For all you coffee lovers out there you’ll probably be familiar with the Moka pot. A traditional stovetop coffee maker, this device is a staple in every home coffee station.
The percolator is one that has lost its popularity in recent years. On the surface, it appears quite similar to the Moka pot. They both have a water chamber, a coffee basket and they sit on the stovetop.
So why is the percolator not as commonplace?
I’ve been wondering what the answer is to this question for quite a while and I’ve finally cracked it. The Moka Pot tends to be easier to use and gives a much more consistent brew. The Percolator Pot can be a bit trickier to get right but allows you to brew more coffee at once.
I’ve been diving deep into the world of stovetop coffee brewers and have come up with this guide that should help you figure out why you should choose one particular coffee maker over the other.
In general the difference between a Moka Pot and a Percolator is that a percolator makes drip coffee by cycling water repeatedly through coffee grounds in a single chamber. Moka Pots however make espresso-style coffee by water heating up in a bottom chamber and the pressure pushing it up through coffee grounds into a separate chamber.
The Moka Pot
To kick off this comparison let’s begin with the Moka Pot. For a stovetop coffee maker, there’s nothing more sleek and aesthetic than a traditional Italian Bialetti.
Moka pots now come in various shapes and sizes and are often made from aluminum or stainless steel. Although they can vary a bit in appearance, the basic structure of the pot remains consistent.
It comes in 3 parts with the bottom chamber contacting the stovetop. This part holds the water and provides a base for the filter basket to sit on. The filter basket is a special funnel-like design that holds the coffee grounds and also has a spout that contacts the water.
The upper chamber is where the brewed coffee ends up. Once the lower chamber heats up enough that you get boiling water the pressure from the steam forces the water up through the funnel (and the coffee ground) and out a spout into the pot.
The Moka pot makes a strong, sharp brew that’s similar to espresso (if you’re very skilled you may have crema). As it doesn’t achieve the high enough pressure necessary for an espresso coffee, the Moka pot coffee is it’s own drink outright.
Bialetti Musa Moka Pot Stovetop Coffee Maker
Brew Process: Moka
- Makes a brilliant strong coffee
- Easy to use
- Makes a consistently great coffee
- Can be used on any kind of stovetop
- Sleek and stylish
The coffee percolator appears pretty similar to a Moka pot but the differences come in the brewing process.
I like to think of the percolator as an upside-down Moka pot. It has a chamber for water and a filter basket for coffee but the basket sits in the upper chamber. The water is added to the lower portion and this contacts the heat source but doesn’t contact the coffee at all. A tube spans from the top to the bottom of the pot and sits in the water.
As the water nears boiling, pressure forces the water up the tube where a disperser sprays the hot water over the coffee grounds. The water soaks the coffee and drips down into the lower container and this process continues until the liquid is close to boiling temperatures. When it’s at this stage the steam released makes a hissing or spurting noise and this means it’s time to remove the pot from the heat source.
As the water heats up to such a high temperature the end result is a cup of coffee that’s very strong and often bitter especially if you leave it on the heat for too long.
The percolator is generally used to make large volumes of coffee easily, like for meetings and gatherings. It also has gained popularity with the RV and camping community as it can easily make lots of strong coffee over a camping stove or even open fire.
Coleman Stainless Steel Percolator
Brew Process: Percolation
- Makes some really strong coffee
- Super easy to use
- A two-century-old, tried and tested design
- Works on any stovetop or heat source
- Makes large volumes of coffee
The brewing process, although it seems similar between these two coffee machines, is actually quite different.
The Moka pot uses pressure to force the water through the device quickly and thus brews coffee in an instant.
The Percolator is more of a cycle of heating the water and steeping the grounds so the brew time is a bit longer and more involved.
Both methods of coffee making require little input for you so the brewing process is pretty consistent between different batches of coffee.
Coffee Grind Size
The grind size of your coffee should differ when it comes to different brewing methods. For the Moka pot, because the water contacts the coffee very quickly, a fine grind is needed in order to extract the best coffee. A coarser grind will give you a weak and watery cup of coffee.
For a percolator, you should use a coarser grind setting on your grinder. As the coffee steeps for longer, the larger particles give up their goodness slower so you get a better extraction overall. Too fine a grind will give you an extremely bitter and over-extracted brew.
For both methods, if you want to brew coffee that really maximizes the flavors available it’s best to use whole beans ground in a burr grinder. The burr allows for an even, consistent grind, unlike a blade grinder which is uneven and difficult to control.
If the taste is what you’re going for then I know that pretty much anyone who calls themselves a coffee lover will advise you stick to the Moka pot.
Sometimes referred to as the “stovetop espresso maker” the strong cup you brew in a Moka pot is very similar to the espresso quality. It’s rich and deep in flavor although does retain more bitterness. You can top the brew up with hot water to give an americano or even with steamed milk to make a latte or cappuccino.
The percolator provides a robust brew but due to the high temperatures, over-extraction is a common occurrence. It’s bitter and punchy and only really a good idea if you like adding creamer or sweeteners. A spoonful of cocoa powder and some milk will give you a delicious mocha but it isn’t a great idea to drink this java black.
A percolator is a good option if you have a large crowd of folk who need caffeine quickly and don’t mind adding these flavor enhancers. If a larger amount of coffee is needed then even the largest Moka pot will struggle to produce enough cups of coffee as easily.
If it’s just a couple of delicious cups you’re aiming for then the Moka pot wins every time.
Ease Of Use
Both options are really easy to use. It’s just a case of filling the water, grinding your coffee and adding it to the basket, and then applying heat to the pot. The pots both make a loud noise when the coffee is brewed so there’s no need for fancy timers or temperature gauges. These options don’t require paper filters so are low on waste.
The only thing you need is coffee, the pot, and a heat source. Some percolators come with a built-in heating element so make the job even easier as they automatically cool down when the coffee is ready,
Other Brewing Methods
If you feel after reading this, that these brewing methods are not up your street then fear not. There are plenty more ways to brew coffee and each type of coffee comes with its own positives and negatives.
French Press Coffee
The french press is one of the most popular ways to make coffee and these can be found readily in coffee shops. They are cheap to buy pretty much anywhere from any homeware store and on Amazon and they are simple to use.
The downside of the french press is that to get a really good cup of joe you do need a lot of practice. There are so many variables when it comes to brewing the perfect cup so whilst you may end up with a cup that’s above average, to make a really delicious brew isn’t so straightforward.
Expensive and tricky to use, the espresso machine isn’t a toy for beginners. These use high pressure to extract a rich and creamy concentrated brew with the characteristic “crema”. These machines cost an awful lot to buy and take a lot of practice to get used to but it’s completely worth it for the coffee you end up with.
A much cheaper and simpler way to make delicious coffee on the go. It’s basically a large syringe or coffee press that makes a consistently delicious brew in about 30 seconds. It’s really easy to use and doesn’t cost much to buy so is a really great option for at work or on the go.
A drip machine does all the hard work for you. Simply add water, add the coffee grounds to the filter paper, and press the button. Drip coffee is a great way to automate large batches of coffee and gives you a smooth brew that is easy to adjust where it comes to flavor. Drip machines vary in price depending on how many features they have but are a great option for the office or if you need a very large coffee in the morning without any effort to brew it.
Pour Over Coffee
The Chemex or V60 are examples of pour-over coffee makers. Similar to a drip machine they hold coffee grounds in a filter paper but they give you a bit more control over the pour of the coffee. You can get all sorts of gadgets for them like special kettles that heat the water exactly and have a spout that ensures an even flow of water. These coffee makers require some practice to get right but are pretty easy to use and vary in price to suit any budget.
The Moka pots win out where it comes to depth of flavor. The percolator lacks a delicacy when it comes to brewing but if you’re looking to caffeinate a rugged group of tired hikers then a percolator will do just fine. Both are easy to use and don’t require much equipment and each has its own place in the coffee brewing world.