Percolator VS French Press — Which Is The Right Fit?

Percolator and French press are both classic equipment for brewing coffee. They’ve both been around since the dawn of time – or almost a century – whichever sounds more plausible. 

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A few years ago, it looked like the drip coffee maker had devoured these two. But they’ve made a fantastic comeback and are perhaps more popular now than ever.

Read more: Best Coffee Beans for your French Press

Here’s a question everyone who has ever wanted a coffee maker has grappled with – which is the better choice? Our percolator vs French press comparison puts both these famed coffee makers to the test.

Preference and requirement play a big part in choosing the right coffee maker.

There are some notable differences in the brew from both methods. Let’s take a closer look.

Brewing Coffee In A Percolator

Until drip machines arrived on the scene, the percolator was the most common way for brewing coffee in the USA. The simplicity of the machine is a great driver for its use. Another important factor is that it brews strong coffee with a kick that could reach the high heavens.

In a conventional construction a percolator has three parts:

  1. The Bottom: This is where you place the water.
  2. Middle: Here’s where the coffee grounds are placed. In many cases, this is a perforated donut-shaped ring.
  3. The Top: The brewed coffee condenses here.

The principle is simple. As the water at the bottom is heated, steam is formed. This steam rises through the coffee grounds and condenses on the top as coffee. The process repeats itself as long as the heat is available and often results in a strong brew. 

A percolator’s top can be a separate chamber. However, in many cases, the top is simply where the water condenses and then flows back to the bottom.

If your motivation rests on a caffeine-rich strong coffee, the percolator is where the action is at.

Conventionally, the percolator was placed on a stovetop to heat the water. These percolators are still available and fairly popular. Though the modern world tends to favor percolators powered by electricity.

Steps To Making Coffee In A Percolator

Making coffee in a percolator is remarkably easy. It doesn’t need some skillful preparation, though being a bit more cautious certainly helps. The steps here provide a whirlwind tour of brewing coffee in a percolator.

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  • Add water: Let’s start by adding water. The amount of water needed is roughly equal to the number of cups of coffee you want. It’s a good idea to add something extra. For example, if you want to brew five cups, maybe add six or five and a half cups of water.
  • Coffee: Put some coffee in the filter. The recommendation for a good, strong brew is one tablespoon for every cup of coffee you want.
  • Add heat: Time to close the coffee maker and let the cup of java brew. The exact time depends on the heating speed and the amount of coffee you want. Mostly, this takes two-ten minutes.

That’s it! You’re ready. Interestingly, you don’t have to wait for the full batch to brew. You can simply pour a cup of coffee at any time in the process. It won’t be as strong, but it will still be pretty good.

Another thing about percolators is that they can size up pretty easily. For your home, you may think of a four or six-cup coffee maker. That’s easy. Percolators can easily go to big numbers. This 60-cup stainless steel coffee urn is an interesting example.

If you’re looking for those floral, fruity notes in your coffee, look elsewhere. The percolator ain’t got time for that. What it is meant for, is brewing strong, delicious coffee. The taste notes often end up being sacrificed.

Highlights Of Brewing Coffee With A Percolator

  • Brews strong coffee
  • Uses medium-coarse coarse ground coffee
  • Can be used from medium to very large servings
  • Suggested ratio: 1 tablespoon coffee grinds for every cup
  • Time taken: 2-10 minutes

Making A Great Cuppa With The French Press

French press could very well be the epitome of the simplicity of brewing great coffee. Let the coffee grounds and water sit, press the plunger, and your coffee is ready. Apart from the temperature, coffee extraction is also aided by the (small) pressure exerted by the plunger.

It makes a full-bodied, strong cup of coffee to enjoy. The coffee is flavorful and its body goes well for additives like cream, honey, etc. There isn’t much complexity in the brewing process either. The extraction comes from putting water at the right temperature with coffee grounds. 

Unlike the percolator, no direct heat is applied to the French press. You add water at the right temperature to coffee and let it steep. 

Steps To Brewing French Press Coffee

  • Add coffee: Put coffee in the French press. A medium-coarse grind is preferable. The ideal ratio is three tablespoons for each cup.
  • Add water: Pour water over the coffee grounds. The preferred temperature is 180-195 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Let it steep: Place the plunger on the carafe but don’t press it. Let the coffee steep for 3-5 minutes, depending on how strong you want your brew.
  • Press the plunger: Once the extraction is done, press the plunger. The movement should be slow but deliberate.
  • Pour your coffee: As the plunger hits the bottom, you’re ready to pour the coffee.

Coffee brewed with a French press will not be “clear”. While the metal filter stops larger grinds, the small ones will pass through and make their way to your cup. Additionally, oils from the coffee will not be absorbed and will make their way to the cup. Both of these are highlights of French press coffee, giving it the unique texture and body we’ve come to love.

French Press Coffee Highlights

  • Coffee grind: medium-coarse
  • Brews strong, full-bodied coffee
  • Suggested ratio: three tablespoons of coffee per cup
  • Water temperature: 180-195 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Time to brew: 3-5 minutes

The Blow By Blow: French Press VS Percolator

Speed Of Brewing – How Fast Can I Get My Coffee?

Making coffee with a percolator takes anywhere between 2-10 minutes, while the French press takes 3-5 minutes. However, there is an additional element of time for the French press – the water has to be heated separately. It doesn’t take much time but does reduce the gap a bit.

Secondly, the practical time for the percolator is usually lower. You’d probably want your coffee in 7-8 minutes. For a percolator the same volume as a French press, you likely won’t see a big time difference.

Number Of Servings Each Method Can Brew

Both of these methods are fairly flexible. In raw numbers though, the percolator is tough to beat. Once you reach 12 cups, the French press is pretty much at its limit. Percolators, on the other hand, can easily manage volume. Some percolators can serve a hundred cups of coffee.

The Coffee: Flavor, Texture, And Body

Coffee from the French press is full-bodied and retains the taste notes and undertones. Moreover, the cup is on the grittier side, thanks to the presence of coffee oils. 

Percolators pretty much brew a clean cup. However, the coffee is bound to be strong and rich in caffeine. Subtle taste notes won’t carry through with the percolator, but fans of strong coffee certainly can love the taste.

Ease Of Use

Both French press and percolator are easy to use. There’s little to no effort involved and you can get your coffee pretty easily. If I had to pick one, I’d say the French press is easier. The setup for a French press is remarkably simple and very easy to manage. 

Percolators need to be watched. Due to the heating and the steam being formed, there’s always a small chance of leakage. If that happens, it can cause a big mess. 

Portability – Which Brewer Is Easier To Move

Percolator and French press are both easy to move. For the same cup volume, they can be fairly similar in size. Of course, the larger 60-cup percolator won’t be easy to move. However, the conventional 6 to 12 cup percolator is easy to handle.

Simplicity does have its advantages. You can get French press travel mugs that are as easy to move as, well, a travel mug! Many of these are double-walled and insulated. That means, apart from being portable, these travel mugs make it possible to brew coffee wherever you want.

In the conventional sense, the percolator and French press are both equally portable. Add in some innovations, and the French press moves ahead.

Which One Is The Easier To Clean?

The percolator! They tend to have a simpler construction and remain easier to clean and maintain. While the French press isn’t a burden, it isn’t as easily cleaned as a percolator.

Does This Battle Have A Clear Winner?

Preferences can be arbitrary and clearly, both of these coffee brewing methods are well rounded. It’s tough to take a clear pick in the percolator vs French press comparison since it is essentially personal preference. And for me, that preference is the French press!