On one hand, siphon coffee maker also known as a vacuum coffee pot (its little nickname would be: vac pot!) is an ancient and really exciting way to brew coffee!
On the other hand, it could be really annoying in many aspects, that’s why many owners put their brewer on a cupboard as a display piece… You are notified in case you feel like buying one!
But, what is a siphon coffee maker exactly? To cover this question, we divided this article into 6 parts as followed:
- A little bit of history….
- What are the different components?
- How does a vacuum coffee maker work?
- How to use it?
- Are there different types?
- Pros/Cons and Tips
Euh, is it a crazy chemist who invented this?
Siphon coffee maker made his first apparition in the 1830s in Germany and was invented by Loeff from Berlin. But this is Marie Fanny Amelne Massots a French woman of Lyon (known as Mme Vassieux), who was the first one to patent it.
She designed a coffee brewer made of two balloons mounted together by a frame.
Moreover, a Scottish marine engineer was working on a similar idea at the same time, but he got rewarded only in 1856 by “The Institution of Mechanical Engineer” for his Napier coffee brewer. Until today the design of a vacuum coffee maker didn’t really change…
What are the different components?
There is usually (depending on the model you have) four main parts (including the heater if it’s separated) in a siphon coffee maker:
- The upper chamber & the lower chamber
First siphon coffee makers were often made out of brass or other metal then Mme Vassieux made them out of blown glass. No need to specify that it was fragile at that time.
Today, it’s quite different: you will be able to buy some made out of borosilicate glass which is a much more robust material and it should stand fairly well to your everyday use. This material is also heat-resistant and fairly sturdy!
- The filter
Most of the time, vacuum pot are associated with cloth filter which is wrapped around a metallic disc. Don’t forget to clean it after each use, you can do so by putting it under a hot tab, be serious about it!
One last thing, if you plan on not using it for a few days, clean it with a suitable detergent. If you don’t do it, it might get musty!
An independent heat source is required for this brewing method. In Japan and in some specialist coffee shop, people use a halogen lamp which looks fantastic but doesn’t really improve the brewing process.
You can either heat your siphon coffee maker on a kitchen stove or use a small butane camping stove. Some of them come with their own burning candle but it’s not recommended to use it.
Vacuum, it reminds me of a vacuum cleaner… really?
So, how does it work?
Long story short the liquid water in the lower chamber is heated and turned into steam which pushes the remaining liquid water from the lower chamber through the filter (with the coffee ground) to the top chamber.
Then, the steam cools reducing the pressure inside the lower chamber (a vacuum is created), which allows the coffee from the upper chamber to fall into the lower chamber. One quick notice, when the coffee falls, it does it by passing through the filter ;).
Even though this process is a pleasing application of physics (used as an experiment during some teaching class), it could be difficult to succeed that’s why a lot of people give up on it!
Check the figure below ;).
Let’s look like being in a lab while brewing!
- The brewing process
- As usual, start by grinding the coffee just before you start brewing (Don’t forget to weight it!)
- Grab a kettle of fresh water (with a low mineral content) and heat it.
- Put the filter inside the upper chamber. Don’t forget to check that it’s completely flush!
- Put the bottom chamber on your scale and pour the correct volume of water according to the coffee/water ratio you chose!
- Grab the lower chamber (using the handle if you have one), and place it on your heat source (a small butane burner, a halogen lamp or an alcohol burner)
- Add the upper chamber on top without sealing it yet. If you seal it too early, the expanding gases will push the water to the top without reaching the right temperature (your coffee might taste bad because of it!)
- If the water just started to boil, seal it! Moreover, reduce the heat to low if you can! At this point, you should see the boiling water going up and create bubbles in the upper chamber.
- In the beginning, the bubbling will be aggressive. When it becomes smaller, it’s time to brew your coffee. Incorporate the coffee to the water and stir it until everything is wet. Start your timer!
- At this time, a crust will appear at the top. Wait 30 seconds and stir it gently to knock the floating coffee back into the brew.
- Wait another 30 seconds to turn off your heat source. As soon as the coffee starts to fall into the lower chamber, start to stir it (gently) once clockwise and then once anticlockwise. Don’t stir too much or you will end up with an unequal extraction.
- After letting the coffee to completely fall into the lower chamber. Pour it into a coffee pot to avoid getting a cooked taste.
- Let it cool for a while and enjoy a cup!
- Which coffee/water ratio should I use?
75g/L but you can also use more coffee than this if you want to! (This is the case in Japan for example!)
- Size of the grind: Medium/caster sugar
The benefit of using an immersion method (which applied in the siphon coffee maker brewing process) is to be able to match the brew time with the grind size. Be careful not to use too fine grind or it can stall the draw-down process and end the brewing.
One last thing, a very coarse grind will provoke a very long brew time at a high temperature: be ready to drink bitter coffee in that case!
The different great siphon coffee makers you can find!
You will be able to find two types of siphon coffee maker in the market:
- Stovetop vacuum pot:
Those vacuum coffee maker doesn’t differ much than the standalone model. The only difference remains in the lower chamber. The lower surface is flat to let the vacuum pot stand alone on a flat burner.
- Standalone vacuum pot
It’s the traditional vacuum pot in the market. Most of the time made with his own fancy stand, you will find some with a built-in (or separate) alcohol burner or built-in (or separate) gas burner.
I know, I know it’s fancy… but is there any disadvantages?
It could be a great opportunity to let your friend discover an impressive brewing method while you invite them: it’s fun to watch. Especially if you use a halogen lamp! Moreover, you have a great control over steeping time and temperature which is amazing!
To finish, it’s full immersion process which helps to obtain nice flavors!
But the brewing process is definitely not the easiest one to master (Some of my friends were cracking jokes like “damn you need a Ph.D. to brew coffee now…”). The chambers can be fragile and it can be complicated to store as well. Plus, the cleaning part can be tedious! To finish, it can be quite costly, if you add the price of coffee plus special filters, plus a butane heater…
If you like or dislike this article, feel free to add your comment below, I will be happy to answer as quickly as possible!
Until next time!