How Do Stove Top Coffee Pots Work?

Updated June 18, 2018

Hob coffee pots come in three types: Moka pots, with separate top and bottom chambers, standard pots with percolator baskets and standard pots without percolator baskets.

One type of hob coffee pot is made from stainless steel or aluminium, with a tight-fitting, push-in lid and a glass knob. The glass knob on top of the pot allows you to see the colour change as the coffee boils. You can then turn off the heat when the coffee reaches your preferred strength.

Coffee made in a pot without a percolator basket is called "cowboy coffee." Coffee grounds go straight into the pot without a filter. After the water boils, the pot must sit for 10 minutes or so, until the grounds settle to the bottom, before you can pour it.

Hob Percolator

Some hob coffee pots come with a basket and stem assembly, like the old metal-sided electric percolators of the 1960s and 1970s. The stem has a round foot the same diameter as the base of the coffee pot. The stem slides through the basket and allows the coffee water to shoot up into the glass knob on top of the pot when it begins to boil. When the liquid turns dark enough and the coffee smells strong enough to please your palate, turn off the heat. Let the pot rest so any remaining water will drain out of the basket and back into the pot. Remove the basket and stem and pour your coffee.

Moka Pots

Moka pots have two sections. After you fill the bottom with water, you twist the two sections together very tightly so steam won't escape while you are brewing the coffee. Use a fine espresso grind with your Moka pot for the best results. Put coffee grounds in the basket, drop it into the percolator, screw the two sections together and turn on the burner. Water rises into the top chamber as it approaches the boiling point, soaking the coffee grounds and draining back into the bottom for a robust, hearty brown brew.


Hob coffee pots work almost as well on a camp stove as they do at home. Once your camp stove is lit and the flame is adjusted, fill the pot with water and coffee grounds. It may take longer for the coffee to boil when you are camping, especially if there is no breeze or you are at a higher elevation. If there is a slow, steady breeze, your camp stove may burn hotter, which will cause the water to boil sooner.

If it is very cold, or if the wind changes speed and direction often, your pot may take a little longer to boil. To prevent the wind from affecting your camp stove temperature, place a wind screen around it. Make it from a piece of sheet metal, folded in three sections at a slight angle. Or improvise a wind screen by placing three large logs around your camp stove and soaking them with water every hour so they don't burn.

To settle the grounds in a hob coffee pot while camping, use the method invented in Australia by the wandering swagmen of the Outback. Although they used this method for making tea, it works just as well for cowboy coffee. Take the pot by the handle and swing it around several times in a big circle, letting centrifugal force separate the rich, dark liquid from the grounds. Watch the video, "Billy Tea: Making It, and the Swing," in the Resources sections at the end of this article for a demonstration of the proper technique.

Safety Warnings

The glass knob on top of your hob coffee pot can break from heat stress if you toss the pot into the sink while it is still hot. Let the pot sit on one of the burners until it cools before putting it in the sink or running it under cool water.

When you make campfire coffee the Australian way, you can get burnt. The hot liquid could splash on you while you are swinging the pot. Always make sure the lid is on tight before you begin to swing the pot. Wear leather gloves and eye protection and swing the pot in a long arc with quick, circular movements. Do not look at the pot while you are swinging it. Do not let anyone get any closer than 15 feet until you are done swinging the pot.

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About the Author

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.