Not Your Grandma's Coffee - How to Properly Use a Percolator
Everyone has their favorite method of making coffee, but few readily admit to loving the percolator. While using a percolator has gotten a bad rap from coffee enthusiasts, there's something homey and comforting about making a cup of coffee the way our ancestors did, back in the day. Luckily, with a few tricks, the coffee you get to drink won't taste like it, too, is an ancestor - best relegated to the past.
The three key elements to any good cup of coffee, but particularly with a percolator, are these: Water, Ratio, and Temperature. When using an electric machine or a pour over, we generally have guides - a measuring spoon, a scale, notches on a carafe. Percolators, especially old ones, offer none of these luxuries. Making sure you have the right amount of water, and the right ratio for your taste of coffee to water, will ensure that your coffee isn't too weak or strong.
Filtered water is of course ideal. Fill the bottom well with the right amount of water for how much coffee you want to make. Add grounds to the insert with the stem. Be careful about your ratios! Percolator coffee tends to be stronger, so trial and error may be your best bet for figuring out your perfect cup of coffee. Screw the top on - depending on your machine you may have a globe/dome, or if you're like me and using an heirloom, it may just be another metal pot. Now to the stove.
Temperature is a fickle mistress. Percolators demand a strict range of temperature -- medium heat, a slow burn to almost boiling, but not ferociously bubbling. You can peak in the lid every once in a while, but be careful - unless you have a modern machine with a window, you run the risk of sputtering coffee getting all over your hands. Once its bubbling slowly, and the coffee is funnelling out, keep a careful eye as you percolate. The longer it goes, the stronger your coffee will be. A pro at this method could probably walk away from the stove, but first timers may want to stay.
If you live life on the edge, go ahead and pour your coffee straight off the stove - but watch out for grinds that may slip into your drink. You can also unscrew the top and pour from that separately, so as not to risk it. However, with this method, you must be careful - the pot will be scalding, and you don't want to burn your hands.
Done right, percolator coffee is smooth, strong, and comforting. It's good for the environment, and if you're lucky, connects you to an ancestral history of coffee lovers.