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When Was the Coffee Percolator Invented?

percolators on open fire camping coffee

Younger coffee enthusiasts may not remember waking up each morning to their mother or grandmother making fresh coffee on the stove. The maker used during this process, the percolator, is something many of us remember quite well, but most of us don’t know the story of how the percolator came to be a fixture in American homes.

The first question to ask is, when was the coffee percolator invented? While there is a bit of debate, as with any invention, the first patent was taken out in 1889. While the patent may have been taken out in 1889, an early type of percolator was invented between 1810 and 1814. Let’s take a look at this device and the path it took to become one of the first, and still beloved, coffee brewing methods.

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In the Beginning

While there is a lot of speculation on who invented the first percolator, we’re going to take a look at the earliest designs. The first would be invented between 1810 and 1814 by an American-born physicist by the name of Benjamin Thompson. You may be curious why he isn’t given credit for the first percolator. While there is a lot of debate, most believe it is because the special pot Thompson created for brewing coffee lacked the crucial tube percolators are known for having.

A few years later, during the 1820s, a tinsmith from Paris by the name of Joseph Marie Laurens designed what is considered the first modern percolator. His design included the important tube that allowed the boiling water to rise and create a continuous cycle. While this model is similar to those used today, there were still more changes to come before we arrived at the percolator we are familiar with in modern times.

historical coffee percolator kettle and stove
Image credit: Clem Onojeghuo, Unsplash

The Patented Percolator

The modern version of the percolator so many homes have used over the years is accredited to an Illinois man named Hanson Goodrich. He was a farmer and avid photographer who decided it was time to improve on the brewing of coffee. Taking Lauren’s design, tube included, and adding a few adjustments, Goodrich patented the modern percolator in 1889.

How the Percolator Works

The design of a percolator is simple. The ground coffee sits on a filter plate inside the pot. This keeps the coffee dry and out of reach of the water. The tube we’ve mentioned is what connects from the bottom of the pot to slightly above the coffee grounds. When the water heats, whether over an open flame or the stove eye, a vacuum is created. The water then rises through the tube and sprays out over the coffee grounds. The water flows through the filter and makes its way back down into the main chamber of the pot. This cycle continues until the percolator is removed from the heat source. Once away from heat, the remaining water will filter down and what remains is coffee, ready to be poured from the container.

While this method of brewing coffee was more advanced than what the world was used to in 1889, and for years to follow, it made powerful coffee. Percolator coffee is known to be bitter and almost overpowering thanks to the brewed coffee constantly flowing over the coffee grounds throughout the process. No matter the taste, however, percolator coffee was the go-to brewing method until the 1970s when the automatic drip maker came into play.

Coffee percolator
Image Credit: Snowboy, Shutterstock

The Electric Percolator

In 1952, the electric percolator made its appearance. What’s the difference between the electric percolator and the percolator that first found its way into homes around the world? The answer is the heating source. The electric model uses a heating element to ensure the perfect cup of coffee. When using a stovetop percolator, it’s left up to the user to determine whether the brew has been going long enough to taste great. The electric version turns off when the brewing process is done and results in a much better, less bitter, cup of coffee.

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In Conclusion

As you can see, the percolator, like so many inventions of the modern age, has undergone several changes. Currently, electric percolators and stovetops designs are both available for coffee enthusiasts. If you love a strong cup of coffee with a kick, a stovetop percolator is your go-to. If you want great taste without bitterness, electric options are now all the rage. Either way, the quick work and lack of coffee grounds in your cup of coffee are why all coffee lovers should thank the makers of the percolator. Due to their advances, we can enjoy great cups of coffee each morning.


Featured Image Credit: Unsplash

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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