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?

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