Percolators began to be developed from the mid-nineteenth century. In the United States, James H. Mason of Massachusetts patented an early percolator design in 1865. An Illinois farmer named Hanson Goodrich is generally credited with patenting the modern percolator. Goodrich's patent was granted on August 16, 1889, and his patent description varies little from the stovetop percolators sold today. With the percolator design, water is heated in a boiling pot with a removable lid, until the heated water is forced through a metal tube into a brew basket containing coffee. The extracted liquid drains from the brew basket, where it drips back into the pot. This process is continually repeated during the brewing cycle until the liquid passing repeatedly through the grounds is sufficiently steeped. A clear sight chamber in the form of a transparent knob on the lid of the percolator enables the user to judge when the coffee has reached the proper color and strength.
In our quest to find the best, we pitted 10 highly regarded coffee makers against each other. These are the machines that regularly make it on best-of lists, earn accolades, and/or are recommendations from the coffee experts we talked to over the course of this review. We aimed for multi-cup carafes — no single serves — and drip machines only. (We didn’t want to muddy the results with French press, pour-over, or espresso. Those are for other reviews.)
This testing was designed to highlight the difference in how each machine extracted its coffee grounds. Remember, extraction is tied to water temperature, how long the grounds had to steep, and how evenly that water is distributed in the brew basket. (Depending on how the machine distributes the water and the shape of the basket, any particular ground may or may not receive the same amount of time in contact with water — thus any individual grind may be over-extracted, under-extracted, or just right.) Properly extracted grounds would have a balance of notes and aromas, from slight hints of acid to a pleasant amount of bitterness.
If all you’re looking for is a gorgeous cup of coffee and no fuss, we strongly recommend the Bonavita BV1900TS. It’s the smallest machine among our top picks and, at $190, the cheapest. Even better, it ranked in the top three out of 10 during our taste tests. It’s also the simplest and most straightforward: one button you click to start brewing, and that’s it. You can’t program brew times; you can’t play around with water temperature; and it even lacks some convenient touches like a brew basket that attaches to the machine (when you’re done brewing, you have to place the brew basket on a plate or in the sink before it makes a total mess). But it’s by far the fastest machine out of our top picks, brewing up a full eight-cup pot in under six minutes. It’s a straightforward, high-end coffee maker that leaves little to complain about.
“I purchased the machine for myself as a birthday present, and I’ve had it for about six weeks. We have a Pavoni espresso machine, which my husband loves for his espressos, but I think it’s a pain for making lattes: grinding the beans, tamping down the pod, ‘pulling’ the lever (which will be really hard if you tamp it too densely), steaming the milk, and then cleaning the steaming wand, not to mention what a pain it is to refill the water chamber (turn off, wait till pressure is gone, then you can refill). Why am I listing all of these steps? Because that’s what you don’t have to worry about with the Lattissima! Here are my steps now: Turn on the machine, get the milk container out of the fridge and plug it into the front, put an espresso capsule in the top, stick a mug under the spout, and push the Latte button. Done. You do need to clean the frother, which is just putting another cup under the spout, turn the milk to “clean” and let it clean, then you can remove the milk container and stick it in the fridge. I clean the milk container once a week, soaking all the pieces in a bowl of hot, soapy water for a few hours.”
Water quality also plays a massive role in the way your coffee tastes. As we discovered in our review of the best water filters, water isn’t tasteless. Total dissolved solids (TDS) are what give “good tasting” water its sweetness — in fact, the SCAA recommends water with 150 milligrams per liter of TDS to brew coffee. (Want to check your water? A TDS reader is only about 15 bucks.)
Hamilton Beach 49980A is made for occasional drinkers and caffeine aficionados alike, with the system fixed with all of the latest programs while still being relatively affordable. This low maintenance coffee maker can brew a basic cup of coffee or a premium roast in minutes, with the stainless steel chassis providing a single serving or 12 cups for a larger party.
CR’s take: If you’re an aficionado of fresh ground coffee, this Black+Decker is the brewer to buy. As the name suggests, the Mill & Brew goes that extra mile, grinding whole coffee beans just before brewing. As a result, the machine is capable of making a great pot of coffee. Made of plastic with stainless steel accents, this model is easy to use and to clean, earning a Very Good rating in our convenience tests. It allows you to adjust brew strength, and it’s programmable, so you can set it to grind and brew just before you wake up.