Coffee Urn vs. Percolator: What’s the Difference?

Man has been roasting coffee beans and creating the equivalent of today’s coffee beverage since the 13th century. Unlike today, early coffee bean preparation included intensely scorching and boiling coffee beans.

Today, there are several methods that people can use to brew a fresh hot cup of coffee. Among the options include a coffee urn or a percolator. Although both of these appliances produce the same beverage, there are differences to help tell them apart. While one is mainly utilized for brewing larger quantities of coffee, the other can be used on a smaller scale. Despite the size difference and the quantity of coffee that can be produced at one time, these appliances also have some features in common. 

Coffee Urn Basics

Usually made from stainless steel, coffee urns make coffee on a larger scale and are designed to keep the coffee hot for extended periods of time. Predominantly run with electricity, coffee urns are available in three different sizes. This appliance is often categorized as a giant percolator.

Where a small urn can hold 30 cups of coffee, a medium-sized urn can hold 55 cups of coffee. The large urn can hold up to 100 cups of coffee. What makes this appliance even more convenient is the spout on the bottom that allows people to get their own cups of coffee.

Coffee urns are generally used for office parties, weddings, and at hotels, venues, and restaurants. Its ability to hold large quantities of coffee, all while keeping it hot and fresh, is beneficial in situations with large crowds of people.


Making large batches of coffee with a coffee urn is simple and only requires a few steps. It’s important to note that the amount of water and ground coffee needed will vary depending on the size of the urn.

For these instructions, it’s suggested to use ½ cup of coffee grounds for every 10 cups of coffee. It also takes approximately one minute to brew one cup of coffee with a coffee urn.

  1. Remove the lid, filter basket, and tube.
  2. Following the measurement lines on the inside of the urn, fill the vessel with the appropriate amount of cold water. (Again, this will vary depending on how much coffee you wish to brew.)
  3. Place the tube back into the urn and secure the filter basket on top of the tube.
  4. Measure out medium-coarse coffee grounds and place them in the basket. (Be sure to use the amount that corresponds with the water level in the urn.)
  5. Put the lid back on the urn and plug in the appliance. Once the appropriate amount of time has passed, which depends on how many cups of coffee you are brewing, the hot coffee can be dispensed from the bottom of the coffee urn.


While some coffee urns can be used to brew, hold, and dispense coffee, others are used for dispensing purposes only. Since coffee urns can be purchased as just a dispenser, be sure to look at the description of the appliance if you are looking into getting a percolating coffee urn for your next big function.

Percolator Basics

Coffee percolators are pots that are used to make smaller batches of coffee. These appliances are generally utilized in the homes of coffee lovers, as they produce smaller quantities of coffee. While they can be electric, some varieties of percolators can also be used on stove tops as well.

Resembling a tea kettle, percolators have four basic parts. Like a coffee urn, there is a chamber that gets filled with water, a tube, a filter basket, and a lid.


As with coffee urns, percolators use a brewing method known as gravitational feed. Once the appropriate amount of cold water has been placed in the bottom of the percolator, the tube is inserted, and the filter basket is placed on top.

The measured-out coffee grounds are deposited into the filter basket and the lid of the percolator is placed on top. Whether the percolator is being heated up on the stove or by electricity, the process of brewing the coffee is the same.

As the water in the base of the percolator heats up, steam and hot water flow up through the tube and encounters the coffee grounds. Then, brewed coffee drips down from the filter basket back into the base of the percolator. This process is repeated until the appliance is either removed from the heat source or turned off. From start to finish, this process takes no more than 10 minutes.

Taste Difference?

Both coffee urns and percolators use coarse-ground coffee, resulting in a strong cup of coffee. Since both appliances brew coffee with the gravitational feed, and they both have the same compartments and pieces, the taste is relatively the same.

Pros & Cons

Both coffee urns and percolators are generally easy to use. Requiring a few basic ingredients and only a few steps to get started, they are great options for achieving a fresh cup of coffee. There are a few downfalls, however, that should be considered.

Coffee urns take a while to brew. If you forget to start the coffee ahead of time, the beverage might not be ready when your gathering begins. Similarly, if the coffee urn is not tended to and the filter basket is not removed after the brewing is complete, the coffee in the urn can become harsh tasting and unappealing.

Although percolators do take less time to brew a fresh cup of coffee, it is not an effective way to make large quantities of coffee at functions or parties. If left unattended, they could over-brew the coffee. This over-extraction can create an unpleasant-tasting coffee. It can also allow the coffee to spill and leak out of the top.

Wrap It Up

Coffee urns are essentially large percolators that create substantial quantities of coffee for gatherings or crowds of people. Brewing coffee by utilizing gravity, this appliance is made of metal and is often electric. 

Percolators are coffee urns on a smaller scale. Available for stove-top use or electric, it brews smaller quantities of coffee. Although both appliances take a little extra time when brewing, they create a comparable strong cup of coffee. If enough attention is not given to each of them, however, the brew can become bitter and distasteful.