When I was looking into coffee makers for really picky coffee drinkers, I overlooked one, the percolator. One of MNN's readers contacted me to let me know I might want to check it out because in her opinion the methods I mentioned — the French press, pour over and Chemex — will brew a decent cup of coffee but "only the percolator (either electric or manual, doesn't matter) brews an outstanding cup of coffee."

Always on the lookout for ways to make better coffee, I dug a percolator out of my camping gear to give it a shot on my kitchen stove. The percolator was in pristine condition; I'm not sure it had ever been used. I also know that I never thought about using a percolator at home; I've always thought of it as camping gear.

I headed over to YouTube, and after watching more than a few videos that weren't too helpful, I came upon this short, succinct Howcast video that explains how to use a percolator over a camp fire. I easily adapted it for the stove by turning the burner down from boiling to medium once the water boiled for about a minute.

Before I found this particular video, my first attempts had failed because I wasn't putting enough coffee and water in the percolator. I was trying to make one cup of coffee in an 8-cup pot, and no matter how long I kept it on the flame, it never turned into coffee. Finally, I realized I needed to fill it at least halfway for the water to reach the coffee grinds once it started to percolate.

How was the coffee? It was very good, better than coffee made in my drip coffee maker. I didn't find it more outstanding than the coffee made in my French press, though. Still, if you're a really picky coffee drinker looking for a more flavorful cup of coffee, a percolator should be added to your options.

Here are a few tips for using the percolator, based on my first attempts at using it:

  • Use 2 tablespoons of coffee for each cup of water. I saw various suggestions from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons. I tried a couple of different amounts, and the 2 tablespoons made the best cup.
  • Using coarse ground coffee will help keep the grinds out of your cup. To get the grinds out of the coffee I made, I ran it through the reusable filter of my drip machine, but starting with the right grind will keep you from needing any filtering.
  • The percolator can be kept on the stove on top of a low flame to keep the coffee hot. Just don't forget to turn it off.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.