I shouldn’t really say “old-fashioned”, but I couldn’t think of another way to describe coffee makers that most people don’t use anymore. The Pyrex coffee percolator is the exact style of coffee pot that my mother and older sisters used when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s.
“Pyrex” is a word that was made up by Corning Incorporated in 1915. Although they sold the consumer products division in 1998, “Corning Incorporated” still appears at the Pyrex web portal. They no longer sell any kind of coffee pots, from what I can see.
Pyrex is a brand name that was synonymous with glass. It didn’t matter what type of glass they used although they originally used borosilicate glass. I believe they now use soda lime glass. I also believe their glassware is tempered and heat resistant. I’m relying on memory, but I never saw any glass coffee percolators crack.
The glass coffee percolators that I’ve seen operate in the same ways. I understand there is another kind that operates a little differently, but I’ve never seen one in person.
Coffee grounds are placed in a basket at the top of long cylindrical tube which almost reaches the sides of the basket. I’ve never seen any baskets made from anything besides aluminum. The tube for a glass coffee percolator is also made of glass and the pedestal at the bottom, which rests against the bottom of the pot, is made of glass as well. In fact, the only other metal part of this particular coffee maker is the band that goes around it. I don’t remember if the band served to secure the handle or not.
After the coffee is brewed to the point of completion, usually when the coffee is dark brown, the heat is lowered enough just to keep the coffee pot warm. I can remember many times when the coffee sat long enough to be considered burnt. It tasted nasty at that point. I used to watch the liquid percolate; I could see it hitting the inside knob of the lid. I think the lid was designed the way it was for exactly that reason.
During times of little money, my mother and siblings used to re-use the coffee grounds. It took longer for the coffee to brew the second time and it usually never got as dark as the first time. A third time was out of the question. I don’t think automatic drip coffee grounds can be used in the same way, but I’ve never tested any to find out.
Metal Coffee Percolators
A cursory search using Google Image Search will reveal coffee percolators of all kinds still in existence, though none quite like the image I found that matched what my mother used. There were others that I remember, like the metal coffee pots that were used during camping trips. They operated in the same way, but brewing time had to be estimated because the liquid couldn’t be seen.
Some of the images I found on Google were misleading. Some younger people might be fooled when they see an image of a coffee decanter versus a coffee percolator. The decanters are only used to keep coffee hot for serving. They can’t be used as coffee makers in any way, shape or form. Some of them appear to be metal and aren’t — they’re made of plastic that looks like metal.
[Originally published in October, 2008]