One of the most common retro appliances that were a fixture in nearly every kitchen in the 1960s and 1970s was the coffee percolator. Until replaced in the 1970s by automatic drip coffee makers, the percolator was the coffee brewing device of choice. The percolator was invented in the late 1800s and although there were variations, the basic device was a chamber of water at the bottom of the percolator with a metal tube that extended to the top. Ground coffee was placed in a shelf with small holes located below the metal tube. As the water boils it is forced up the tube and then seeps through the coffee grounds until the coffee is brewed.
The two main types of percolators were electric and stovetop. As all that was needed was a heat source at the bottom, both styles got the job done. Retro percolators were generally polished stainless steel with a black insulated base for the heating unit (for the plug in models) and often had a glass cap on the stainless steel lid so you could see when the coffee was percolating. A common variation was the more functional and less stylish version that was used for camping (and was very similar to today’s camping percolators). These often were stainless steel, but it was not uncommon to find olive green or dark blue models.
In most percolators the coffee touched the heating element and also would be run through the grounds more than once. This produced a rich coffee fragrance in the kitchen (not to mention the classic “percolating” sound). However, unless the percolating was done correctly, it could give the coffee a less intense flavor as some of the volatile coffee compounds would be lost and if brewed too long could give the coffee a “burnt” flavor. Many people feel that percolators give a more robust coffee brew and there is still a respectable market for coffee percolators, both stovetop and electric.
Many original retro percolators are still to be found, and quite often at very reasonable prices at garage sales and the like. However, as many of the current percolators have designs similar to the original models, many people chose to buy a new one. Although an original retro percolator may look great on the outside, heating elements do wear out after a time and it is likely they won’t last as long as an original that is decades old. A retro percolator is a great addition to any kitchen, and is almost guaranteed to bring back memories (if you’re old enough to remember a percolator sitting on your kitchen counter!).