Pros: • Sleek, high-gloss stainless steel; brews at proper temp; durable; best value for the money.
Cons: • Presto Industries hasn't compensated me for my unsolicited, glowing review. :)
The big complaint against automatic drip coffeemakers is that they fail to brew coffee hot enough. The best you can obtain from an automatic drip machine is ~180°F — sometimes a tad more depending on make/model — and often significantly less: ~165-170°F.
If you really want a beautiful machine that will eliminate the BPA, dioxin, and other unseen hazards associated with plastic and paper products in contact with hot liquids, the Presto® Stainless Steel Coffee Maker is the way to go. I didn't appreciate it when I bought this percolator little over two years ago, but this Presto is the best reviewed, most-loved perc on the market. That's a rare feat given that coffeemaker reviews tend to elicit lukewarm responses overall.
Apparently, some of those "other" percs don't stack up well against the Presto, either. A prime example are the clear "faux glass" knobs some percs boast, which are known for splintering and breaking because all of the modern percs with the peek-through lids are apparently topped with plastic. The other complaint in conjunction with percolators centers around over-extraction. Yes, some percs, mostly older ones, have been known to scorch coffee.
Not so the Presto.
Now the first thing critics will tell you is that perc coffee is inferior because unlike most electrical brewing methods, it gets too hot. I gotta admit, my expectations were low. I bought this stately pot on sale at Sears little over two years ago because it was fashionably retro. I was fully prepared for the fact that it might become a curious kitchen novelty, and little more. After all, I had no idea what to expect. My parents didn't use a perc that I recall, and I can't even remember if my grandparents used one, either. I must of spied one somewhere because I have a murky memory of the fascination I had for the see-through lid. But it must have been a one-time shot because there were no long-forgotten percs that surfaced in my childhood home years later.
What makes this perc great is that its 800-watt heating element — unlike some of the 1,000-watt+ percs out there — doesn't perc too hot (and saves electricity over other electric coffee brewers too). In mine, a full pot of coffee is a piping hot 195°F in the pot, 30-some degrees hotter than your average drip machine. That number is important because it's in the ballpark for properly extracted coffee. The ideal 195-207°F extraction range is something many drip machines struggle to achieve. Consequently, not only is the coffee less than steaming hot when brewed from your average drip machine, but the flavor is less than it can and should be.
It takes owning a perc to appreciate one.
The Presto Percolator is a compact, elegant edition to the countertop — clad in that popular black-and-stainless steel color combo long before a kitchen decor fad sprung up to match. It stands nearly 13 inches tall and ~8.5 inches at its widest point from spout to handle. Better yet, its good looks are more than skin deep: The Presto Perc is durable and easy to clean. It makes GREAT coffee. Drink perc coffee and you'll have the added bonus of feeling like a trend-bucking rebel. (Ah, to live dangerously….)
The trick to great perc coffee is to take out the spent coffee grinds when the orange ready-light comes on to signal that the brew cycle is complete. Use an oven mitt to avoid the steam when you pull off the snug-fitting lid because it will be HOT! Gently lift out the perc tube on which the stainless steel filter basket perches, remove the stainless steel lid on the basket, separate the tube from the basket, and dump the spent grinds in the trash. Easy as pie. Rinse, wash with dish soap or use vinegar and baking soda to clean the perc parts and the interior. From time to time use a clean toothbrush or toothpick, if necessary, to ensure that the holes on the bottom of the perforated filter basket are clear. The electrical cord comes detached to make cleanup easier, and the only caveat involved is to avoid submerging the black plastic base in which the electrics reside. There's not much more to it!
To keep perc coffee fresh, immediately pour it into an insulated server (preferably vacuum lined with glass). Why? Because the one significant weakness to perc coffee is not that it percs too hot and over-works the grinds, but that it will continue to perc past its "best by point" if you also use the machine to keep the coffee warm (which it will do until it is unplugged). Leaving a perc plugged in longer than necessary is a big no-no. Follow this one simple rule-of-thumb and the coffee will not become rank and bitter.
Speaking of rules, don't forget to check out the instructions. The directions in the Presto Perc manual are simple and specific, particularly on how much coffee grinds to add per cup. This takes much of the guesswork out of the coffee making equation. Read all about it by downloading the owner's guide from the Presto Industries website:
For best results, enjoy the aroma and the sound of the coffee as it percs; when the ready light comes on unplug the unit, remove the grinds immediately and transfer the hot coffee to a thermal server if you intend to take more than 30 minutes to consume your coffee. But hey, if you don't have an insulated carafe within easy reach, it is not the problem it would be with another drip coffeemaker. That's because at ~30°F hotter than your average drip machine, perc coffee will take longer to become tepid even after you unplug the pot. So even if you don't have an insulated decanter handy, perc coffee is likely to stay within suitable drinking temps considerably longer than average — especially if you brew to full capacity. (Presto makes this 12-cup version, stock number 02811, and also a 6-cup, stock number 02822. I would recommend the latter to those who have trouble with their hands or arms and may not appreciate the heft of a full-size perc, roughly ~2lbs empty and considerably more filled to its 12-cup capacity.)
Now for some minor nitpicks/FYIs: First, there is no auto-shutoff. If you forget to unplug it, it could be a safety hazard. Secondly, it would be nice if the teapot were cleverly designed to conceal a thermal double-wall design, so that A) the exterior would not become burning hot, and B) the perc pot itself could double as the thermal server once the spent grinds and tube/basket assembly were removed. Third, the black plastic knob on the top of the Presto perc's stainless steel lid is not constructed of see-through glass. I wanted a glass lid for "coffee nerd entertainment value", but because modern perc pot lids are constructed of polycarbonate, which tends to discolor, haze and crack, I opted for this Presto Perc over its competitors because the overall design of the pot is refined and classy looking (and shiny enough to see your face in). Specifically, the problem with the Presto Perc's knob is that the top half starts to work loose from the bottom. This may make it the easiest part, other than the removable electric cord, to lose — particularly if not checked and tightened after each use (it screws on/off). Secondly, the point where the perc plug attaches/detaches in the base can — or so I've read — loosen in time. If and when it does, the electrical connection may no longer remain sound, and the pot won't perc. Longtime perc owners say that the way to avoid this gradual loosening issue is to resist the urge to constantly plug and unplug the cord, and to instead wrap the electrical cord several times around the handle during cleaning and while in storage. As points of failure go, however, there are relatively few in this machine to go belly up. Its simplicity is what makes the perc one of the more reliable types of electric coffee brewing methods out there. Undoubtedly, this explains why so many survive to land in thrift stores and garage sales: They take a licking and keep on ticking.
The biggest challenge to owning a perc — especially for the self-described coffee snob/geek — is to set aside whatever "grapevine wisdom" one has heard about the perc brew method. I'm the first person who hates bitter, scorched coffee, and if I don't feel like I'm "settling" for inferior coffee, I highly doubt anyone else will, either. As indicated above, the coffee is only bad if you use the perc to keep the coffee hot with the grinds basket still in place. The Presto Percolator will reach proper extraction temps, and it will perc at about 1-cup per minute (up to the 12-cup capacity). But it won't boil your coffee because it doesn't reach boiling point — at least not when brewed in this Presto Percolator!
The best aspect to the perc is how easy it is to clean and the peace of mind of limiting exposure to toxins emitted by the plasticizers associated with drip brewers. If there's limescale in your perc, you can see it. If there are grinds, you can get to them to remove them. If God forbid a creepy critter crawls in there, you're going to know about it. Not so a typical drip machine. The inside of the Presto perc is finished off exceptionally well to resist stains, unlike the cheap thermal stainless steel decanter interiors that attract coffee residues and odors from the first pot of coffee onward. Likewise, there are no water filters that you're going to forget inside of the water tank, to incubate who-knows-what while perpetually immersed in a damp, dark area. All of which brings up an important point: A very under-rated aspect to making truly GOOD coffee is a sparkling clean machine. Because there are no hidden rubber or plastic tubes and the extraction temps are correct, excellent results using coarse-ground coffee are easy to achieve. A lot of drip coffeemakers start off good, they just don't stay that way because grinds, limescale and inattention take their toll. For this reason, it's not uncommon for many of these drip brewers to conk out in three years or less usage. With the Presto Perc, by contrast, the worst annoyance is the possibility of grinding the coffee too fine, only to find those overly-fine grinds at the bottom of the pot awaiting that last cup or two of coffee. If that's a problem, however, there are perc paper filters to be had on grocery store shelves. Better yet, avoid pre-ground commercial coffees — they're optimized for drip machines. Invest, instead, in fresh, whole beans and either grind them at the store or purchase a quality mill that will allow you to customize the grind (flavor) to your liking, and all will be well with your perc pot-'o-java.
For the hottest, best tasting and smelling coffee to be had in the home, make way for the perc! This may well be the last coffeemaker you ever buy. I should know: I've tried some of the best, and I keep falling back on my trusty Presto Perc!