Coffee percolators need either a stove burner or an electric heating element to get them bubbling. The two types of percolators work on the same principle: Hot water bubbles through a stem to the filter basket, where it washes over the coffee grounds. This mixture then falls back into the pot, where the process is repeated until the desired coffee strength has been reached.
Percolators generate hot liquids that must be handled with care. Both types, electric and stove-fired, will be hot to the touch and should always be picked up by the handle, not the pot itself.
Electric coffeepots have self-contained heating units that are attached to a cord and wall plug. Never pull or jerk the cord to remove it from the socket, and always check for frays and cracks in cords before use.
Stove-top percolators rely on burner heat to percolate the water inside. The stove itself, as well as the pot, will become very hot. Handles should be turned in and kept away from the edge of the stove, especially if children are present. Anyone scalded by hot coffee should seek immediate medical help.
Basic tips for both
Flavor is ultimately a matter of taste. To that end, any ground coffee will work in any percolator. But to make the best cup of coffee, use premium grounds.
As a general rule, use 1 teaspoon of grounds for each cup of coffee, but that ratio may be adjusted for taste. Ideally, use freshly ground coffee beans.
Percolators work best with coarse-ground coffee. Finely ground coffee may pass through the filter basket holes and leave grounds in every cup.
The filter basket (filled with grounds) should be removed as soon as percolation is complete. Take the cover off carefully to avoid scalding yourself, pull out the filter basket and discard the used grounds. If you leave the old grounds in the pot, steam will condense on top and drip back into the coffee. This will strengthen the brew and make it more bitter.
Start the pot, filled with water and grounds, at a medium heat. Stove-top percolators have glass tops that let you watch the process. When you see percolation, turn the heat to low.
As the coffee percolates, watch the color through the glass top. Since there is no automatic thermostat on a stove-top percolator, the only way to judge the strength of the coffee is by how dark it appears inside the glass bubble as it brews.
Because virtually any heat source will do, stove-top percolators can be taken where electric percolators won't work. Camping, for instance, can be very enjoyable with a fresh hot cup of percolated coffee made over a morning campfire.
Electric percolators can be plugged in and simply allowed to percolate. They have thermostats that automatically stop the percolation process after a certain time, and they keep the coffee warm automatically.
Many electric percolators have variable strength settings. A shorter setting results in a milder cup of coffee. Longer settings make for stronger coffee.
Once it has finished percolating, coffee can be transferred to a thermal jug to keep it hot and tasty without using any more electricity.
Cleaning and care
Coffee tastes best from a clean coffeepot. Cleaning after every use will ensure the finest cup of coffee from your percolator. Always be sure to unplug an electric percolator before cleaning.
As a general rule, clean a new percolator before the first use. Regular dish washing liquid works well. Department stores carry special brushes to clean inside the stem, but a standard pipe cleaner works just as well.
Always rinse thoroughly after using any kind of dish washing detergent. You do not want the taste of soap in your next cup of coffee.