Two classical coffee-makers that have endured the test of time and are still quite popular today – the Moka Pot and the Percolator, both quite affordable and fairly easy to use.
If you do an online search, you’ll often find them lumped together, which is weird as they are quite different as far as the brewing method is concerned.
Let’s have a look at what these two coffee makers actually do, let’s see what sort of coffee you can get with them and then you can decide which is the best option for you.
This simple unassuming little coffee maker was invented in 1933 by the Italian Alfonso Bialetti and named for the Yemenite city of Mocha.
Bialetti Industries still produces the pot, called the “Moka Express”. Over time, other companies started producing Moka Pots, but Bialetti is considered by many as the number one on the market. The coffee this device makes is traditionally referred to as a “stove-top espresso”.
Basically, it’s the best espresso you can make at home without spending a small fortune on a modern espresso-machine.
There are, of course, various types of electrical Moka Pots available, but we shall not be reviewing those here. There’s not much of a difference between them, but we sort of like the idea of preparing your coffee the old way.
A traditional Moka Pot has a lower metallic pot which you fill with water, then you put coffee grounds in the filter that goes right over the water, without touching it, however.
Next, you have to screw the upper half on and the little machine is ready to go on the stove. It will take a couple of minutes before the water starts boiling and forces steam through the coffee grounds. The brew then rises through a small tube and starts dripping in the upper chamber.
When the pot begins to make a whistling sound, that means there’s no more water left and the coffee is ready to drink.
You won’t believe just how old the Percolator is. The first modern percolator using the principle of making hot water rise through a tube to form a continuous cycle of brewing was invented in 1819 by the Parisian tinsmith Joseph-Henry-Marie Laurens.
At that time, it was a technological marvel and it soon replaced the traditional method of boiling coffee in a pot. Its popularity fell after the invention of the drip-coffee machine in the 1970s. And yet, the old French invention is still here and has its dedicated fans.
A percolator is a bit more complex than a Moka Pot as you have to fixate the coffee basket and its filter top on the vertical tube, but the basic idea is the same. You pour the desired amount of water in the lower chamber, making sure it does not rise above the coffee filter. Put the lid on and place it on the stove.
Once the water starts boiling, steam rises through the tube and drips over the coffee basket filtering through the grounds. The difference is that the brew, that is the water that has seeped through the grounds, goes back into the lower chamber. This is what a continuous brewing cycle refers to.
Technically, you can let the brew boil for as long as you want, making it go through the grounds again and again. You will stop at some point as we suspect you bought the machine to get coffee, not to watch it go through an endless cycle.
Well, a good Moka Pot is guaranteed to give you an espresso-like coffee, rich and concentrated which can be enjoyed as is or you can add milk and creamer.
How do we know it’s not a real espresso? Easy, you won’t get any crema on top of your coffee no matter what blend of coffee you use. But the drink itself is as strong as an espresso and this is what matters for most people.
Now, if you’re addicted to cappuccinos you can use this coffee to prepare your favorite drink. You will, of course, need a frother to make steamed milk, but it doesn’t need to be an expensive one.
A hand-held battery-operated one will do the trick. You can also use this sort of coffee to prepare an Americano, by adding hot water to it. Actually, if you don’t want a very strong coffee you’d be well advised to cut it down with water or milk.
Talking about Percolator coffee requires a bit of diplomacy. It’s a pretty strong coffee, but there are many who raise objections to the taste. The problem is over-brewing and the resulting over-extraction.
Many coffee aficionados are adamant that’s not coffee and consider repeatedly brewing the coffee a sacrilege. They do have a point as this method makes the coffee bitter. Percolator brewing, since it requires the water/coffee in the lower chamber to boil, almost always uses a temperature that’s way too high, 212 degrees to be precise, whereas the ideal water temperature to brew coffee is 195 to 205 degrees.
A lot of users make the mistake of leaving the Percolator on like forever, especially the electrical ones. In an office, it is considered common courtesy to keep the machine on so that late-comers can enjoy some hot coffee as well, which they will, but it will be a sad tasting one. Something you gulp down as soon as you can and wait for the caffeine kick!
However, let’s not write the Percolator off just because some people don’t know how to use it. The fact that you can leave it on to perform an endless brewing program doesn’t mean you have to! If you want a decent coffee, keep an eye on the Percolator and take it off the stove once it’s done brewing. It’s that simple!
And, to be perfectly honest, some people make the same mistake with Moka Pots, leaving them on the stove until they’re ready to sit down and have their coffee. It’s true, the liquid is not re-brewed, but leaving the coffee over a heat-source will give it a burnt after taste.
Not to mention that excessive heat can destroy the rubber gasket and you will have to order a replacement one!
Moka Pots come in several sizes – 2,4, or up to 12 cups, but keep in mind they mean espresso cups, which are considerably smaller than your regular cup. If you’re that sort of person who enjoys having a big mug sitting on the desk while you work the 2-cup model will barely be enough to fill that mug and you might want to add some milk as it can be pretty intense and you don’t want to get all jittery from too much caffeine.
To give you a clear idea about a Moka Pot’s cup size – a 9-cup Bialetti has a maximum capacity of 12 fl oz, not a drop more.
Percolators also come in various sizes from 2 to 12 cups, which should be enough for a large family or a small office. And you can cheat your way into getting more coffee from the same brew by adding a bit of water after you pour the first cup.
As the machine continually brews the coffee it will manage to extract more flavor from those grounds. However, we only recommend this if you are really desperate for more coffee or if there’s one guy at the office who regularly gets on your nerves by coming in late.
Crappy coffee is what he deserves and he’ll thank you for being so thoughtful and leaving the Percolator on for him!
Both coffee makers are perfect for traveling. You can tuck the machine in your luggage and enjoy your own coffee wherever you go, even on a mountain trail.
Moka Pots are made of steel or polished aluminum, so they won’t break unless you hit them with a hammer. Most Percolators are also made of stainless steel, although there are some glass models.
However, if you’re planning on using a Moka Pot over a campfire you might want to be very careful with the small handle, which is heat-resistant, but only up to a point and it will start melting in close proximity to an open flame. In this respect, Percolators are easier to handle.
Bonus Tip: Stainless steel Moka Pots look sleeker, but you should go for an aluminum one. Experts say stainless steel doesn’t conduct heat as efficiently as aluminum, and you are far more likely to get uneven extraction in a steel pot.
That’s really not an issue. Cleaning a Moka Pot is easy, just disassemble the machine, dispose of the grounds in the filter and rinse.
Percolators are equally low-maintenance, although some models require a bit of caution as the metal coffee basket has to be taken off the vertical tube.
From time to time, you will have to give your coffee maker a thorough clean to get rid of stains. Fortunately, unlike most espresso-machines which use special descaling tablets, you can use simple household ingredients to clean a Moka Pot or a Percolator.
The easiest way is to make a one-part vinegar one-part water solution to descale your machine. Just pour the mixture into the machine, put it on the stove and let it brew some vinegar. Repeat, if necessary, then let it run a third cycle with normal water. Rinse repeatedly to get rid of the vinegar flavor.
If you’ve been reading so far, you can probably guess what we’re driving at. If you have the choice between a Moka Pot and a Percolator, go with the real coffee, choose the Bialetti, or a decent rip-off. As much as we’d like to, there are very few reasons to recommend a Percolator of any kind or maker. The only scenario when a Percolator might come in handy is when you’re camping in the middle of the wilderness. Miles away from the nearest coffee-shop, any sort of coffee maker will do, just so you can warm up a bit with a hot drink and get your caffeine fix.
But then again, why bother carrying the device with you, you can get a sub-par beverage by using instant coffee. At least you’re not trying to fool anybody, yourself included.
On the other hand, a Moka Pot will always give you a rich velvety drink. We’re not going to insult your intelligence and insist it’s almost-espresso. It’s not, but it is as close as you’ll get to prepare one at home without breaking the bank.
Since we’re not talking about a great investment, do yourself a favor and just try the might of this little Italian invention.
Moka Pots VS Percolators: Which Is A Better Buy?