How Do Percolator Coffee Brewers Work?

A Beginner’s Guide to Percolator Coffee Brewers

Hand drawn image of how a percolator works

Percolator coffee brewers make coffee using a process called percolation. (Surprise!) To start, place the brewer on a heat source like a stovetop. When the water starts to boil in the pot, it will travel up the tube in the center of the percolator. At the top of the brewer there is a basket filled with coarse ground coffee. As the water reaches the top of the tube it will spurt out the top. The hot water showers down and runs through the ground coffee.

This cycle repeats itself until the coffee is at your preferred strength. The top of the percolator has a glass bulb so you can see the colour of your coffee and know when it’s ready.

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Percolator vs. Moka Pot

It is common for Moka pots to be mistaken for percolator coffee brewers. But instead of percolating, Moka pots use steam pressure. This force the hot water up through the ground coffee. This is different than Percolators, which drip hot water through the coffee.
For more information on Moka pots check out our full article What Is a Moka Pot?

Pros and Cons of Percolators

There are a whole host of reasons for why a percolator is the perfect brewer for you. Its important to love both the way you make the coffee… and the brew you’re creating!

Pros of a Percolator

  • Inexpensive
  • Brews great coffee
  • Easy to use
  • Can make large amounts of coffee
  • No need for paper filters

Cons of a Percolator

  • Bulky for traveling

Choosing the Right Percolator

There are many different types of coffee percolators, each with their own features. If you need help finding the one that will work best for you, we can help. This guide will walk you through the best percolators that Cupper’s Coffee & Tea has to offer.

Enamelware Percolators

Enamel percolators are perfect for camping. They travel well and are tough. They also work well on your stovetop at home if you want to bring a taste of the outdoors to your morning. Browse our full enamelware collection for a full set of matching cups and mugs.

Stainless Steel Percolators

We love our Tops Stainless Steel Percolators. They are the perfect brewer/kitchen decor item. Your guests will love the coffee you serve them from one of these sleek, retro brewers. The best part? They come in many sizes, so no matter the size of your coffee appetite, we have you covered.

How To Brew the Perfect Cup of Percolator Coffee

So you have your percolator coffee brewer all picked out. You have ground your fresh roasted coffee, and you’re ready to go. Now what? Follow these tips and tricks to make the perfect cup of coffee, as well as extend the life of your beautiful brewer.

Step-by-Step How to Brew Coffee in a Percolator

  1. Remove the basket and stem from the percolator.
  2. Fill the percolator with water. If you’re in a hurry, you can use hot water to speed up the brewing process. If you have the time, use cold water to start as it makes a better brew.
  3. Fill the brewer basket with coarse ground coffee. Don’t pack it down, it should be loose.
  4. Place the basket and brewing tube into the brewing chamber. Ensure the base of the tube is in the correct holding spot in the bottom of the pot.
  5. Place the coffee pot on your heat source.
  6. After a few minutes you will be able to hear the water bubbling. You will also be able to see the coffee percolating through the glass bubble at the top.
  7. Allow the coffee to brew until it reaches desired strength. You can check on the colour of the coffee through the glass bubble. This step usually takes around 5 minutes.
  8. Do not open the lid while coffee is percolating. You risk getting burned with the sputtering boiling water.
  9. Serve and enjoy!

Common Mistakes Using a Percolator Coffee Brewer

Percolator coffee brewers are an easy coffee maker to use. Even so, you can still make mistakes that definitely affect the quality of your cup of coffee. These are easy to correct when you realize you’ve erred!

  • Using too much or too little coffee.
  • Not properly cleaning your percolator.
  • Using poor quality or old coffee.
  • Grinding the coffee too fine or too coarse.

To read more on brewing the best cup of coffee with any brewer check out our Beginner’s Guide to Coffee Beans.

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Percolator Coffee Brewer

Cleaning your percolator coffee brewer might sound boring, but it’s actually super easy and fun! Plus, it’ll make your coffee taste even better. Here’s your how to on cleaning your perc for future great coffee.

What you’ll need:
  •  Dish soap
  • Warm water
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • A soft sponge or cloth


  1. Dump out any leftover coffee and rinse the percolator with warm water. Don’t forget to take out the basket and other removable parts!
  2. Add some dish soap and warm water to the percolator. Use your sponge or cloth to scrub the inside and outside of the percolator. If there are any tough stains, you can use a little baking soda to help scrub them away.
  3. Rinse the percolator with lots of warm water to get rid of all the soap suds and residue.


While you’re cleaning your percolator, check the inside for signs of limescale. This is a by-product of the minerals found in hard water. If you are noticing a buildup starting to form, you’ll need to descale it sooner rather than later. We recommend letting your brewer soak with hot water and a bit of Dezcal for 30-60 minutes. When it’s done soaking, wipe the scale out with a cloth or sponge.

Frequently Asked Questions

What types of coffee are best for percolators?
In all truth, whichever coffee is your favourite is the best one to use. We like the Coalbanks Joe because it lends itself well to this type of brewing.
Can I use a percolator on a camping trip?
You bet you can! Percolators are one of the classic camping coffee brewers. For more camping coffee ideas check out our article on Camping Coffee Makers.
Can I use a percolator coffee brewer to make tea or hot chocolate?
You could use one to make tea, but you would want to make sure that you use a black tea that brews well in boiling water. You also want to make sure your perc is VERY clean to avoid coffee flavours in your tea. To read more about brewing tea check out our Guide to Luxury Tea. A percolator works well as a hot chocolate brewer.
How long does it take to brew coffee in a percolator?
It’s about five minutes once the water starts to boil. The full brewing time will depend on the size of brewer you are using. The bigger the percolator, the longer it will take to heat the larger volume of water.
Can I use a percolator to make cold brew coffee?
No. You need the water to be boiling to make coffee in a percolator. You could brew very strong hot coffee and pour it over ice for a decent iced coffee though.
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