How to Use a Percolator

How to Use a Percolator, photo of 3 coffee cups each with light, medium, and dark cofffee

Do you want to take a blast to the past and brew coffee with a percolator? Or are you looking for a portable solution to make coffee when you travel or go camping?

Up until the early 1970s, coffee percolators were a popular way of making coffee, but their popularity fell when instant and drip coffee makers were created. 

However, percolators are a great portable solution as well as just another way for coffee enthusiasts to make a cup of joe at home. Which is why we are going to walk you through how to use a percolator in this article. 

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What Is a Percolator?

So, what even is a percolator? A coffee percolator is a type of coffee pot that sits on a heat source like a campfire or stovetop to brew a pot of coffee.

The water in the water chamber is heated up and as it gets hotter it gets pushed up an internal tube to the top of the pot and out over the lid of the coffee chamber that is holding the coffee grounds.

There are small holes in the chamber so the grounds are evenly saturated and the brew it produces drops down into another chamber. From there the cycle repeats over and over.

Once the brew in the lower chamber reheats to an almost boiling point the cycle stops and the coffee is ready to drink. 

What You’ll Need

Coffee Beans 

You will need to either buy ground coffee or coffee beans and grind them yourself. We recommend grinding your own coffee beans since they give a more fresh flavor.

It also makes it easier to ensure you are getting an accurate grind consistency for making coffee in your percolator. 

Coffee Grinder 

If you are buying whole beans you will obviously want a coffee grinder. If you’re planning to use the percolator at home it might be easiest to use an electric grinder unless you prefer to grind beans by hand.

If you are going camping or planning to use a percolator while you travel, a manual grinder will probably be the best option for you. 

Cold Water

Like just about every brew method out there, you will need water. So if you are camping be sure to bring cold water or make sure you have access to clean cold water so you’re able to brew your coffee.

It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have cold water but it is recommended so the water heats up slowly. 

Measuring Spoons 

For every cup of water you will want two tablespoons of coffee grounds. 

Heat Source

You will need something like a campfire or stovetop that will heat up the percolator to brew coffee.


And of course, if you plan to make coffee with a percolator, you will want the percolator itself. 

How to Use a Percolator 

Step 1: Grind the coffee beans.

You will want to grind your beans so that they are coarse.

Click here to find out what our favorite manual grinders are.

Step 2: Add Water and Coarse Coffee Grounds

Take out the stem and the coffee basket and fill the pot with cold water in the lower water chamber. Make sure your water does not come above the holes next to the spout or else you will have a mess to clean up once it starts to brew.

Then you will put your coffee grounds in the coffee basket. We recommend two tablespoons for every cup of water to start. As you continue using a percolator you can experiment with this ratio to make it taste stronger or weaker. 

Step 3: Reassemble the Percolator 

You will need to put the stem with the coffee basket attached back into the pot. Then put the lid on the coffee basket and shut the lid to the percolator. If you are aren’t sure how to do this or are confused, be sure to read the manufacturer’s manual. 

Step 4: Put It on Heat 

If you’re camping put it on a small fire and if you are making it on the stove put it on low-medium heat so that it heats up slowly.

Most percolators have a glass knob or top piece that allows you to monitor your coffee. When you see bubbles every few seconds (this is it “perking”) you will want to adjust your stove to maintain the temperature.

If you see it constantly bubbling it is too hot and needs to have the temperature lowered and if you don’t see any bubbles it’s too cold and needs to have the heat raised. 

Step 5: Keep an Eye on It

This is one coffee maker that you shouldn’t just set it up and walk away. At least until you’ve been making coffee with it for awhile and you’re comfortable doing so.

We recommend keeping an eye on it while its percolating and adjusting the heat so you don’t end up with a burnt and bitter pot of coffee.

It should brew for about 5 to 10 minutes depending on how strong you want your coffee. 

Step 6: Take It off the Heat, Pour, and Enjoy

Once it’s done brewing make sure you use an oven mitt or something to protect your hand if the handle is metal and you pour the coffee directly into your mug like a teapot.

Do not leave it sitting on the heat source when it’s done brewing or else it will probably turn your coffee bitter. 

Step 7: Clean Your Percolator

After every use, you will want to disassemble and rinse off your percolator and all of its parts. 

Every few weeks or on a monthly basis, depending on how often you use your percolator you will want to do more of a deep clean.

This is to maintain it and keep it working like new and stopping any residue from building up over time. 

To deep clean it, first, you want to wait until the pot has cooled down and then you will want to disassemble the percolator, throw away the coffee grounds and rinse off pieces.

Then fill it up with water and about three tablespoons of baking soda and put it on a heat source and let it run through a cycle. Take it off the heat source and when the water cools scrub the percolator with a brush.

Then add half white vinegar half water to the percolator and let that run through another cycle. Dump the water out and then let it run through a cycle one last time with just water and hand rinse any residue that might be left over.

Benefits of Using a Percolator

Easy to Clean

Since it’s easy to disassemble, it makes cleaning easy. As we mentioned above, you will want to rinse off the parts of the percolator in between uses and do a deep clean every few weeks to a month depending on how often you use it.

Strong Bold Coffee 

For anyone who loves a bold cup of coffee, a percolator is a great way to achieve that taste. Since the brew gets filtered through the grounds in continuous cycles, it makes the coffee stronger and bolder than other methods of brewing.

Great for Camping

A percolator is a small pot that makes it easy to travel with and bring with you when you go camping. It’s small and is a simple way to brew coffee in the woods. You just need a heat source like a fire, as well as water, coffee, your percolator, and a mug. 

Hot Hot Hot Coffee 

If you like your coffee very hot and find that you are having to heat up your cup of joe after it’s done brewing in your drip coffee machine, you may want to consider a coffee percolator.

Since it gets to a temperature that’s almost boiling, it makes the brew very hot. So, if you are someone who is looking for a brew method that will make very hot coffee, try a percolator. 

Drawbacks of Using a Percolator

Grounds Exposed to Higher Temperatures

You definitely have to be careful when you are using a percolator. You don’t want it to get too hot or be hot for too long because it can make the coffee taste burnt and bitter.

Due to the almost boiling temperature of the water and brew that is passing through the coffee grounds your brew has a higher chance of being over-extracted as opposed to other brew methods which leads to a sour and bitter taste.

You Can’t Set It up and Walk Away

Percolators require attention while you’re brewing your cup of coffee. You need to make sure the water doesn’t boil but is at a temperature that is almost boiling so it is able to percolate.

You need to keep an eye on it to adjust the temperature while it’s brewing as well as take it off the stove when it’s done so it doesn’t sit too long and become bitter. 

It Takes Time

Using a percolator takes more time compared to other brew methods. Some drip coffee machines can brew a pot of coffee in about 3 minutes.

A percolator will take about 5-10 minutes to brew. So if you are in a rush to grab your cup of coffee or don’t have a lot of time in the morning, this might not be the best brew method for you. 


What’s the Best Coffee to Use in a Percolator

The best coffee to use in a percolator is a medium roast coarse ground coffee. You can buy pre-ground coffee, although we recommend grinding the beans yourself for a fresher taste. 

How Much Coffee Do You Put in a Percolator?

Put about 2 tablespoons for every cup of water. You can experiment with this ratio over time to make your coffee stronger or weaker. 

How Long Do You Percolate Coffee?

For 5 to 10 minutes depending on how strong you want your coffee. 

Do You Need a Filter for a Percolator?

No you do not. You can use one by cutting a hole in the middle and placing it in the coffee chamber if you are finding your coffee grounds are getting into your brew.

However, you should beans that are coarse enough not to get through the tiny holes in the coffee chamber.