What Is A Coffee Percolator And How Does It Work?

Table of Contents (click to expand)

A coffee percolator is a tool for brewing coffee through the continuous cycle of brewing water. The heat source heats the water in the bottom chamber, which begins boiling. The water then seeps through the coffee grounds and makes its way to the bottom of the coffee chamber.

Coffee can be made in many different ways. There are a number of different kinds of brewing machines and straining mechanisms and methods used when making coffee. However, the most authentic flavors of coffee are derived from the coffee percolation method. A coffee percolator is one method for brewing coffee through the continuous cycle of brewing water. Coffee percolators were the most popular tool for making and enjoying coffee until automatic drip makers came along.  The reason why coffee percolators are still around is that they can remove some of the volatile compounds present in the beans. Although there is a slight compromise in flavor, the aroma that the coffee percolator gives is highly aromatic. Despite losses in flavor, percolator enthusiasts maintain that the potential pitfalls of this brewing method can be eliminated by carefully controlling the brewing process. Now, let’s take a look at the history of the coffee percolator.

coffe beans
(Image Credit: Flickr)

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The funny thing about the coffee percolator is that it was first developed by a physicist! In fact, it was accomplished by American-born British Physicist Count Rumford, also known as Sir Benjamin Thompson. He was also a noteworthy soldier with significant military contributions. It is estimated that he invented the percolating coffee pot between 1810 and 1814. In fact, it was his complete disdain for both tea and alcohol that led him to create the percolator and promote the stimulating effects of coffee. His initial model of the coffee percolator is now obsolete in today’s age.

(Photo Credit : Andreaze/Wikimedia Commons)

It was the Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich who patented the modern stove top percolator that we know today. He was granted the patent on  August 16th  1889, with a patent number of 408707. The key elements present in his design are the broad base for boiling, the up-flow central tube and the perforated basket hanging on it. It was Goodrich’s designed that changed the standard coffee pot into the stove top percolator; further improvements have made very few significant changes in the overall design.

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A coffee percolator consists of a pot with a small chamber at the bottom of the coffee percolator. The chamber is closest to the heat source. There is a vertical tube that leads from this chamber to the top of the coffee percolator. Just below the upper end of the tube is the perforated chamber.

The desired quantity is poured into the chamber of the pot and a certain amount of coarse-ground coffee is placed in the top section of the coffee percolator. The heat source under the percolator heats the water in the bottom chamber. The water at the bottom of the chamber begins boiling, which leads to the formation of the bubbles. These bubbles rise due to similarities in principle with an airlift pump. The principle of the airlift pump involves energy derived solely from compressed air. Since the buoyancy of the air is less than the density of the liquid, the liquid begins rising quickly.

(Photo Credit : UnknownFerret/Wikimedia Commons)

The water eventually begins rising up the vertical tube and out the top of the vertical tube. When the water comes out of the top, the water flows out of the lid of the coffee chamber. The perforations present on top of this lid evenly distribute the water over the finely ground coffee. The water then seeps through the coffee grounds and makes its way to the bottom of the coffee chamber.

A cycle now starts to occur. From the bottom of the coffee chamber, the water drops down to the colder part of the bottom chamber. This forces the water to move up the vertical tube. As the water droplets fall down from a height, it helps to thoroughly mix the fluid in the bottom chamber, while the fluid also keeps ascending the vertical tube. This cycle keeps repeating over and over until a fine brew is formed. Now you know how coffee around the world is made using a coffee percolator!

Also Read: How Does A Water Cooler Work?

References (click to expand)
  1. Coffee percolator - Wikipedia. Wikipedia
  2. How Does a Percolator Coffee Pot Work? - Hunker. hunker.com
  3. How Does a Percolator Coffee Pot Work? ColettiCoffee - coletticoffee.com
About the Author

Venkatesh is an Electrical and Electronics Engineer from SRM Institute of Science and Technology, India. He is deeply fascinated by Robotics and Artificial Intelligence. He is also a chess aficionado, He likes studying chess classics from the 1800 and 1900’s. He enjoys writing about science and technology as he finds the intricacies which come with each topic fascinating.

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