Anyone who has made a cup of coffee has likely stumbled across these brew methods. Both percolated and drip brewed are two of the most popular ways to make a cup of coffee. However, every method of brewing a cup of coffee will impart unique flavors and aromas.
I can’t necessarily tell you which one will tickle your palette more, but I can go over what makes these processes different.
Lets take a look at how these coffee making processes work and then compare the advantages and disadvantages both.
The percolator has been around for a long time. It was first invented back in the 1800s, but patented in the US by James H. Mason in 1865. Needless to say it’s a time tested method for brewing coffee, and it’s still widely used today.
A percolator refers to the pot used to brew the coffee. It’s comprised of a bottom chamber where the water goes and a top chamber where the coffee grounds go. The coffee grounds are typically held in a metal basket filter.
When the water heats up, it boils through the middle spout, creates condensation, and then drips over the coffee grounds extracting color, flavor, and aroma. It then drips back into the pot and the process is recycled.
This means that throughout the process, some water might filter through your coffee grounds multiple times, which only creates a stronger flavor profile. It will keep happening until you decide to take if off the heat source.
About 100 years after the percolator, coffee filters were invented by Melitta Bentz. Fast forward to 1954, Gottlob Widmann patents the first electric drip brew system.
These days, automatic drip brew systems are a dime a dozen and are massed produced by companies like Mr. Coffee and Hamilton Beach.
The system is usually comprised of a water reservoir, a filter basket for the coffee grounds, shower-head, and a pot (carafe). Drip coffee is most commonly made using an automatic system, but it can also be done manually. Both the manual and automatic process are gravity fed, but the process of a pour-over is a whole different animal.
Coffee made with a percolator has a tendency to have a more acidic, stronger taste since the water filters multiple times through the coffee grounds. The longer the coffee percolates, the stronger the flavors become.
So if dark, strong coffee is your preference, then the percolator is your best friend. Some people find that this process results in a bitter coffee. The subtle tones are overshadowed because the beans are over-extracted. This can be prevented by shortening brew time and adjusting grind size.
Coffee made with a drip brew system has a more light/medium body. The coffee is filtered and this prevents oils and fine grinds from reaching your cup/carafe. Most of the subtle flavors that are lost in a percolator are present in a drip brew.
You are able to adjust grind size based on your beans roast: fine for dark roasts, and coarse for light roasts. These adjustments make for a more flavorful and enjoyable brew.
One of the issues these systems often have is the saturation of the grinds. Most drip brew systems will have a shower-head that causes parts of the grind to become over and under-extracted.
I need to preface this section by saying that one of my biggest issues with “comparisons” of drip brew coffee makers is the products they use for the comparison.
Comparing a top tier percolator to a Mr. Coffee maker doesn’t make sense. Where-as if you were to compare it to better drip brew system like a Technivorm, the differences are noticeable.
Most percolators function the same way. However they do come as portable options (for stove tops and camp fires). They also come in electric versions. A low-tech, portable option can run you anywhere from $10-$20. Where-as a high-tech option can run you $20-$150.
Standard automatic drip brewing machines can range from $20-$50 (think Mr. Coffee and Hamilton Beach). On the high end of the spectrum they can run from $100-$500 (think Technivorm and Breville). There are also low-tech pour-over options that can range from $20-$40.
It’s difficult to say which coffee brewing method actually makes the best tasting coffee. As I said above, it really comes down to personal taste preferences and I can’t say what will tantalize your taste-buds.
If you like a hot, strong cup of coffee, then percolator coffee might be the best option. If you like a light/medium bodied tasting coffee then drip coffee might be best.