Thursday, August 8, 2013

Perking Right Along

Nothing says camping to us like perked coffee made in a genuine percolator.  Although some would say getting gourmet coffee out of a percolator is impossible, we beg to differ.

If you want The Best perked coffee, you have to be prepared to pay your dues and do your diligence.

Let's go through the drill.  Now, bear in mind this is not an exhaustive tutorial on making great perked coffee--it's just the beginning.

First things first--you MUST use a stainless steel percolator.  Do not even THINK of using an aluminum one.  If you insist on using an aluminum percolator then read no farther--this perked coffee primer is NOT for you!

Second, you MUST keep your stainless steel percolator clean and SPOTLESS.  Grime and built-up coffee stains might be a picturesque piece of camping ambiance but they simply murder good coffee.  Keep it cleaned constantly.  Period.

Third, you MUST buy the proper coffee filter.  A normal percolator will make a dark brown liquid that's only one step above the dreaded  so-called "cowboy coffee."  Trust me, we HATE cowboy coffee.  We don't care how many stories people tell about the mystic of cowboy coffee and how you put in egg shells and whatever other disgusting things you do to destroy perfectly good coffee grounds.  Cowboy coffee sux.  That's the bottom line.

So, you buy the correct filter.  It's a square piece of filter paper with five pre-punched holes.  You carefully line the basket with this filter, put in the grounds and then CAREFULLY fold over the corners of the filter until your precious grounds are safe and properly encased.  If you've done this step correctly, there will be NO grounds either in the bottom of the basket or in the coffee itself.  Cleanup is a no-brainer.

Next, you have a fine and delicate chore ahead of you on the road to perfect perked coffee.  It involves genuine scientific research.

A scientific procedure is one that can be replicated again and again based on, well... science.

The science of perfect perked coffee is finding the right grounds, in the right amount, matched with the right amount of water and perked for the right time over the right flame.  Each of these things is a critical variable.
  • Type of grounds
  • Amount of grounds
  • Water quantity
  • Time of perk
  • BTU of flame
Messing up any one of the above can single-handedly destroy perked coffee.

You will need to keep meticulous, scientific notes and make many batches of coffee to find the right mix of these variables to suit your taste.  For us it is one-third cup of a secret coffee ground to the right grain size filled to a certain mark on the percolator and perked for precisely 5 minutes over a very low flame.

If the perk bubble rate is too fast, the coffee will become bitter.  Too slow and the coffee will taste "thin."
Getting the right perk rate is best determined by using a "perk-o-meter."  You point this laser device at your percolator and it gives you a read out of PPM--That's Perks Per Minute.  You can find a perk-o-meter at any reputable science supply store.

Now, the next trick is INSTANT removal of the coffee from the percolator.  The second it is done, pull it off the stove and immediately decant the percolator contents into a spotlessly clear, high-quality thermos.  Coffee left to sit in a percolator will become rapidly bitter and will taste weird.  The thermos is as much a part of the equation as the percolator itself.

Well, there you go--a primer.  We will eventually post some photos of the filters.

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