When Monica Eng concluded her story about my love of Cleveland (she would also critique Elements of Cooking in a piece so thoughtful it would merit a marriage proposal were I not already fanatically devoted to Donna)—she described my coffee percolator and my skin-flint affection for Folgers.  I subsequently got a few emails from percolator devotees and it renewed my desire to rid the world of the ridiculous automatic drip coffee maker, a sham perpetrated on an unthinking, convenience minded public.
Percolater_coffee_ge

                                                                                                    Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

When my beloved General Electric 9-Cup Percolator, filched from my father’s house, gave out after 40 years of vigorous life, I got what I’m sure was a gift from heaven: another one (above).  Discovered on E-Bay, this one, manufactured in 1950, was all but unused.  When this one went kerplooey, I got an even better gift on ebay: three of them, for $13.

I cherish the General Electric percolator (apparently no longer in production), but when I tell people that it makes the best coffee, by far superior to the ubiquitous automatic drip machines, they look at me like I’ve just confessed my belief in creationism.

It astonishes me that I have to defend this sleek, 9-cup wonder.  I serve generic decaf to guests and they’re begging to know what kind of coffee I buy.  Swear to God.  I haul out the big green can to prove it.  Coffee snoobs will say percolated coffee is "over-extracted."   I call it very strong, rich coffee that’s piping hot and stays hot without burning.  That its biggest advantage—percolators keep the coffee HOT, auto-drips burn it.  And yet the GE model with its glass top and elegant drip-free spout has long been retired.  Today’s percolators, what few remain, are awkward vessels with stubby spouts.

How did this happen?  Where did the percolator go?  Automatic drip coffee makers for the home, introduced in 1974 by Mr. Coffee (a Cleveland invention, no less! by people I know and like!), are the dominant household coffee machines, selling 20 million a year.  And yet the coffee they make is at best OK.  The flavor can be good IF it’s good quality to begin with and it’s served immediately upon being brewed.  (But better to use a French press in this case.)   Auto-drip coffee though almost never hot, especially if you put anything in it.  If it sits for a half hour, it’s tepid, and soon burnt.  It’s usually not much faster, nor appreciably easier to make.  The machine is not better to look at, while the GE percolator is one of the great home-appliance industrial designs.  And instead of the aromatic, enticing rush of gurgly percolation—one of the daily pleasures of this device—you get instead the sound of someone tinkling.

America lost something when it stowed the percolator in the back of the cupboard.  It gave up a superior machine to a marketing strategy, fashionable gimmick and the promise of “convenience.”  I want the percolator back.  I want people to wake up.

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190 Wonderful responses to “Percolator Love”

  • MoineyOiney

    Until a few years ago, I kept my late mother’s metal percolator. It was one of those that was made out of a soft metal and truly bore the scars of more moves across the world than I honestly care to recall. Wither I went – so went my family and mother’s perc. Finally, a few years ago, my wife and I invested in a Cuisinart coffemaker with a grinder insert and a vacuum-sealed carafe. We could now put the fresh beans in the grinder each evening before we went to sleep, set the timer, and awaken to the incomparable smell of the refined drug dripping into the carafe. I wish you much pleasure with your perc and, hopefully, you’ll acknowldedge that there’s certainly more than one way of being the excstatic recipient of your early morning ‘fix’.

  • Kay

    The fact that zealotry wars like this are even possible is one of the primary reasons why I simply refuse to drink coffee, but I tend to agree that the expensive crap every yuppie trendwhore swears is going to evoke some sort of religious experience is every bit as ridiculously overrated as their children’s soccer/gymnastics performances.

  • gb500

    I had completely forgotten the disgusting thing my mother used to do — use freeze dried decaf Taster’s Choice crystals rehydrated with hot tap water. Eeewwwww –

  • WJT

    French press, percolator, auto drip, give it up! French press coffee is like sludge. Percolated is the least objectionable (at least it’s hot)but can taste like battery acid. As for auto drip, why even bother?
    Just get a pour over filter holder ($3), some boiling water and some decent coffee (fresh ground is good, home roasted would be even better)and you’ll have the best cup you’ve ever made. Every time. You’ll finally get what coffee tastes like. Really cheap, too.

  • Joanne

    As I am probably older than most of your posters I can honestly say I’ve had a great deal of experience making good coffee as I am know for my culinary expertise and my delicious coffee..always made in a stainless stove top perculator. They are indeed hard to find. I have managed to find them at second hand shops so that all of my seven children have them in their homes. My twelve cup Revere one is probably forty years old and looks like new. When properly brewed one must run the cold water for at least a minute or more and fill a meticulously clean pot with desired amount of water. Then a new square coffee filter is placed in the basket and 1 tablespoon of coffee is added for every 6 0z. cup.Fold the filter over the coffe and place the pot on the burner on high. As soon as it begins to perk turn the burner to low and by the time it is no longer perking it is ready…hot and good. Personally, I like 8′oclock coffee freshly ground, sometimes with a little hazelnut added. If you cannot drink it right away it keeps very well in a glass lined thermos. My in-laws in the forties and fifties used an electric GE vacuum pot that made a most delicious full-bodied and hot cup of coffee. Drinking well-made coffee and properly brewed tea is a ritual in our home and is very satisfying. Good luck to all of the coffee drinkers out there but there is no reason to be a snob about your methods.

  • Kirk

    A vision of Ruhlman in a “Best part of waking up…” commercial just popped in my head. Reminded me of Rick Bayless and Burger King a few years ago.
    You’ll hear no debate from me though about Folgers or perocolators. I have my own mass-produced, non-organic, un-fair-trade guilty pleasures I will keep to myself.

  • Connor

    Just checking, but isn’t Folgers is to coffee what Swanson’s or College Inn is to chicken stock?!? : )

  • Big Red

    You want people to wake up? Make me some of the coffee in the percolator and I will. HAHA. Ok bad Joke. I still have all sorts of kitchen stuff from the 50s, including a Blue Agate coated roating pan my father has from his grandmother that he will have to take out a custody agreement on b/c we all want it. We have in our OCD modern times fixed what wasn’t broken. Leave me with my hand masher, crank egg beaters and agate roasting pan.

  • ntsc

    As I recall cowboy coffee, or campfire coffee, involves a wood fired percolator and a raw egg and an egg shell. The coffee itself is probably A&P.

    My parents drank Folger’s instant. As a result I couldn’t abide coffee until I was an adult.

    My employer supplies a Bunn drip and Maxwell Industrial Strength gratis, guess what I drink most of the time. Red? Blue? only makes a difference if it is a state. My drip machine has been ‘adjusted’ so I like its output and for guests we usually use a big electric perc with fresh ground beans from the local gourmet shop.

    The best coffee I remember my ex mother in law did with a stove top perc. Neither her daughter or myself could ever match what she did. She used 8 O’clock by preference, but it was more price driven than anything else.

  • Jim Morton

    I’m old enough to have grown up on perked coffee. My biggest objection to percolators is that the inner workings are almost always made of aluminum. The flavor of perked coffee is so different from drip or French Press coffee that you could almost call it a different drink.

    For a time in my twenties I was fascinated with the flavor of cowboy coffee (i.e., coffee that is stirred into the water and boiled). I seem to remember someone writing an essay back then on how cowboy coffee was so much better than perked or drip coffee, and that all the hype about it being worse was the work of snobby know-nothings. When you think about it, Turkish coffee is really not that different from cowboy coffee. No one would suggest using drip filters to make Turkish coffee.

    When I was a kid my mom bought a French Press–which was very unusual in the states back in 1960. For my money, a French Press still delivers the best results, but perked coffee does have its charms.

  • Maura

    latenac said: “We have a drip coffee maker with a thermo pot for it so it coffee actually stays hot for 2 hours.”

    The thermos is a wonderful thing. My coffee goes right into a thermos as soon as it’s done. While the coffee is sitting, waiting to be pressed, I pour boiling water into the thermos to heat it up. The coffee stays hot for several hours.

  • Michael Nagrant

    What a debate. I’ll just weigh in here…

    1) It’s true, as people say, Michael Ruhlman is not a rube. He’s got a damn good palate, and a few great books to show for it. My guess is his percolator somehow hits the right temp for extraction and who know’s what’s going on in that Folger’s cup. It’s possible that in exploiting a third world country, they hit upon a sweet batch of Arabica. Recently I scored a couple of batches of whole bean White Hen gourmet blend from my local 7-11 at $3.99 a pound that was better than Starbucks, Peets, and Archer Farms whole bean. The third time I bought it, it was horrible. Sometimes you get lucky.

    2) Having compared various methods of making coffee, the most cost effective home solution, is buying a burr grinder (not one off those mini-krups heat seeking katana blade style grinders that removes all the essential oils and leave you with an uneven grind) and a French press, and of course good whole bean coffee, ethically sourced if possible, and maybe most importantly, recently roasted (more on sources below.)

    1)Heat filtered cold or bottled water to abou 205 degrees farenheit. Boiling will burn. Do not boil. I’m not going to get in to how many particulates or solid minerals in parts per million your water should have, but if you really care, there is a difference.

    2) Grind coffee on coarse french press setting. You need 2 tablespoons per 6 oz of boiled water. Put in bottom of French press.

    3)Pour water over coffee, wait 4 minutes, and press down to compact solids, and pour.

    3) Sources:

    Outside of the way the beans were grown, harvested (hand or machine), depulped (hand or machine)dried (hand or machine) and stored (hopefully a cool dry place), the single biggest differentiator of quality taste is when the beans were roasted. The stuff you find in vacuum bags at the Grocery, even from Starbucks or Peets or whatever was probably roasted a week or weeks ago. You need to find a good local roaster or an internet source that roasts coffee the same day they ship it.

    Finally, buying direct trade or fair trade coffee, ensuring some type of living wage for coffee farmers is a really good idea.

    As an unapologetic Chicagoan, I gotta pimp Intelligentsia. Forget fair trade…these guys pay a premium over fair trade and develop relationships with the best farms from Africa to Oaxaca, Mexico. Likewise they roast usually within 24 hours of shipping. If you want to see how they roast their coffee or listen to their dedication, check out this podcast with their company president, http://www.hungrymag.com/2006/05/22/cool-beans/or this photo piece on their roasting works, http://www.hungrymag.com/intelligentsiaroast/.

    Another good source…

    Metropolis – http://www.metropoliscoffee.com

  • Jeff

    Heretic. You have GOT to be kidding me. Is it April 1st already?

    I guess if you boil crap coffee over and over, you will get a full-flavored cup eventually, but it’s not a flavor that I’d want to taste.

    You’re right on one thing though, home drip makers don’t get coffee nearly hot enough. Please put your percolator back in the attic and get yourself a Chemex pot.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Don’t tell me I have to cross the border into Plattsburgh, NY to buy a can of Folgers cause it’s just another product us Quebecers don’t get…I am just gonna move to States as illegal resident in order not to feel like the ‘left-out friend’…but just remember I WANT the jobs Americans want!!

  • Lee Ashwood

    Heh, this remained so civil!
    I clicked on the comments link expecting to see a real cat fight.

    My mother (age 75) loves an electric perc and Folgers. Myself, I’m nursing a baby at the mo and he prefers his decaf, so no jazz for me. But boy! would I love love love to make the ceremonial 4 pm pot just like the good old days.

  • latenac

    I think this whole debate is amusing. We have a drip coffee maker with a thermo pot for it so it coffee actually stays hot for 2 hours. I like my stovetop espresso maker as well. And have fond memories of my grandparents percolators.

    I think it all boils down to taste as well as timing. My grandmother still makes Folgers and it tastes good when I’m at her house. My coffee in my drip from Porto Rico imports tastes good at my house. My FIL’s Chemex coffee tastes good at his house. None of it of course compares to coffee in France not even using a French press at home except for that cup of coffee after a fine meal anywhere.

  • cayenne

    I’m more of a French-press kind of girl, but my mum is a devotee of the percolator. She also ignores real coffee & buys Tim Horton’s in footstool-sized tins. I usually avoid Tim’s like the plague, but for some reason I’ll drink the stuff at my mum’s.

    Someone upthread (sorry, don’t remember who) mentioned the problem of rapidly cooling coffee in the French press. I found this Bodum wrap at a craft show last Christmas & it does keep the coffee warm for about an additional hour. They do custom orders, too – I wanted one to match the tea cozy I was buying & it came in about a week.

    http://tinyurl.com/2y6lhs

  • luis

    Genius Charlotte, My italian expresso machine ~10oz capacity brews regular coffee just as you said. The key is to adjust the amount of of Coffee to your own prefference. It’s fast and eliminates clutter from the kitchen counter. Makes better coffee than the drip and is repeatable beacuse of the boiling point of water is the same always. Also it eliminates PAPER FILTERS. What’s not to like. Genius. Ruhlman needs to add this one to the “elements list of basic kitchen tools”.

    On the Folgers subtopic… My opinion is buy it in brick form under heavy vacuum. The harder the brick of coffee the better. Pour the coffee brick into an airtight container. You know the ones with the big fat gasket and the wire pull down. That’s the basics. Fail to do this type of thing and tomorrow it won’t matter what brand of coffee you are brewing.

  • Gerard Stocker

    Bodum makes a stainless steel french press. It keeps coffee pretty hot for an hour or so. I always finish it before it gets cold anyway. Mine’s an 8 cup. I don’t know if they make them bigger.

  • KevinG

    @Luis – that’s how it’s done. A French Press is not too expensive, either, so it’s an easy method to try.

    You probably won’t keep all the grounds out of your cup, especially if you pour all the coffee out of the press, but the vitamins are in the crunchy bits.

  • The P/A

    My 76 year old great-aunt Kalliope served me percolator coffee a week ago. Her percolator might have been 40 years old, too.

    Of course, the perc coffee did not taste like the beautiful stuff I’ll drink from an espresso machine, briki, french press, or moka X.

    But it smelled terrific, was hot-to-my-liking and created nostalgia for long-gone family meals. It also had a smooth taste.

    I don’t know anything about the beans’ origin, and that is usually important for me (i.e. try to get Fair Trade beans). . . but Kalli’s perc coffe was a most pleasant experience. I’d drink it again.

  • luis

    “Because I don’t drink very much coffee, I’ve become hugely attached to my little Italian expresso pot — the one where you put the water in the bottom and it boils up through the grinds “=>Charlotte

    That is great, I have one of these machines I use for making “Coladas” an expresso type coffee very popular in south florida.
    I never thought of using it for making regular American style coffee. I will try it right now. In that style machine the the coffee is pressed into this middle section and the water boils (stove top machine) up through the grounds and the extracted coffee rises up and percolates down into the top reservoir. Genius.
    I recently had someone at the airport make me cup of regular coffee using their expresso machine in much this same exact way and It was delicious as airport coffee goes. Better than starbucks. What a genius idea. thanks.

  • coffeeislife

    Although I have had to give up coffee (a horrible misfortune involving medication), I have great fondness for one percolator: my grandmother’s. When she passed away several years back, I asked my father and aunts for one thing: Her percolator.
    I never figured out what type of coffee she put in (she kept it in an unmarked Tupperware), but it made the best coffee I’ve ever had.
    I own six coffee makers (including hers) of five different designs (two drip units), and I never got that same flavor out of any of them.
    Perhaps it’s because I’m too snobby to try Folgers. The very thought makes me want to scream, but hard to argue with the consensus here.
    Now if I can just get my doctor to change my meds again. Sigh.

  • luis

    to: missmaia | February 06, 2008 at 01:53 PM

    Great post, great explanation of the dynamics of making and enjoying great coffee. I always instinctivelly pour myself a morning cup and turn off the coffeemaker. My second cup I heat on the microwave as I sense and taste that microwaving coffee under its boiling point refreshes the coffee without affecting its taste very adversely. Any thoughts?

  • Frank M

    My mom was a firm believer in percs too. In fact, I’d better go get all of hers and get them (OK, all but one) up on eBay right now!

  • Java Jones

    Percolator Folgers?

    Next it will be potted meat food product on saltines, served with Thunderbird.

  • Don Luis

    I have nothing against percolators or Folgers (it’s what I grew up on), but I really like this Cuisinart , the kind with the thermal carafe and no hot plate. It will make 12 cups, and keep it hot for hours and hours, and there’s no risk of burning.

    http://www.cuisinartwebstore.com/product_detail.asp?HDR=COFFEE&T1=CUI+DTC%2D975

    And, of course, living in Puerto Rico, I use only Puerto Rican coffee. Local, sustainable, free range, small carbon footprint, organic…

  • carri

    I am stunned and amazed that you would spend so much time defending small farmers and meat producers and go and not only extoll the virtues of corporate coffee (can you say slash and burn?) but be all smug about it…you should be sourcing your beans the same way you do your precious pork! Come on man!

  • wcw

    Percolators are beautiful to see and hear (me, I incline towards my grandparents version, the clunky continental style), but the coffee they make isn’t all that good.

    It is, however, better than cheap drip.

    That’s not saying much.

    Give me a nice Yemen whole bean (note: expensive != nice) run as an Americano through the cheapest of the cheap fully automatic espresso machines out there, with a goodly chunk of half and half. A French press competes here, but halfheartedly. The percolator looks at its lovely chrome in shame. Turkish and Indonesian styles party in the next room.

    Drip twiddles its thumbs on the short bus.

    That doesn’t make percolators good.

  • marcus

    NO ONE I know has a drip coffee machine (I’m in Australia). Except one old aunty who had her’s built in to her alarm clock. I don’t think even she ever used it though. The most popular around me are the stove-top percolators and plungers…

  • KevinG

    ruhlman -

    This was an excellent topic and apparently one that generates much passion. If even one person thinks to himself “What’s a French Press?” and finds one, you’ve done the world a service.

    I grind beans daily, which is excessive, but it’s the beginning of my ritual for caffeine delivery. I have a French Press and I love it. I have a Bodum one-cup gravity drip maker (which is basically a drip coffee maker with no heating element – you pour hot water over grounds and it drains into a cup. For many interesting tools to make coffee, see their website.) It’s fun and good for emergencies. I do use the evil drip machine, as well.

    I found and bought a stovetop percolator in memory of my grandparents, since there was always one one their stove, but i never got to try their coffee. Unfortunately, it came with no instructions or timings, so finding out how to use it was interesting, to say the least. Mud needs much more sugar than regular coffee! I’ve gotten better at it lately. Plus, it drives the wife crazy, so that’s a bonus. I’m going to have to find an electric perk machine now.

    For the truly hooked, Sam’s Club had a 60-cup electric percolator in the kitchenware aisle this afternoon. My wife dragged me away as I was drooling. Some people just don’t get it.

    It could be worse – my parents drink instant, but I do think it’s Folgers.

  • Tags

    Is that thing a percolator? I thought you ripped it off the front bumper of a ’55 Cadillac. Either way, a thing of beauty.

    And since when is somebody who drinks as much coffee as you uncomfortable with the sound of someone tinkling?

  • ruhlman

    symon just called, very concerned, said I had deeper issues than he realized.

    there are infinite nuances here. I would not percolate excellent coffee, for one.

    my favorite coffee method is the french press. But it’s not practical for the way I drink coffee all morning long and has its own heat issues.

    I am delighted by the passion inspired by this subject! someone has already likened this post to Robert Parker’s advocating Mad Dog or Old English 800.

    The subject underscores an interesting point about coffee–it’s great hot and it’s great cold but it is appalling at temps in between.

    To reiterate: I would happily lead the funeral procession for the automatic drip coffee “maker” which has probably ruined more coffee than has been drunk.

  • Ben

    I didn’t read all of the comments, time being short, but I must say,
    Coffee from an electric percolator is how I got hooked in the first place! We always seemed to have the farberware ones, without the glass top, but they worked well, and seemed to round out the cheap coffee ALL of us Americans drank in those days. I can see the lure of it now, and the nostalgia, but as an older gentleman I have seemed to get swallowed up in dark roasts made in a French Press with about twice the coffe per cup than we used to use in the ol’ Farberware. I just see it as a sign of the times. I wouldn’t mind going old school every once in a while though.

  • The Yummy Mummy

    OMG! I thought I was the only one who had one of these! I got mine from my mom and I looooove it, but have always felt it was a little “un-cool”.

    I feel better now. Thanks for making me feel cooler than I really am…

  • Heidi

    Hey Swampyankee! I’ve been using an aeropress for about two months now and I could not be happier. I typically drink one good strong cup per day, and this method delivers exactly that in next to no time. The clean up is almost nil; just stand over the trash and pop out a little puck of spent grinds. And there’s something just ever so illicitly gratifying about the physical action of s-l-o-w-l-y plunging the syringe-type device which will deliver my fix of caffeine. Pretty, it ain’t, but it lives in the cupboard between uses.

  • bob mcgee

    Michael,
    I love that this subject has gotten so many comments, so quickly.

  • French Laundry at Home

    It’s fine to share some secrets, but now that you’ve shared your love of percolated coffee with the ENTIRE INTERNET, I’ll NEVER be able to find a replacement once mine dies (the one my parents got as a wedding present in 1961) because everyone is going to go buy them and there won’t be any left. Damn you, Ruhlman….. Damn you.

    :::: stomps off to her bedroom and slams the door :::: ;)

  • Rachel

    We just switched to french press here from the drip. Our reason for saying goodbye to Mr. Coffee was that the water reservoir was always getting moldy. Even though I know the boiled water would prevent germs from getting in the coffee but sanitized mold is still icky.

    I have to take issue with the use of Folgers, though. Coffee bean production is notoriously bad for the environment which is, in turn, bad for the health of the generally low paid workers doing the farming. A deforested mud pit after the rainy season is perhaps not as gut wrenching to see as an inhumane slaughterhouse. The global effects are no less devastating.

  • Frances Davey

    8 o’clock 100% Columbian coffee beans. Fresh ground. Place in basket of long dead Bunn coffee maker – lined with official Bunn filter. Place basket over caraffe of long dead Bunn coffee maker. Boil water. Pour boiling water over coffee. Be sure to inhale deeply during that first pouring. Immediately on completion of brewing, pour a nice fat cup of coffee for yourself and your deserving spouse. The rest fits nicely in a preheated thermal caraffe.

    I think that new Bunn coffee maker has been in my “Save For Later” cart at Amazon for about 2 years now. We just haven’t felt the need to replace it. I think I still have my old Farberware percolator around here somewhere. Up until I tasted the coffee from the Bunn, I thought it was the best. But when the Bunn kicked the bucket after 10 odd years of faithful, ready-in-3-minutes service, it never occurred to me to resurrect the percolator.

    We thought being human coffee makers was a temporary solution until another Bunn could be had. Well…

  • lady garlic

    coffee is one of those things that make or break the deal. i agree with thespian and those who argue the point – we all need to be heard and the beauty of this blog, michael, is that you have given us a place to chat and – hopefully- be heard.

    french press for me. and i often use espresso beans for my every day every morning cup..

    merci- dorette

  • CG

    Surely you’ve seen this $20K doodad…

    http://greacen.com/greacen/?post=943

    There’s no limit to how far a fetish will take people. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s the combination of fetish/obsessive perfection while keeping in touch with solid-home-cooked foods which makes the foody-thing fun.

    CG

  • Maura

    I’m convinced my mother has always made great coffee because she uses a percolator. She uses seriously cheap-ass coffee, and this devoted French press user loves every drop of the coffee that comes out of her percolator.
    I have one, but almost never use it. It’s best when making a larger amount of coffee. I pull it out occasionally when I’m having a dinner party.

    Thespian, I absolutely back you up on your comment. It’s not our place to tell anyone what kind of coffee (or beer, or wine, or tea) they should drink. Drinking Folger’s is not a mortal sin, and the world’s not going to end because Michael Ruhlman likes it.

    Snobs of any kind bug me.

  • Kurt

    Drip coffee makers suck. They’re okay for the office but not for polite company. As for percolated coffee, I have only tasted it out of church basement-sized equipment, the memory of which gives me the shivers. But maybe they didn’t use Folgers, which I heretofore considered to be the polyester of coffees.

    For my money, manually pouring just-off-the-boil water over (or into, in the case of a French press) freshly ground beans is the best. I make great coffee using a Melitta manual coffee maker that drips into a glass-lined thermos. It’s tasty and stays piping hot for hours without heating. Sadly, though, it appears Melitta no longer sells this type of manual coffee maker.

  • misuba

    Many of the recent Mr. Coffee models have adjustable-temp hot plates. I’ve found that if you turn the temp alllllmost all the way down, the coffee stays perfect for a good long time.

    I’m convinced that the rest is ratios. I was alarmed to find on a recent vacation that the right ratio can indeed make Folgers pretty darn nice – not subtle, but sweet and eminently drinkable. (Still, though, buy from a local roaster if you can.)

  • tlb

    This is really disturbing. At a time when many people are trying to bring awareness that coffee is an art (such as culinary arts) you’ve got a culinary expert giving everybody else false information. I’m not going to get into all the different ways to brew coffee, but when brewed correctly coffee is one of the most complex beverage (or food in that matter) tastewise. You can’t get an optimum extraction for taste using a percolator, and if you think so, consider that fact that you have never tasted great (or probably even decent) coffee before.

  • Skawt

    Ruhlman:

    This is like Bourdain’s secret sin – KFC mac’n'cheez. Folger’s. You make me very sad. Go buy a fresh package of Illy and grind it up.

  • Susan at StickyGooeyCreamyChewy

    I’m with you on the percolator issue. I have an old Farberware that my mom passed down to me. It really does make the best coffee. I only wish they would come up with a model that you could program in advance. I’d hate getting up at 6 a.m. AND have to make coffee too!

  • gb500

    I suppose that unless you live in an area where the clouds are at eyebrow level for the better part of the winter, coffee doesn’t have the same meaning as it does here in Seattle. I couldn’t survive with out my French press and freshly ground Tully’s every morning!

  • gb500

    Susan — get one of those things you plug into the electrical socket that turns lights on automatically. Set it for 6 a.m. and you’re set!

  • Jennie/Tikka

    “And instead of the aromatic, enticing rush of gurgly percolation—one of the daily pleasures of this device—you get instead the sound of someone tinkling.”

    Got a really good laugh out of that line!! ;)

    And hey – don’t forget the wheezing like a 90 year old asthmatic, too!

  • Paul DeLuca

    Great post; it really took me back to the days when the sound and aroma of my parents’ percolator came creeping into my room to nudge me awake. As for taste and preference, those are personal things that really can’t be argued.

    It also reminded me of how subtle design can be and how it impacts what we do every day in, unfortunately, mostly negative ways. The design of this machine is simple, elegant, and utilitarian. Pick up any book by Donald Norman for an eye-opening look at design.

  • RI Swampyankee

    Has anyone had experience with the AeroPress? I’m the only one in the house drinking fully caffeinated crack-in-a-cup and the AreoPress looked like a good solution. (Thank you, Louisa, for your article)

    My mom has the same loyalty to Folger’s. Never did care for it. I’ll stick to my overpriced, fair trade, shade grown, extra-crunchy, Sulawesi.

  • alkali

    One reason that the device may no longer be in production is that it essentially consists of a pot of boiling water attached to a cord that sits on the counter, possibly within reach of a toddler — as opposed to coffeemakers whose cords are typically at the back of the counter beyond a toddler’s reach. My brother was scalded badly as a toddler in such an accident (he fully recovered, thankfully). Enjoy your percolators but please avoid using them around young children.

  • idl3mind

    I remember going to deer camp as a teenager with my pop and there was a percolator there. We always had a drip machine at home. I asked my pop the first time I went to deer camp, “Pop, what is this?” to which he replied “an old coffee percolator, son.” I distinctly remember it making better coffee than our drip machine did at home.

  • Bob delGrosso

    Michael
    You can’t like Folger’s coffee. It is not organic, not fair traded, the company has a huge carbon footprint and (er, what else?) it probably tastes really bad but you just don’t notice.

    Oh my, I’m dying here (from laughter).

    As for percolated coffee as good or not. My experience is that a good electric percolator will make very good coffee and that percolated coffee’s bad rep comes mostly from those funky stovetop pots we all used to have back in the day. Those definitely got too hot and almost always turned the coffee into battery acid.

    Great post man, I loved this.

  • lux

    @charlotte — there’s some key differences between the two.

    In an espresso pot, the water is turned into steam before moving through the coffee grinds and then up into the final holding chamber. In a percolator, boiling water is repeatedly circulated through the coffee grinds.

    That’s also why you’d use a fine grind for an espresso machine but a coarse one for a percolator.

  • thespian

    Dear Peeps Who Don’t Seem to Get It:

    Coffee drinking, like any other caloric intake that isn’t water and incredibly basic carbs and protein, is about the amount of pleasure that you take from the food and drink you’re consuming.

    I am sort of amused that some of you are lecturing MICHAEL RUHLMAN that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and addressing him like he has an uneducated palate and you just have to set him straight, the poor dear.

    I like my coffee milky and candy sweet, with ice cream in it in summertime, and often with a good shot of chocolate in it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, regardless of how insane that drives coffee snobs. What matters is the amount of pleasure that a person takes from the consumption. If Ruhlman is pleased with his coffee, then telling him he’s wrong is inane. His coffee might not be your ultimate coffee experience, but it’s an indulgence, a sensory experience created for himself, and I have a sneaking suspicion that if you feel the need to tell him he’s wrong, you’ve missed a lot of the point of his writing.

  • Fred

    I was once in Folgers HQ in Cincinnati Ohio, and saw a poster on the wall showing closeups of different grades of coffee, from top-quality AA coffee to D-grade. The Folgers boss said, “We’re on the bottom there.” He chuckled and said “I drink Starbucks.”

  • Charlotte

    Because I don’t drink very much coffee, I’ve become hugely attached to my little Italian expresso pot — the one where you put the water in the bottom and it boils up through the grinds — in fact, if I think about it, it’s sort of a similar design to the percolator. It makes me one very strong cup of coffee that is indeed nice and hot. Lots of milk, a little sugar, and an afternoon’s editing gets done … (Plus, there’s that great scene in The Best of Youth where Carlo and Francesca fall in love over a pot of coffee Carlo makes for her … sigh.)

  • french tart

    after spending many years (and many dollars) trying all kinds of fancypanted coffee beans and grinding them up prior to brewing, our household decided that by far the best coffee we’ve ever had is Dunkin’ Donuts brand, in a plastic reclosable ziptop bag found at Costco. i’d be willing to try Folgers though.

    the coffee grinder is now the spice grinder.

  • Jen

    I love my Farberware percolator (though it’s not nearly as elegant as the GE model you have). It’s a smaller version of my parents’ percolator that just kicked the bucket over the Christmas holidays (unfortunate timing!) after over 30 years of use and was brewing an excellent cup of standard canned coffee until the very last.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Oh my G__sh! There are some things that just pop back into memory like my parent’s percolator that used to bubble up into the glass knob on top and that’s how they knew it was ready..we are BIG coffee drinkers and I own the Saeco Professional which sits on the counter and with the press of one button grinds and pours the best cup of coffee into which i pour 10% cream…mmm gotta go get one….and 2 sweet n low

  • lux

    Ruhlman, I love you, but you are dead wrong that percolator coffee is good coffee. You’re basically boiling those poor beans into insensibility when you use a percolator. And Folgers? Are you serious?

    There are better ways to make strong coffee than that. Do yourself a favor and buy some real coffee. And a decent espresso machine.

    A good shot of espresso is a gift from the gods: smooth, strong, and sweet. Learn to make one and you’ll never drink percolated Folgers again.

  • breadchick

    That does it. I’m booking a ticket right now to go back home to N.Michigan and raid my grandfather’s house where I know the 1962 GE percolator sits forgotten and abandoned under the sink.

    The memories this post brought back are as strong as the smell of coffee I just brewed in a dreaded drip maker.

  • missmaia

    Sorry, but I have to respectfully disagreewith this statement: “percolators keep the coffee HOT, auto-drips burn it.”
    That is simply NOT true. Coffee arrives at optimum extraction of solids when brewed at 195-200 degrees (just off and under boil). nearly every drip maker on the market (with the exception of the technovorm) does not reach anywhere near these temperatures. This is why your coffeehouse brewer makes better coffee than a home model- they brew at a higher temperature. The ‘burning’ of the coffee, as you say, occurs on the hotplate in many models, well AFTER the coffee is brewed.
    However, the coffee from a percolator is made from water heated to a boil- which yes, creates a better extraction of the solids into the water, but at that high of a temp, it will also extract ‘undesirables’.

    The best method, to hold coffee hot is not to perk, or to use the hotplate on most coffeemakers, but to brew coffee (using a french press or melitta) with water at the appropriate temps and time of extraction, and then place it in a vacuum carafe. :>

  • Shelley

    Percolators and french presses may be wonderful, but I’m standing by my Senseo. It makes a damned good cup, and since I’m an isolated internet hermit who rarely sees another coffee-imbibing human being (sob!!), the one-dose-at-a-time delivery system suits me fine. So there. :)

  • Jason

    Cheap drip makers don’t get the water hot enough (around 200 F). Just about anything will be better, even percs.

    But CANNED COFFEE?!? After your realization that food is somewhat political? Come on.

    Some places to start reading (search for these, as links aren’t allowed): Coffee Kids, CoffeeGeek

  • t-scape

    I have been wanting a percolator since I used my dad’s a couple of years ago. He uses Folgers-type coffee as well and it did, indeed, come out tasting surprisingly good. But the penny-pincher in me is having trouble justifying getting rid of a year-old drip machine and buy a percolator. Why did I buy that drip machine?! I’m going to go slap my forehead now.

    French press coffee is very good, indeed, but it makes me crazy-jittery. I had one at work for a while, to make my morning coffee, and it was not a good scene.

  • chris brandow

    why is it better than french press? my dad always used the exact same percolator and it makes great coffee, and I am terribly fond ot them. However, I still think that it doesn’t beat the simplicity and flavor of a french press (or at least teh coffee brewed in it :-) ).

  • Russ

    I’m not much of a coffee drinker, and I don’t consider my palate in that respect to be very educated. I really have dog in the fight, but the food scientist in me is intrigued.

    You describe the product as being both “burnt” and “tepid”. Curious. Both appliances are electric, so apply heat to a liquid in similar fashion.

    Can someone describe the workings of the percolator? Is the heating element at the bottom or perhaps a column inside of the carafe? Is the coffee sealed, what is the percolating action exactly? I’m trying to understand what produces such different results.

  • Adam

    Bidding on E-bay as I type … I only hope your post doesn’t push the prices too high!

  • Louisa Chu

    Michael, my jaw is twinging in pain from my “taste” memory of Folgers! I tried making a good cup using a French press and a Chemex. I *really* tried – adjusting water temp, amount of coffee – one of the most common problems, people not using enough coffee. But I could only get a burnt water taste – “an infusion of ashtray”! Maybe the perc does something better for that coffee? But coffee is one of those extremely personal tastes. I have to admit I do like a sweet, milky cup sometimes – but not with the great coffees. How do you take your coffee by the way?

    My Clover review – they would not let me make the Folgers in it :) http://www.chow.com/stories/10853

  • frances

    Was “wake up and smell the coffee” too snarky an ending? :-D

    Although I’m picky about my coffee, I’m curious enough to try the Folgers-n-perc method because your writing and Donna’s photo make it sound so good.

    Plus, I could never sneer about anyone’s love for Folgers since I loves me a plain old-fashioned Hershey bar.

  • Kovalic

    While I far prefer a percolator to automatic drip, give me my trusty French Press any day…

    Easy…delicious…and I used it to make a great cup of coffee in the middle of the desert!

  • phoebe

    They are my favorite. I have one that is also older than I am..And it shines up and looks fabulous and the coffee stays HOT

  • krysta

    I don’t drink coffee but my mom swears by percolators. She’ll be happy to know that someone who knows and writes about food thinks the same way she does.

  • Detzel Pretzel

    That does it…I’m buying a percolator! I’ve went back and fourth, to and fro trying to keep my auto-drip crapolator for too long. I’m done with that lukewarm brown water.

    Thanks for the push…and also thanks for the testicular fortitude to admit you use Folger’s!
    If it can make that stuff taste good, I might just be able to use dirt.