Do you remember coffee percolators? Percolators were the main method of preparing coffee for over 100 years and were gradually replaced by the automatic drip brewer in the 1970’s. American James Mason is credited with being the first to patent a coffee percolator on December 26, 1865, now known as National Percolator Day. Although this day was originally designed to celebrate percolator coffee, we can extend that celebration to include various uses of the percolator.
Finding a percolator is quite simple. Gently-used percolators can be found in yard sales, flea markets, thrift stores, and possibly in one’s own attic (or that of one’s parents or grandparents). New percolators are available in sporting goods stores to high-end kitchen stores, and everything between. Percolators are electric or non-electric, and come in clear glass, ceramic, enamelware, or stainless steel. Percolators also come in all sizes with some that make up to 55 cups.
Experts disagree over the best method of cleaning this appliance. Some folks use dish detergent, but the majority suggest avoiding soap, stressing a more natural method of cleaning.Soap often leaves a soapy residue. Coffee contains an oil that can build up over time and impact the taste of your coffee. Fortunately, a percolator is almost self-cleaning, like an oven.
To clean, fill the coffee pot with water and either 2-3 tablespoons of baking powder or cream of tartar. The, let it perk! After the water has cooled, scrub it with a non-abrasive tool such as a plastic scrubby.
Activity 1: Making Percolator Coffee
This older method of coffee brewing is making a comeback, and National Percolator Day gives us a chance to learn more about and/or revisit this coffee brewing method. Once again, coffee lovers seem to have divided into two camps: those who extol the virtues of percolator coffee and those who avoid it all together stating coffee made this way is bitter. In this world of quick and easy pod coffee, the percolator almost seems out-of-place. Making a good cup of coffee in a percolator is an art form, just as it is with any coffee maker. Patience and timing are necessary to avoid letting the coffee “burn.” Steps to making traditional coffee follow:
Step 1. Start with a clean appliance. Old coffee residue left over in an unwashed percolator results in bitter-tasting coffee. Disassemble and clean all parts with every use.
Step 2. Choose a coarse grind coffee, one that is low in acidity and very smooth. While grinding one’s own coffee beans is ideal, it is not necessary. The coarse grind allows the flavor to be released slowly over the period of perking.
Step 3. Water does matter. Be aware of the mineral content of your water as the minerals can affect the coffee’s taste. Fill the percolator with filtered cool water, noting the desired level in the markings on the side of the coffee pot.
Step 4. Measure the coffee accurately, adding 1 rounded tablespoon to the basket for each 8-ounce cup.
Step 5. This step is very important to avoid an extremely hot mess later: Carefully fit the basket lid on the basket, seating it in place. Otherwise, hot water and coffee grinds will permeate the percolator. Then add the top of the percolator – also important.
Step 6. If using an electric percolator, plug it in and turn it on. If using a non-electric percolator, then place it over low heat and watch! As soon as the first spurt of coffee hits the glass bubble in the lid, turn down the heat. Avoid letting the water boil.
Step 7. The length of time to perk varies. When the perking stops, the coffee is finished, so remove it from the heat. For the stovetop percolator, this is a good place to experiment. Some coffee drinkers let their coffee perk 2 minutes, others as long as 8 minutes. While waiting, add hot water to a thermal carafe to heat it up.
Step 8. Be safe! Avoid scalding yourself as you remove the top and the entire basket system. A silicon glove or pot holder is a great way to avoid burns.
Step 9. Pour into a coffee cup and enjoy! Pour any remaining coffee into a carafe to keep warm.
Another favorite percolator coffee recipe is Swedish coffee. As before, Add the water and place the basket into the pot, then add the coarse ground coffee. Next break a raw egg directly into the basket – yes, add it to the ground coffee. Add the egg shell too. Add a pinch of salt, mix together and brew as above. Swedish coffee lacks the sometimes bitter taste of perked coffee, resulting in a more subtle and less robust flavor.
Activity 2: Making Percolator Punches
All right, this is not really coffee, but it does use a percolator and is a great way to celebrate this holiday.
Here is a Spicy Punch:
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. red cinnamon candies
1-2 cinnamon sticks
6-8 whole cloves
3 c. cranberry juice
3 c. pineapple juice
3-4 c. water
Thoroughly clean the percolator, making sure to remove all coffee residue. Pour the juices and water into the percolator. Place the sugar, candies, cinnamon and cloves into the basket. Run the percolator just as for coffee. Serve the punch hot.
Here is another Percolator Punch:
2 quarts apple cider
cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Dash of nutmeg
1 orange, cut in wedges, with peel
Pour the apple cider into a 10-12 cup electric percolator, and place remaining ingredients in the basket. Cover and perk away!
Activity 3: Percolator Planter
Here is another “non-coffee” activity for the day: A stovetop (non-electric) percolator makes a whimsical planter that is perfect for the kitchen, deck, or dining area. Why not paint the pot for a child’s room? The quickest way to turn an heirloom percolator into a planter is to slip a small plant in a plastic pot inside. Otherwise, purchase an insert to hold the soil and plant, allowing for drainage. Then fill the liner with equal parts of potting soil, peat moss, and perlite, and add plants. A clear glass stovetop percolator could become a terrarium.
Activity 4: Percolator Vase
This activity is the perfect way to use that old percolator that has been in the attic, the one that might seem too old to use for coffee – add dried flowers. Or, if the percolator is ceramic or enamelware, add fresh flowers.
Activity 5: Percolator Lamp
How about adding a little nostalgia to the kitchen, den, breakfast nook, or guest room? Turn that old percolator into a lamp! Here is a video that explains how to do so.
Celebrating National Percolator Day
National Percolator Day not only celebrates the day when the percolator was first patented – it celebrates a way of way of life that has since departed. This celebration can range from admiring an antique, an heirloom, or whimsical percolator decoration or lamp to relaxing with a freshly perked cup of coffee. Despite the difficulty in “perking” that perfect cup of coffee using a percolator, many coffee lovers have refused to give up their percolators, enjoying the strong coffee with the distinctive taste. Others are choosing percolators for health reasons: percolators have no plastic parts, thereby avoiding the chemicals that leach out of plastics when they come in contact with hot water.
This year, why not give the percolator a try? There may be one hidden away in your attic or in that of your grandparents. If you cannot find one in either of those locations, plenty of models are still available for purchase. Fill with cool water, add some coarse ground coffee – being sure to sniff that delicious aroma, add your heat source, sit back, and listen to your coffee make that distinctive “perking” sound.