Last week we visited my parents on the farm in Pennsylvania. It might be more accurate to say that we drove through the wormhole that miraculously transported us back to the 1970’s, before cable TV, satellite, and the internet. Yes, it’s fair to say that my folks live the simple life. Which is kind of nice for a week or two.
And their simplicity extends to their kitchen. Microwave? Yup, the one I bought them in the 80’s, gets used only to thaw giant roasts. Dishwasher? What do you think those things are at the end of your wrists? Coffee maker? Percolator, of course. And not one of those new-fangled, electric percolators from the 70’s, either. This bad boy is a 1940s or 50s aluminum model – nothing to consume, nothing to break.
Naturally I showed up loaded with lots of different coffees for them, so over the course of the week I had the opportunity to taste them made by a prep method that I never use myself. Turns out the percolator is capable of making a nice cup of coffee. It does require some skill, but the old perc pot definitely gets a bad rap these days. Contrary to popular belief, the percolator doesn’t necessarily boil the coffee, though it could if you’re not careful (and boiling is bad because bitter volatiles are extracted at high temperature). The way it works is that the water is heated, which heats the air above it, pushing on the water and forcing it up the tube to the top of the basket. The trick is to keep the heat low, and pay attention to the steep (perc) time.
Interestingly, my parents also have a drip maker (dad prefers the simplicity). In cupping the same coffees prepared by both methods, side by side, I have to admit I prefer the percolator. The drip coffee maker robbed the beans of their nuance – while I could identify each blend, the drip method was a “great equalizer” or sorts. All the coffees tasted disturbingly similar out of the drip machine.
So I encourage all of you to dig out those old percolators and give them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised by the results!