Percolator VS Drip Coffee — Two Popular Brewing Methods Compared

There are several coffee brewing methods and countless machines, equipment, and accessories to brew coffee. Percolator vs Drip coffee comparison is especially interesting. For an American household, the drip coffee maker occupies the space once held by the percolator. 

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Up until the ‘70s, most households used a percolator. Then the position went to the drip coffee machine. Let’s see how these two popular coffee makers compare today, and which one should you pick, if you have to choose between the two.

Both these popular methods can brew a great cup of coffee. But which one would suit your requirements and taste buds?

How Does A Percolator Work?

The percolator has been around for nearly a century. It is fairly easy to use and makes caffeine-rich and strong coffee. Percolators need a heat source. Modern percolators often use electricity, but the preferred mode generally is a stovetop.

As construction goes, a percolator usually has three parts:

  • The bottom stores water
  • The middle stores coffee grounds
  • The top is where coffee condenses/collects

The construction can vary with specific models. Top, middle, and bottom of the percolator can be separate compartments like usually seen in the Moka pot. While this is one example, several other options like the best camping percolator are available. 

It’s also possible that the top and bottom of a percolator coffee pot are not separated by a clear boundary. In these cases, the “middle” containing coffee grounds usually acts as an infuser.

So how does a percolator work? As the water is heated, it comes into contact with the coffee grounds and brewed coffee starts collecting at the top compartment. For some percolator coffee pots, the heated water simply hangs around the coffee filter and the extraction process continues. 

Due to the constant heat and evaporation/condensation of water, the coffee gets fairly strong. In fact, there’s a good chance your percolator coffee could be bitter. Over-extraction can be a part of brewing coffee with a percolator. 

It will also be caffeine-rich. If a caffeine-kick is what you want, a percolator is just what you need!

You can read more about the percolator in this Percolator vs French Press comparison.

Percolator Highlights

  • Brews strong, caffeine-rich coffee
  • Chance of bitter coffee due to over-extraction
  • Percolators can be used from single-cup to very large servings
  • Preferred coffee grind is medium-coarse
  • Time taken: 2-10 minutes
  • Usually requires someone to “keep watch” due to risk of spills

How Does A Drip Coffee Maker Work?

The most popular coffee maker category in the market today, the drip coffee maker is remarkable for its simple and convenient operation. Drip coffee makers run on electricity. Generally, apart from the electronics involved, the coffee maker includes a water reservoir, filter basket, and carafe.

The drip coffee maker will heat water from the reservoir to near boiling temperature. The water is then transported to the filter basket where it pours over coffee grinds. Eventually, coffee flows into the carafe.

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Drip Coffee Maker Features

Features define how a drip coffee maker works. Features of the drip coffee machine can vary remarkably, given the large number of models and options. Some of the most common features include:

  • Programmable coffee makers: Many drip coffee makers, even in the entry-level range offer programmable functions. In this case, the coffee maker can be set to brew the beverage at a set time, usually up to 24 hours in advance. The machine automatically turns on at the time and brews coffee. Many coffee makers also include an auto-off function to shut off some time after brewing is complete.
  • Hot plate: A hot plate is usually seen under the carafe of the drip coffee maker. This provides heat to the carafe, and ensures that the brewed coffee stays at the right temperature. 
  • Brew strength management: Many drip coffee makers allow the user to select how strong they want their coffee. While regular and bold/strong are common options, multiple options may be available with some machines.
  • Brew size management: Typically, a drip coffee maker is expected to brew a full carafe. However, many machines also offer the option to brew a specific number of cups. Depending on the machine and its features, you could brew a single cup, half-carafe, or other options.

This is only a small list of common features. The sheer variety of drip coffee makers and their flexibility means there is a very wide range of features available. For example, there are many coffee makers with hot water dispenser options. Most of the popular single-serve Keurig machines are drip coffee makers.

Drip Coffee Maker Highlights

  • Prefer medium grind (or as suggested by the machine)
  • Suggested water temperature: 180-195 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Time taken to brew: Few seconds to ten minutes, depending on the coffee maker

Percolator VS Drip Coffee – A Deeper Comparison

Which Method Is Easier To Brew Coffee?

Where convenience and ease are concerned, drip coffee makers win hands down. Options like the programmable/automatic features mean that the coffee can be brewed without external interference. All the user needs is to set up a time, and the coffee will brew automatically.

This part is just an illustration of the use of a drip coffee maker. A simple push of the button is enough to get the drip coffee maker brewing coffee.

You’ll still have to add water and coffee grounds, but those are necessities needed for any coffee brewing. 

As the method goes, drip is miles ahead in convenience.

Which Method Brews The Better Coffee?

Taste is a subjective opinion, so there cannot be any wrong answer here. However, I believe that the drip coffee maker wins this category as well. Percolators tend to over-extract and make bitter coffee. A drip coffee maker will avoid going bitter. It is rare for drip coffee makers to brew bitter coffee, unless it’s some unexpected occurrence.

While they’re bitter, percolators make a strong coffee with a notable caffeine kick. The caffeine kick is a problem easy to solve for drip coffee makers – just get a strong, caffeine-rich coffee!

Which Coffee Maker Is More Portable?

This category goes to the percolator. For coffee makers of comparable volume, the drip will have less portability than the percolator. This is simply because the percolator only needs a stovetop and therefore can even go camping. A drip machine needs electricity.

For coffee makers of the same serving volume, a percolator is likely to be more compact and lighter than a drip coffee maker.

Curious About Other Coffee Brewing Methods? See These Comparisons

Is It Easy To Clean This Coffee Maker?

Again, the percolator wins. Most percolators are easy and simple to clean. For drip coffee makers, specifics depend on the model chosen. However, they will need regular cleaning and/or descaling. 

How Fast Can I Get My Coffee?

A percolator takes 2-10 minutes but can brew enough coffee to serve a large group in that time. Time taken by drip coffee makers depends on the specific model. Some machines can have a cup of coffee ready within seconds. Some will take several minutes.

Time taken by drip coffee makers can also be dependent on specific requirements. For example, SCAA certified coffee makers need about 4-6 minutes of water contact for a medium grind, and up to 8 minutes for a coarse grind.

Which Is The Coffee Maker To Pick?

In the percolator vs drip coffee comparison, I’d say easier use with the modern lifestyle is a key factor. And that’s where the drip coffee maker wins over the percolator. It’s easy, convenient, and makes great coffee. Unless you have a clear preference for percolators, my suggestion would be to pick a drip coffee maker.