Reconsidering the Percolator: Lost American Technologies

Posted on July 08, 2013


Percolators were a fixture in American households once home consumer versions became available towards the beginning of the 20th century. Here is an interesting link that gives a bit more of the history.  By the time I was a kid in the 1970’s they were in every kitchen and the taste of American coffee was the taste of the percolator.

But, go into a kitchen today and you would be hard pressed to find a percolator.  Even among coffee aficionados, you might find any number of exotic appliances for making coffee, but rarely a percolator.

What happened?

In a word: Mr. Coffee.  Drip machines exploded in the 1970’s because they were relatively easy to clean, and they produced the same coffee every time (think the McDonald’s of coffee makers).  Also, some of the machines offered features like timers, etc.

In the era of convenience, standing by the stove monitoring the heat and timing of your coffee was out of style, because that is what it took.  You had to monitor the coffee carefully, or it would overcook or even get that burnt metallic taste that most of us remember from the 1970’s.

After experimenting a bit, I think it’s time for anyone who is serious about coffee to reconsider the humble percolator.  I decided to take a chance and brought home a vintage Pyrex percolator from my antique and vintage store.  The first thing you notice is that this particular type has aged well.  The glass has a space-age, yet ultra-modern design.  It looks like you could have picked it up at IKEA yesterday.  That alone is attractive.

However, when you start making your coffee is when you really see the benefit.  Boil a pot correctly without burning and (even with exotic beans) you will be rewarded with ‘true’ Cafe Americano.  The taste is dead on and exactly as it should be…

Percolators can still be found at yard sales, auctions, and even some retro versions on Amazon.  However, nothing beats the look of the Pyrex percolator.  Maybe it’s time to get one today.