The Percolator: the Typical Italian Coffee

The Percolator: the Typical Italian Coffee

If you have ever visited an Italian household, then you are certainly familiar with the percolator. This is a coffee maker that works on the percolator principle and is called an “espresso maker” in English. The invention of this preparation method with an inner cylinder, which is also called “percolation”, is attributed to the Parisian tinsmith Laurens. The word “percolation” is derived from the Latin verb “percolare”, which translates as “sift through, let through”. The device itself, i.e. the coffee percolator, was invented by Sir Benjamin Thompson between the years 1810 and 1814. But the espresso pot is still used to this day, especially the one with the octagonal design – namely the Moka by Bialetti!

The Percolator is an espresso maker with little pressure

The espresso maker “pushes” the water through the coffee powder at around 1.5 bar. However, this is by far not enough to separate the oils from the coffee powder. You can recognize this particularly by the fact that the crema, the fine-pored foam, is missing from the preparation with a percolator. Because for a “real” espresso a pressure of at least 9 bar is required. This is why the Italians also call this device “Caffettiera” or “Moka”. The Moka jug from Bialetti is the percolator par excellence, invented by Alfonso Bialetti, who brought the first “Moka Express jug” onto the market in 1933. Finally, all Italians could enjoy their coffee in the kitchen at home!

So how does a percolator work?

This practical device consists of three parts. The lower part of the jug, which is also called the “kettle”, is filled with water. Pour the coffee powder into the funnel sieve and press it very lightly. The top of the jug with an integrated riser pipe and a hinged lid catches the finished coffee. There is a thread between the lower and upper part. Here the percolator is screwed together tightly, with a rubber sealing ring ensuring complete sealing. Unfortunately, this part is often the weak point in the percolator system, as it is not completely heat-resistant and can become a little brittle over time. To be on the safe side, a pressure relief valve is installed in the lower part so that the jug cannot explode, for example in the event that the beans are ground too finely. For coffee preparation with the percolator you should select a medium grind.

percolation process | bialetti |

The percolation process

While heating on the stove or gas flame, the water in the kettle begins to boil and evaporate. This creates an overpressure of approximately 1.5 bar. This will force the hot water through the coffee powder in the funnel. The coffee rises through the riser pipe and pours into the top of the pot. Please note the following: Since a classic percolator does not have an automatic switch-off, it is recommended that you switch off the heat source while the coffee is rising. If you forget to do this, the percolator will overheat, the coffee will begin to boil and spill over. In the worst case, it can also happen that the sealing rubber melts!

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The advantage of this type of preparation is, among other things, the correct water temperature. Over-extraction is also avoided. (The coffee professional always speaks of “over-extraction” when too many substances are dissolved from the coffee. The result is an extreme taste intensity, and the coffee contains substances that should not have been dissolved in this amount.) As a result of the production with this coffee maker, you will get an excellent coffee with a particularly clear and full-bodied taste. The simple handling as well as the simple technology of this device are further advantages to be mentioned. You can also use a percolator insert, which you can buy for less than 15 dollars, to convert any fireproof jug into such a device and to influence the strength of your hot beverage over the duration of the circulation. A disadvantage, however, is the risk of burns when removing the hot percolator insert from the can. The coffee in this device can also quickly become bitter and contain significantly more caffeine than is the case with normal filter coffee.

Care tips for the percolator

The classic device, such as the Moka Express from Bialetti, is made of aluminum, which initially has a slight sheen, but over time develops a dark, matt patina. Such discoloration can hardly be avoided, but it is not a defect. The same applies to the limescale deposits inside the boiler. However, please do not be tempted to use harsh cleaning agents on the percolator, as these not only attack the patina and deposits, but also the aluminum. In addition, chemical residues can get into your coffee! The cleaning with clear water after each use and careful drying care is enough. Many percolators are also made of stainless steel, which makes cleaning a lot easier. Such food-friendly devices keep their shine for a long time.

Which types of stoves are particularly suitable for preparation with the percolator?

Espresso makers made of stainless steel are not only suitable for gas and electric stoves, but also for use on an induction hob. The preparation of the coffee works particularly quickly here. The classic aluminum cooker is suitable for all types of stoves, except for induction stoves. If you are in possession of such a stove, then use a suitable model made of stainless steel. However, there is still the possibility that the coffee maker does not work, because the often small footprint of such a jug can mean that it is not “recognized” by the induction field and it, therefore, does not switch on.

You can avoid this problem with an electric percolator

Such a device is always a good choice if you do not have a stove. Because all electric percolators have their own heating element, so they are “self-sufficient”, so to speak. You are independent of an electric or gas stove. All you need is power from your socket. The preparation works like a classic espresso maker.

When is buying a percolator the right decision for you?

Especially if you are a lover of Italian coffee culture, then such an acquisition is simply indispensable. But even if you are a fan of filter coffee and only occasionally want to enjoy coffee in the original Italian style, then inexpensive purchase of an espresso maker is highly recommended. You can also conveniently place it in any kitchen cupboard! If you are enthusiastic about outdoor activities, then the purchase of a percolator is also very practical, as you don’t have to go without an aromatic coffee on the go. In this case, a classic percolator that is fireproof and works with an external supply of heat is the right choice.

Which coffee is suitable for preparation in the percolator?

Similar to the usual espresso production, the percolator uses the steam principle. Therefore espresso roasts are particularly suitable. Please make sure that the powder is as homogeneous as possible (if you do not opt ​​for whole beans), as this is the only way for the coffee to develop its full aroma. The coffee from this machine tastes very aromatic and strong , but has no crema. The drink from the percolator also often contains more caffeine than, for example, filter coffee.



How can you influence the taste of coffee when it is made in such an espresso maker?

In addition to the type of espresso, the degree of grind has a major influence on the espresso result. If the beans are ground too coarsely, the water will flow through too quickly so that not all aromas can be completely absorbed. However, you can avoid this with ground coffee that is about medium-fine, as such a degree of grinding allows the water to pass slowly. In such an espresso maker, you should also smooth out the coffee powder very lightly!


With the percolator you get an excellent coffee. It is always your loyal companion even during outdoor activities!

  • The device itself was invented by Sir Benjamin Thompson between 1810 and 1814
  • In 1819, the Parisian tinsmith Laurens developed the first coffee pot in which the water was heated on the stove and then rose up in an inner cylinder
  • Finally, in 1933, Alfonso Bialetti brought coffee enjoyment to the home of (almost) every Italian family with his Moka Express pot
  • The advantages of preparation with a percolator are especially the correct water temperature, avoidance of over-extraction, the excellent, full-bodied taste intensity and – not to be forgotten – the low purchase price!