Stovetop Coffee Makers: Moka Pot vs Percolator

Both a Moka pot as well as a percolator has earned their place in the coffee world as stovetop coffee makers. However, the difference between them is usually what confuses people.

In this post, I will give you an overview of what each of these coffee pots is, what their origins are, and how to use them. Then I will look into the differences as well as the similarities between them. You can skip to the part with the detailed comparison between a Moka pot and a percolator pot.

What is a Moka Pot?

The Moka pot has its roots in Italy and also goes by the name of stovetop espresso maker. The reason is that it produces strong and concentrated espresso-like coffee. However, it is not true espresso because it doesn’t work with the same amount of steam pressure as an espresso machine. This means that the coffee doesn’t taste the same as real espresso. However, you still get a cup of really delicious coffee.​

Origin of the Moka Pot​

An Italian engineer with the name Alfonso Bialetti came up with the idea of a Moka pot. His idea was to enable people without fancy espresso machines to drink strong coffee at home with a simple and inexpensive device.

It was first introduced in the early 1930s and although the coffee isn’t exactly the same as espresso it is pretty great. So, I’d say he did quite a good job. In fact, so good that it spread around the world and found its way into the hearts of many coffee lovers.

You can still get the Bialetti brand Moka pot, however, there are many other brands that are also available.

How Does a Moka Pot Work?

A Moka pot consists of three parts. It is usually made of either aluminum or stainless steel. These parts are the bottom chamber, filter basket, and top chamber.

The water is poured into the bottom chamber. The coffee grounds are placed in the filter basket which sits on top of that lower chamber. As the coffee brews the water pushes through the grounds in the filter basket and into the top​ chamber. The top chamber has a spout that you can then use to serve the brewed coffee.

There are many different sizes of Moka pots ranging from one cup to 18 cups of coffee​. It is a good idea to buy the size that produces the amount of coffee that you need. If you buy one that is too small, you will have to brew it multiple times. However, you also cannot make less coffee than the pot was intended for. This means that you should also not buy the biggest one possible if you don’t want to make that amount of coffee each time.

How to Make Coffee in a Moka Pot

  1. First, boil some water. You can use cold water, but the coffee tastes better if you use hot water because the grounds are not exposed to heat for that long.
  2. Fill the filter basket with coffee grinds. I like to use a fine grind and I have never had a problem with grinds ending up in the upper chamber with my coffee.
  3. ​Screw on the top chamber and put the pot on the stove.
  4. Wait for the coffee to work its way up into the top chamber. The pot will make a noise as soon as it is done.

What is a Percolator?

A percolator is a coffee brewer that is used to brew coffee by cycling water through coffee grounds multiple times. It started out as a stove-top brewer and you still get stovetop percolators, but there now also exist electric percolators​.

This brewing method is, however, to as popular in modern times as it once was. The drip coffee maker took its place in the houses of many coffee enthusiasts.

Origin of the Percolator

So, the origin of the percolator is not quite as set in stone as that of the Moka pot. The basic idea of water circulating through coffee grounds has been used for centuries by many ancient civilizations like the Egyptians and the Turks. However, the percolator that we know today started out in the early 19th century with a guy named Benjamin Thompson. Sometime between 1810 and 1814, this American physicist came up with one of the earliest designs of the coffee maker that we know today. However, his device didn’t have the tube that is an essential part of the modern percolator. So, usually, he doesn’t get much credit.

In the 1820s another guy, Joseph Marie Laurens, who was a tinsmith from Paris, invented a coffee brewer that is officially recognized as a predecessor of the modern percolator. Yet, it still isn’t his brewer that you will see in our times. The one that we know was actually patented in 1889 by Hanson Goodrich.

How Does a Percolator Work?

The brewing process of a percolator is quite different from that of a Moka pot. With this device, the water is also placed in a bottom chamber. However, this time the water goes up through a pipe and then filters through the grounds from the top and back into the bottom chamber. This process continues as long as you keep the percolator on the heat source. This means that you have to keep an eye on it because the coffee will get stronger with each cycle and although a strong cup of coffee is great, you don’t want to overdo it.

How to Make Coffee in a Percolator

  1. Fill the bottom chamber with the amount of water needed for the amount of coffee that you want to make.
  2. Some percolators have a filter that goes in the filter basket. If yours is one of those, now would be the time to put it in.
  3. Add the coffee grounds to the filter basket.  A general rule of thumb is 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of coffee for every 6oz (180ml) of water.
  4. Put everything back together and put the percolator over medium-high heat.
  5. Remove it from the heat once the desired strength is reached. 6-8 minutes of brewing time usually does the trick.
  6. Allow the coffee grounds to settle at the bottom for a minute or two before you pour the coffee.​

What are the Differences?​

A Moka pot and percolator are quite distinct. Here is a list of the differences between them.

Brewing Method

​As you might have noticed, the ways that you use to make coffee with these devices are not the same.

Taste Profile

Of course, the coffee beans that you use also have an impact on the taste of the coffee, but there are some differences that can be attributed to the brewing method.

Percolator coffee tends to have a strong and robust flavor. It has a full body and tends to be more on the bitter side.

On the other hand, Moka pot coffee has a very concentrated and intense taste. It has a balanced flavor because it tends to extract the flavors more evenly. Generally, it has a medium body and is less bitter than percolator coffee.​

Grind Size

​While a Moka pot calls for a finer grind, a percolator uses a coarser grind.

Where the Brewed Coffee Ends Up

Okay, I know in the end they all end up in your belly, I mean where in the pot.

With a Moka pot, the brewed coffee is in the top chamber. However, with a percolator, the coffee is in the bottom chamber.

Amount of Cycles

The amount of times that the water goes through the grounds is another major difference between the two methods. When using a Moka pot the water goes through the grounds only once under high pressure. On the other hand, with a percolator, the water filters through the grounds as many times as you let it. It only stops once you remove the pot from the heat.​

What are the Similarities?

Although these two coffee brewing methods are quite distinct, there are some similarities between them. Here is a list of those similarities.

Stovetop Brewing

Both of these devices are used on a stove. (Unless, of course, you count the electric percolator.)

Metal construction

Aluminum or stainless steel is usually used to make both of these coffee brewers. The reason is that they help to distribute the heat evenly while the coffee is brewing. These materials are also very durable.

Strong Coffee

Both of these methods produce strong coffee that is more concentrated than the coffee of a drip coffee machine.

Manual Operation

Neither of these methods can be done without you checking up on it. You need to monitor percolator coffee to make sure that you don’t let it brew too long. With a Moka pot, you have to remove it from the heat once the brewing process is done.

Yield Multiple Cups

Although you can buy a single-cup Moka pot, you have options for larger capacities. So, both the larger Moka pots as well as percolators can be used when you have to make coffee for a few people.

Conclusion: Moka Pot vs Coffee Percolator

​In the realm of stovetop brewing, Moka pots and percolators both offer flavorful coffee, but in very different ways.

In the end, I’d say that the best idea is for you to try both before you decide which you prefer. The decision is a highly personal one based on personal preference.

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