The plethora of brewing methods out there is staggering. Among the more interesting brewing methods falls the siphon or vacuum brewing method. These coffee makers are often referred to as siphon pots, siphon brewers, vacpots, vacuum brewers or similar. They all have one thing in common, and that is the method of drawing water up, through the coffee grounds, then back down as a clean cup of coffee. This article will take you through everything you need to know about siphon pots. Lets get started!
History of Siphon Brewing
Siphon or Vacuum brewing has been around for a “little while” to say the least. The brewing method was invented by Loeff of Berlin in the 1830’s. Since then the coffee brewer has had a long and interesting road. Because of the complex brewing process and increasingly available convenient coffee brewers, vacuum coffee brewers fell out of popularity during the 1960’s. During this time period a large number of manufacturers creating these coffee brewers withdrew production of the models. Only a few companies continued to make these unique brewers, namely Bodum who has consistently created quality siphon pots since the 1970s. During this time the numbers of users of these coffee brewers also dropped.
Nearing the end of the 1990’s, and no doubt due to a small underground vein of hardcore coffee brewing fanatics on the internet, the siphon pot began to rise in popularity. In recent history specialist coffee brewers have been featuring the siphon pot as one of if not their favorite methods for brewing. Today there are many varieties of siphon pots out there with many options to suit the needs of any coffee fanatic. The NY Times even recently featured a coffee bar in San Francisco who paid $20,000 for their brewing station and exclusively brews siphon pot coffee.
How Does a Siphon Coffee Maker Work?
The design of a siphon pot is fairly simple, but at first glance it is tough to decipher how the darn thing works. Not to worry, I am going to go over the entire process in detail. Lets start with the design: two bulbs sit atop one another held by a stem. The top bulb has a large opening on top with a stem that feeds into a smaller opening on the lower second bulb. Coffee grounds are placed in the top bulb and water is placed in the lower bulb. The stem has a seal which creates a vacuum within the lower bulb holding the water – hence the name vacuum pot. At the bottom of the top bulb a filter is placed. This filter allows the water to rise though it and then subsequently releasing the brewed coffee back down into the bottom bulb.
Brewing with the siphon pot is easy in concept, but can be difficult in practice. You are in control of all the variables of your brew which is great for the experienced brewer, however this can be a nightmare for someone with little to no coffee brewing experience. Here I will cover the basic concept behind the siphon pot and later we will go over the specifics of brewing a great cup of coffee in the how to section.
To brew with the siphon pot you simply place the pot on a heat source (more on heat source options later in the article) and as the water heats, it rises through the stem into the coffee grounds in the top bulb. The water and coffee are then agitated and steeped. Once the mixture is ready for draining you remove the coffee maker from the heat source and place on a cool (read non-heated) surface. The pressure change will allow the coffee to drain back down the stem into the bottom bulb. Once the coffee is brewed, you simply set the top bulb to the side and serve the coffee from the bottom bulb.
Why Choose A Siphon Pot?
Do you want to drink the best cup of coffee you can each morning? Great, so do I! If you put your ear to the ground and listen to the collection of underground and specialty coffee baristas out there today, you will surely hear mention of the siphon coffee maker. If you love the way that coffee tantalizes all your senses, then you will love a vacpot. Watching and listening to the brew will surely fascinate you time and time again. Watching the water rise from the bottom pot, seeing the coffee brew before your eyes, and then watching as the delicious clean brew is dispensed back into the bottom pot will leave you smiling and happy to enjoy a delicious cup of coffee every time.
This coffee maker is great in the sense that it allows you control over almost ever variable of your coffee brew. Temperature, steep time, agitation, grind size, and concentration are all in your direct control and easy to see. That being said, there is also plenty of chances for error which will likely cause a novice brewer to brew inconsistent pots of coffee until they improve their skills.
If you have decided that a siphon pot might be up your alley then read on. Next we will cover how to use a siphon brewer and what equipment you need to make your own!
Types Siphon Coffee Makers & Heat Sources
Because of their appearance, it can be hard to tell at first how each particular model functions. To clear any confusion there might be we will go over the different styles of siphon pots as well as the various ways you might heat your brew. There are two main types of modern siphon coffee makers on the market today: standalone and stovetop. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, we will cover both here.
As the name simply implies, a stovetop siphon pot is meant to be used atop your electric or gas stove. This doesn’t mean it is a radically different design than a standalone siphon pot, it just means that the bottom bowl is constructed with a flat surface which allows the entire pot to be set atop a flat burner.
Stovetop brewers have the advantage of being simpler and easy to use right there on your stove, but they lack the style, look, and portability that a standalone brewer has.
Recommended model: Yama Glass 8 Stovetop Coffee Siphon.
A standalone siphon pot is simply a siphon pot which has been designed for use with an external heat source such as a butane or alcohol burner. There are also some standalone siphon coffee makers which have a heating element built into the stand (our favorite model is the Hario Technica 5-cup Coffee Syphon. These standalone coffee makers, especially the butane and alcohol burners, are more of a traditional style of coffee brewing experience.
After reading through the two descriptions of the standalone and stovetop coffee makers, you know that they can be used with different types of heat sources. The most common heating elements used with siphon coffee makers are gas stove, butane burner, or an alcohol burner.
The advantages of each are mostly found in their use, and they shouldn’t influence the taste that much although some coffee purists might beg to differ. You could say that the ability to adjust the heat would allow you to make a better pot of coffee since you can fine tune your brew even more. When suggesting a heat source, I always say whatever is most convenient for you is best!
How to Use a Siphon Coffee Maker
As we mentioned above, there are quite a few variables that go into the perfect brew (for you) when using a vacpot. Here we will cover the basics as well as some little tips and tricks to help you gain the most control of your end product. To get started you will need the following.
What You Need
- Coffee Beans
- High Quality Water
- Siphon Coffee Maker
- Measuring Cup
- Heat Source or Burner
Getting it all right before you start makes your job of brewing just that much easier. Here are the steps we recommend you take before brewing.
- Set up your equipment: Assemble the filter and place it in the top bulb. Have the bottom bulb ready in its stand or at the ready.
- Determine how much coffee you wish to brew and the ratio of water to coffee grounds. For reference, the siphon pot normally leaves a little water behind as it heats. This means you can be left with a diluted brew if your ratio isn’t right. For a stronger brew we recommend 4 oz of water to 8 oz of ground coffee or for a weaker brew, about 6 oz of water per 8 oz of coffee.
- Pre-heat the water. Bring your water to a boil or nearly there and then set off heat. This makes the brewing process happen quicker which makes your steep time more accurate.
- Grind your coffee. If your coffee is ground too fine, it is easy to clog the filter during the extraction process. This being said, make sure you are using a coarse grind. Something similar to what you would use in a french press is perfect, do your own experimenting and you will find the best grind for you.
You now have everything ready for brewing. Lets move on to the action.
- Begin by starting your heat source and setting it to low/medium. You won’t need to crank it up because you pre-heated the water.
- Fill the bottom bulb with the appropriate amount of water and set it over your heat source.
- Promptly place the stem of the top bulb into the lower opening and press gently to create a good seal.
- Watch the system work, as the water enters the top bulb and begins to run out take note of the sound. There will be a small amount of water left in the bottom bulb. If you see it is no longer pulling water or hear the system gurgle then it is time to move on.
- Agitate your mixture the desired amount and let steep. We recommend an average starting point of 90 seconds. Try this and go from there!
- After steeping, remove the heat source completely and watch as your brew drains back down.
- Once the water all returns to the bottom bulb, pull the top bulb and stem out and set aside.
- Serve and enjoy your delicious coffee!