion. room temperature and in the dark.

      • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ andrewodom

        Never in a freezer. That is what I was reading. Amazing I never sought proof of that theory before now. I will keep it in mind though. In fact, in the last 2 days Crystal and I have begun just sealing the bag and leaving it on the counter of the pop-up. When we return to Odom’s Idle Acres we’ll pursue a glass jar for it! I would love an old apothecary jar.

  • Jen Levin

    I use an Aeropress http://aerobie.com/products/aeropress.htm and LOVE it. The coffee comes out smooth and never burnt tasting. It’s pretty easy to make one cup or up to four. If you are making large amounts every day maybe it would seem like a lot of work but I really like it.

    • http://www.anotherkindofdrew.com/ andrewodom

      I LOVE the look of that. I mean, yes, it looks like quite a bit of work for multiple cups (4+) or if you have a small group. But doesn’t everything good in this world require a bit of toil?

  • http://www.minimalistadventures.com Dusti Arab

    As a barista of eight years, I highly recommend a french press for the ultimate coffee experience. You get all of the yummy oils that give different beans their flavor, but I warn you, you’ll have an appreciation for good beans after drinking it.

    Coffee beans should be stored (whole, if possible) in a airtight, dark, cool location, ground when ready to be used. Also, a french press needs a coarse grind.

    Water for brewing coffee should be 210 degrees for optimal flavor extraction. A french press takes about 4 minutes to brew.

    I found my Bodum french press brand new for $3 at Goodwill.

    This has been your official coffee lesson for today. :P Happy hunting!

    • andrewodom

      I have a Bodum french press myself. I think it is in our lone box of “kitchen things” that is anxiously awaiting another home. I do love them and have often preferred the taste of french press over anything else. I don’t have a grinder though I did used to have a Capresso handheld. I wonder if there is a good battery powered grinder out there?

      Thank you for the coffee lesson, oh seasoned barista! hahahaha

      • Tom Clarke

        Once upon a time there were human powered coffee grinders. :)
        I use a french press daily, and I just buy good ground coffee. Although i did f-up the other day and bought whole beans and opened the bag so i couldn’t return it. used my stick blender in an old coffee can to grind beans. worked great!
        http://www.amazon.com/Hario-MSS-1B-Mini-Coffee-Grinder/dp/B001804CLY

    • Gen6sf

      I am sorry, but Mr Peet and the Starbucks kids had it wrong and they continue to infect countless others with their dogma. (nothing personal)

      Here’s what I know from direct experience.

      Water should not go above about 180F or you’ll burn your beans and get the bitter. You don’t want to EVER use boiling water (210F is right at the boiling point)!

      You can use a French press if you want, but don’t you don’t want to steep coffee like you would tea, etc. And you MUST filter your coffee through paper if you want to get rid of the oils and enzymes. So the French just becomes more to buy, lug, break/replace, wash.

      The best way to make coffee is one cup at a time.  It’s faster, cheaper, less hassle, requires less *stuff*.  You get the coffee ground on 4 (or 5 if you are a speed freak).  The light roasts have the best flavor and the strongest kick.

      It’s probly fine to use a little plastic drip cone if you don’t do it every day for years. I have a glass and a ceramic cone.  I use homemade paper or other chem-free alternatives, though cone filter paper is of reliable quality.

      But please let direct experience be your guide.

      And if you’re ever in San Francisco, pay the $4 at Philz for their “Sooooo Good” mix. But be warned you’ll never be happy with another cup after that.

      Or better yet, give up on coffee and go for a nice herb tea you grow yerself. Because to grow enough beans for a single cup of coffee requires 183 litres of water!

      • Gen6sf

        whoops! i meant to say “filter your coffee through paper if you want to get rid of the oils and enzymes that make our digestive systems go all wiggly and gassy”.

  • http://www.smashyourtelevision.com Laura M.

    Boy, am I glad I don’t drink coffee, so I don’t have to worry about this! :D

    • anotherkindofdrew

      I no longer trust you. Your lack of coffee drinking has made me question you. HAHAHAHAHAHA

  • rachel whetzel

    I use a percolator when we are camping and have a 20 cup pot for making it on the wood stove in the case of power outages. (Coffee is sanity) I love the taste of it. I have this on my coffee wish list: http://amzn.com/B0047BIWSK

    • rachel whetzel

      and PS:
      There are stainless steel filters for the one I linked you to the first time… so no paper waste or cost. http://amzn.com/B004G7TLYO

    • anotherkindofdrew

      Oh my word! That is beautiful and looks very self-contained and space-conscious. Thank you for the link Rachel.

  • http://twitter.com/givmo Givmo

    We really like cold brew coffee. It’s more mellow and a lot interesting flavors come out. It takes a little more planning but sounds like you guys are already getting the water prepared early!

  • Susan Hogarth

    We use a perc on our woodstove in winter. Makes fine coffee. Many people prefer it over drip. It’s apparently a religious thing :)

    Cold brew is awesome.

  • http://www.chiotsrun.com Chiot’s Run

    I’d highly recommend a Chemex for brewing regular coffee.  It really does make the best coffee outside of an espresso.  I especially love that there’s NO PLASTIC or involved, that means no leaching of chemicals into your coffee.  There’s even a company in Portland that makes a stainless steel filter so you don’t have to keep buying filters http://coava.myshopify.com/  I’d highly recommend going this route!   As a bonus  Chemex coffeemakers are handmade in the USA!   

  • http://twitter.com/MyWeeWorldLife MyWeeWorldLife

    I bought a percolator about 10 years ago, I was big into retro at the time. Retro coffee should remain a memory.  IMHO  Drip coffee is much better and there are no grounds in my coffee.

  • Rebekah

    I have a moka pot, it’s similar to making espresso as hit water is being forced through the grounds and you can control how strong by the amount if grounds and how tightly you tamp them in. It’s still a pretty strong cup of coffee, which you can always dilute down to your liking with water like you do with an americano.
    I live in Australia and drip coffee pots haven’t caught on as much here. So it’s easy to find percolators, moka pots, French presses and other fandangled coffee contraptions

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