You used a what? A percolator? (shivers)
That’s the response we imagine a coffee snob would have, had we told him we offered coffee brewed using a percolator. And a big one at that – the one sometimes called a coffee urn. 😱
Yes, Palakape served coffee in an event using just that. Let us explain.
Last August 19-23, we were tapped to serve coffee at a conference. The organizers wanted an overflowing coffee experience for the attendees, and projected a demand of 500 cups per day, split across break times. That’s a huge influx of people. The equipment and brewers Palakape had could not accommodate such demand. And so we thought deeply. Considering our finances, and also the client’s budget, the only way we could meet the demand was to use a PER👏🏽CO👏🏽LAT👏🏽OR👏🏽.
How does a percolator work? Refer to this illustration:
Fill the tank with water. Then, put the vertical tube and filter basket assembly. The vertical tube is mounted on the bottom slot, while the filter basket is supported at the top of the tube. Put coarse ground coffee on the filter basket. When you turn the machine on, it will start heating water at the very bottom first. As water boils, it is pushed by bubbles through the vertical tube to the top. The top of the tube has perforations where the water comes out and gets sprayed to the coffee. (Note that for the percolator we used, there is no spreader plate that helps distributes the water evenly to the grounds, unlike the illustration above. And it is electric, which automatically stops the brewing. Refer to the photo below.) Water then extracts solubles as it makes its way through the coffee grounds. It eventually drips down the coffee chamber, mixing with the liquid at the bottom. This cycle repeats continuously until a pre-determined brewing time, where the heat is reduced at the end and the solution is kept warm.
Why did we hesitate using a percolator? From experience, coffee from percolators are not (or not that) good. They usually taste flat, or sometimes degraded. You know, being still and hot for too long would result to the drink either getting more sour or bitter as components degrade. And the bigger the percolators, the longer the brewing time. Also, in the Philippines, the traditional way is to have the coffee dark-roasted. Taste is subjective, but to us, dark roasted coffee is less flavorful than lighter ones. And judging by the taste, many hotels or catering services probably use Robusta beans, which are generally inferior in flavor compared to other coffee species. It is also likely that they have their coffee stored as grounds already instead of whole beans.
Back to the event. We were able to acquire 3 percolators, bought and borrowed. They have a capacity of 100 cups (with one cup equal to 150 ml). Without prior experience, we used them for the first time on the first day of the event itself. The first batch was the experiment, and from there we were able to come up with the formulation and method to prepare a decent cup. One thing to note: 100% capacity is only applicable for hot water preparation. Water would already touch the filter bottom at this level, so in our case, we only filled the chamber at 80% capacity. Now, here are the tips or hacks to make a decent cup of coffee using the big electric percolator or coffee urn.
- Stick or stay close to the SCAA recommended ratio of 10 grams of coffee to 150 ml water. The recommendation in our percolator’s user manual is 520 grams of coffee for 80% capacity. We did not follow this. At first we used 800 grams of coffee for water at 80%. But based on the capacity of the top filter, we had to lower it a bit. The coffee grounds would absorb water. So we settled for 700 grams of coffee grounds for every 80% capacity initial water fill. The resulting coffee solution at the end of brewing was at 75% capacity.
- Manually recycle coffee stream. What does this mean? The percolator we used was not able to wet all the coffee grounds when left as is. It could be because of the higher amount of coffee we used. So what did we do? We dispensed coffee to a cup, and poured it to the coffee grounds on top to thoroughly wet them. We did this 4 times, and it greatly improved the resulting coffee. This is a kind of chemical engineering hack 😉
- Do not use dark roasted coffee. This is debatable, but from personal experience, the more flavorful lighter roasts stay good for longer when left still. The Palakape norm is medium roast. Next time we may try light roast, and you should too.
- Use a considerable amount of Arabica, if not pure Arabica. Caterers in the Philippines may prefer to use pure Robusta due to the high availability and lower cost. But it’s just generally inferior in flavor. In events, Palakape makes use of at least 50% Arabica blend. You can also blend Arabica with other types of beans available in the country.
- Grind coffee beans on the spot. Coffee flavor is preserved for longer when stored as whole beans. Grinding adds to preparation time, but we opt to do this to serve as fresh a coffee as possible. It also draws wanted attention.
One other concern that we had was that the coffee might be too hot, that staying in the percolator can quickly degrade the drink. Upon checking, the temperature at the “keep warm” phase of the percolator is in acceptable range.
We personally thought the resulting drink was decent. And more importantly, the conference attendees loved our coffee!
This experience changed our perspective on the percolator. It’s still one of the worst coffee brewers, when left to operate as is. But by controlling what we could, we’re now confident to offer this in events. So let this be an announcement that Palakape offers our cheapest coffee set up package, that makes use of a percolator. Contact us should you need a coffee provider in events!