The editor of a magazine I write for recently said in one of his columns that he dislikes percolated coffee because “it tastes bad.”

This same person extols the virtues of some fancy-dancy coffee maker that uses pre-packaged, individual servings. The device costs quite a bit, more than my practical nature can accept. As per me, give me a percolator, a one-pound can well, they don’t weigh quite a pound any more, but you get my driftof coffee and I’m set for the duration. And if the power fails, my gas stove still works. My editor’s state-of-the-art coffee maker, of course, requires electricity.

Coffee evolves

In my youth, everyone used a percolator to make coffee, mostly because that was all they had. But then instant coffee became popular. I recall hearing the grown-ups complaining about how bad it was. But the stuff kept getting better and by my teenage years, everyone used instant coffee. Then by the time I had reached my twenties, Mr. Coffee was king. If you didn’t have a Mr. Coffee coffee maker, you just weren’t with it. At least that’s what Joe DiMaggio (for younger readers, he was a baseball player who did Mr. Coffee ads he was also married to Marilyn Monroe) wanted us to believe.

But as with my editor’s fancy, modern coffee maker, Mr. Coffee needed electricity to run. That didn’t cut it at fishing camp. There, we relied on a woodstove and also a small propane gas burner. As per instant coffee, the stuff never made it through the camp door. When at camp, we drank percolated coffee and that was all there was to it.

This coffee-making business involved something of a ritual. Only one person dealt with the process and that was Jim Taylor, an ex-aviator who got shot down and spent considerable time in German prisons during the second World War. It was Jim who had charge of coffee-making detail.

While the rest of us were outside brushing our teeth and dousing our heads in the clean, cold water of Junior Lake, Jim stayed inside making coffee. Coming back inside, the hearty aroma of fresh-brewed Chock Full O’ Nuts hit us hard. It had a warming, soothing effect and no doubt, part of that comforting feeling came from Jim Taylor’s tender ministrations at the coffee pot. He catered to us.

“Coffee’s on, boys,” Jim would say, as if we needed telling. And then, no matter how badly we wanted to get out in the boat and start trolling for salmon, we would kick back, hoist a cup and with one tentative sip, go “Mmmmm.”

We drank Jim’s coffee black. In truth, it was way too strong, far too brash for my tastes today, but this was some years ago. Tastes change. Jim’s coffeepot was a huge percolator, covered in white enamel. It was old back then and if it still lingers in some forgotten corner, it is far older now. The memories of Jim and his coffee-making remain dear to me.

Percolator quest

Jim finally passed away and my days at camp with him ended. And back home, my routine became too busy to bother making percolated coffee and it hurts to admit it I backslid and began using instant coffee. And then one day a wave of nostalgia swept over me and I realized what was lacking in my life. It was percolated coffee, the same as Jim Taylor used to make.

So I drove to town to buy a coffee percolator, something such as what Jim Taylor had, if that were possible. My search initiated the slowly-growing realization that I had become a dinosaur. My reception at the various stores in Belfast ranged from a puzzled look, as in, “what’s a percolator?” to scowls, as in, “No, we do not carry percolators and have no intention of carrying them in the future, so please leave.”

My thoughts ranged from wondering what happened to the old Belfast that I knew and loved, to what had happened to me. Had I stood still while time passed me by? But the quest had to continue and if Belfast couldn’t provide an old-fashioned coffee percolator, Bucksport or perhaps Ellsworth could. People in Down East Maine, the “real” Maine, must still enjoy their percolated coffee.

But one store in Belfast remained untapped. Was it possible that Trustworthy held true to old-timey things? Yes, it was. Trustworthy had percolators. They weren’t coated in white enamel as Jim Taylor’s was and they were made in China. But by gum, they were still percolators and probably represented the best that I could have hoped for. I plunked my money down and headed to the supermarket to buy a can of Chock Full O’ Nuts.

Parts quest

Even being Chinese-made, these modern percolators are nearly indestructible. The glass top, though, eventually needs replacing. Most times, it’s the washer that holds the top on that wears out. And then you need to buy a new top and washer. Washers are not sold separately. In time, the washer on my percolator became worn and no amount of squeezing or bending could make it hold the glass top securely. And so began my coffeepot-glass-top quest.

If the hunt for a percolator was daunting, the search for a top was even more difficult. I finally wound up buying a used glass top at a flea market down in Brunswick. This was larger than my old top and its threads fit the old, worn-out washer perfectly. But alas, while washing dishes, my glass percolator-top broke. So I remembered something I saw as a youngster. Grandma’s percolator top broke and as an interim fix, she made a pouch out of tin foil and inserted it in the hole in the top of the coffee pot to take the place of the glass dome.

So using grandma’s technology, I made a temporary repair on my coffeepot. The tin foil fix worked, but it lacked one thing. You couldn’t see the coffee splashing around through the glass top as it percolated. It really was necessary to either find a replacement glass top or else buy a whole new percolator. And since chances of finding a replacement top were nil, I went to Trustworthy to buy a new pot.

But to my amazement, the people in the store, upon hearing why I needed a new percolator, led me to a dusty, long-disused tray of odds and ends and there for me to behold was a Fitz-All Percolator Top. For less than four bucks, my problem was solved.

I saved the cardboard sheet that came with the top and now when this one finally wears out, I’ll know exactly what to ask for the next time around. Jim Taylor would be proud.