June 22

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How Do Percolators Know When To Stop?

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Using a percolator to brew up a delicious pot of coffee in the morning is one of the quickest and easiest ways to enjoy your favorite cup of joe. However, if you don’t know how long to leave a percolator running, it can ruin the entire pot and leave you feeling tired and frustrated. So, how do percolators know when to stop brewing coffee?

Percolators that have automatic shut-off features use a temperature gauge to know when to stop. However, not all percolators have these features, and manual percolators need to be stopped manually. Check if your percolator is electric or not to find out whether it will stop on its own.

There are various ways to stop a manual coffee percolator. You can use a self-timer, keep an eye on the clock or you can count the 600 seconds (equivalent to ten minutes) it takes to percolate the grounds, which is a less-than-ideal option. The rest of this article will explore the differences between electric and manual percolators and how best to use each. 

How To Tell When To Stop Your Percolator

Having a percolator that stops brewing automatically when the coffee is ready can be incredibly convenient. Still, for those of us with manual percolators, it’s essential to keep an eye on the percolator to avoid burning our precious morning beverage. 

Percolators work by warming up the water, pulling it through the tube, and filtering it through the coffee grounds. This requires a little bit of pressure (thermal dynamics, am I right?), so when the percolator starts working, you’ll actually hear the water beginning to bubble and sputter as it’s passed through the coffee maker. 

Once you hear the percolator beginning to brew, you can start to look for, listen to, and smell the signs that your coffee is made. Let’s take a look at a few more indications that your coffee is ready for consumption using a manual percolator: 

1. Seven to Ten Minutes Have Passed

The first thing you want to keep in mind is the length of time that has passed since you started brewing. Most percolators take anywhere from five to ten minutes, although the average amount of time is between seven and nine minutes. Remember, the coffee will burn if you brew it any longer, so staying mindful while you’re using the percolator is a must!

The Greater Goods Digital Coffee Scale (available on Amazon.com) is a 2-in-1 device that weighs your coffee beans before grinding them up to use in the percolator and acts as a timer you can use to time your brew. It’s incredibly helpful, especially for those that like to have a particular morning routine with their coffee. 

2. The Water Has Changed Colors

Many percolators have a glass lid or knob, which allows you to look into the coffee maker to assess the state of your caffeine. If you look into the percolator and see that your water has gone from transparent to brown, it’s a good indication that the coffee is ready (or getting there, at the very least).

While there aren’t many see-through (glass) percolators, there are lots of glass tops and baskets that you can purchase for your percolator to be able to see the brewed coffee. For example, the Coletti Percolator Glass Top Replacement (available on Amazon.com) is a simple pack of 2 glass tops for your coffee maker, so you can keep a close eye on that precious caffeine!

3. The Smell of Coffee Is Waking You Up!

Last but not least, if you can take a deep breath and smell the coffee, it’s been brewing anywhere between seven to ten minutes, and the water is coffee-colored, your morning caffeine is ready for consumption. The fact is manual percolators need to be closely watched and monitored through sight and smell to determine their readiness.

Electric and Manual Percolators

Automatic or electric percolators are brewing machines that get plugged into an outlet to function. On the other hand, manual ones require careful supervision to ensure the coffee is rich in flavor and doesn’t burn. If a percolator is left on too long, the coffee will burn and taste thick and bitter.

On the flip side, coffee that doesn’t percolate for long enough will taste weak. So, brewing time with a percolator is especially important. Luckily, many electric percolators have features to ensure your brew isn’t percolating twice, such as a timed, automatic shut-off feature. Without this feature, one would have to brew the coffee and use a timer to ensure it doesn’t burn.

There are a couple of other differences between the two, but for now, let’s discuss the design of a standard coffee percolator and how it works, and, in turn, how the percolator auto-shut-off feature works.

What Does a Coffee Percolator Look Like Inside?

Most electric percolators look like electric tea kettles; they’re tall and narrow and have a switch near the bottom (on most brands) that flips off when the coffee is made.

On the inside of the percolator, though, it looks very different. It’s not just a hollowed-out kettle that boils water. Instead, it consists of a grind basket at the top of the percolator attached to a thin tube that runs to the bottom of the coffee maker, which is what facilitates the brewing. Let me explain!

The idea behind a percolator is that the bottom of the kettle gets filled with water; the ground coffee is in the basket at the top. As the water begins to heat, it gets sucked up through the tube and redistributed over the coffee grounds before returning to the kettle. It continues to do this for five to ten minutes, extracting the compounds from the coffee and filtering them with and into the water.

Differences Between Manual and Electric Percolators

The main difference between an electric and manual coffee percolator is a combination of the heating source and the material the percolator is made of. An electric coffee maker involves plugging the machine into an outlet that powers the heating source built into the bottom of the percolator, while a manual one is heated up from a direct source (i.e., a stovetop). 

Manual Percolators

A manual percolator is designed to withstand direct heat over a stovetop or campfire because it’s made with a heat-tolerant metal, such as stainless steel. Other than that, the coffee makers extract from the grounds in the exact same way. 

Needless to say, a manual percolator stops when it is removed from the heat source. I own the trusty GSI Outdoors Percolator Coffee Pot (available on Amazon.com), which is faithfully packed in my camping bin for those mornings I wake up on a deflated air mattress, wondering why I didn’t just rent an Airbnb. After a cup of percolated coffee, though, I remember that nature is my favorite place to be.

Once my morning cup of joe is brewed, all I have to do is lift the percolator off the campfire after roughly seven to nine minutes, pour it, and enjoy–it’s as simple as that! A phone timer, handheld timer, or a clock are handy tools to have around to correctly time the brew with a manual percolator.

Electric Percolators

An electric percolator, though, works slightly differently. Since many electric coffee makers are equipped with an automatic shut-off feature, there needs to be a way for the machine to gauge when the brew is finished. 

This is where the coffee maker material comes into play. The metal percolators (usually manual ones) heat up entirely since they sit directly on their heat source. You’ll need to keep a close eye on the manual percolator for over seven to ten minutes in order to know when the coffee is ready.

Electric ones, though, are frequently built with a heating element that only warms the water inside the percolator. As a result, the shut-off feature is constructed to wait until all of the water in the percolator reaches a specific temperature before automatically switching off.

Even after the percolator has shut off, the machine maintains its warmth, so the water doesn’t immediately cool down to room temperature. This is also a great feature for those who might start making coffee in the morning while getting ready for work or otherwise leaving the brew to sit for a few minutes before drinking it.

You may have heard that you shouldn’t over-percolate coffee, but do you know why? Click on the link to read my in-depth guide on what happens to your coffee if you over-percolate it. You’ll also learn how to use a coffee percolator correctly. [Here’s What Happens if You Over Percolate Coffee]

Final Thoughts

If you’re using a manual percolator, you must watch it to know when the brew is ready. Once it’s done, removing it from its heat source will stop the percolator. 

An electric percolator uses a temperature gauge to determine when the auto-shut-off feature should kick in. Once all the water has been brewed and reaches a set temperature, the percolator will turn off and keep your coffee warm for consumption. 

Both styles of percolator brew excellent, strong, and flavorful coffee. Choosing the right one boils down to whether you have the patience for a ten-to-fifteen-minute morning coffee routine.


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