You may have spotted a siphon coffee maker at a handful of hipster coffee shops and wondered what on earth the peculiar device was? The Siphon coffee maker has recently rode the wave of specialty coffee back into the spotlight. Reminiscent of a high school science lab, this fascinating brewing method is the perfect blend of science and art. We are going to start by looking at what a siphon or vacuum coffee maker is and then dig into the best siphon coffee makers on the market today.
What is a Siphon Brewer?
Siphon or vacuum coffee makers are fascinating brewing devices consisting of glass chambers and burners. The first chamber contains water that is under a direct heat source. As the water heats, the vapor pressure rises and forces the water to rise to the upper chamber. Coffee is then added to the water in the upper chamber and allowed to steep for a few minutes. The heat source is then removed and the coffee is pulled back into the lower chamber through a filter leaving a perfectly brewed coffee.
History of the Siphon Coffee Maker
Despite seeming like a newfangled hipster fad, the vacuum coffee maker actually dates back to 1830. It was first patented by Loeff of Berlin in the 1830s, and the first commercial vacuum coffee maker was sold 10 years later. In 1840 Madame Vassieux, a French woman, designed the first successful vacuum brewer. The ornate design, and unique brewing experience quickly caught on. Over the years it’s been refined many times but the key principles remain the same: it produces a delicate, tea-like brew; it can be finicky to use and it is one of the coolest brew methods available.
Why Use A Vacuum Coffee Maker?
There are four unique features of a Siphon brewer that sets it apart from other brewers…
The Siphon brewer works in a similar way to an Aeropress or French press in that it is a total immersion brewing method. This means that all the coffee grounds are in contact with the water throughout the entire brewing process, similar to steeping tea. This method of brewing usually produces a lighter and clearer flavored brew, however it is not as good as extracting the flavor out of your grounds as the drip method. Think cleaning a dirty cloth by running it under water vs soaking it for a while.
The second unique feature of a siphon coffee maker is the vacuum. When the lower chamber is heated, it causes the air inside to expand and push the water into the upper chamber. Once the heat source is removed the air contracts back to normal creating a large pressure difference between the two chambers. This vacuum sucks the water back through the coffee bed and into the lower chamber again. The vacuum effect aids in extracting any remaining solubles in the coffee grounds and produces a full-bodied cup of coffee.
As opposed to other brewing methods, the Siphon coffee maker is continuously heated during brewing. Given that temperature is a key element for optimal extraction, this allows you to have greater control over the brewing process.
Finally, you can’t help but notice these brewers have an elegance and almost theatrical quality to them. One of these bad boys on your bench will immediately catch any guests attention.
What Does Siphon Coffee Taste Like?
The taste of a siphon coffee depends largely on what type of beans you use. However siphon coffee is often described as a rich and full-bodied brew, with a similar intensity to a Moka pot coffee. The main point of difference is that it has a smooth, clean and crisp, almost tea-like quality.
Before you jump into buying one of these bad boys there are a few things to consider.
Stovetop vs Standalone
There are two types of vacuum coffee makers on the market: stovetop and standalone brewers. The main difference between these two brewers is not brew quality but aesthetics. There is no doubt that a standalone siphon coffee maker looks better; they often come with an elaborate stand and their own built in burner. Whereas a stovetop siphon coffee maker is a more simple design and sits directly on a gas or electric stove.
Vacuum coffee makers come in a range of different brew sizes, ranging anywhere from 3-8 cups per brew. Consider how much coffee you are requiring and select a brewer that will meet that.
If you are opting for a standalone vacuum coffee maker you will need to consider what burner to use. Alcohol, butane and gas burners are the most common. Alcohol burners are the most affordable option, however they are difficult to control and often deposit soot on the bottom of the siphon. Gas or butane are more reliable options and are easier to use. If you are going to be buying a burner make sure you check that it is compatible with your siphon first.
The final thing to consider is what type of filter the coffee maker uses. The majority use a cloth filter. These are excellent at catching grounds and producing a clean brew, but can be very difficult to clean, and can easily grow mould. The other option that is sometimes available is stainless steel filters, which are easier to clean but perhaps not as efficient as a cloth filter.
The Best Siphon Coffee Makers
Hario Technica Coffee Siphon
The Hario Technica is our pick for the best siphon coffee maker. Made by the well known Japanese company Hario, this popular brewer is known to be high quality and yet affordable. It has a simple but stylish design and is available in either a three or five cup size. The brewer is made of borosilicate glass that keeps the coffee at an ideal temperature and is more durable than regular glass. This is a standalone brewer also comes complete with an alcohol burner, however many users recommend upgrading to a butane burner such as the Yama, which is more efficient.
Yama Glass Stovetop Coffee Siphon
The Yama Siphon coffee maker is a good option if you are looking for an affordable entry level model. This impressive model is the least expensive on our list. It has a neat and compact design and comes in either a 22 oz. or 40 oz. size. Being a stovetop siphon it is designed to be used directly on a stovetop and is very simple to use. While this model is affordable, it has been plagued by quality issues. The brewer is made of thinner glass than other brewers making it prone to cracking. Some have also reported issues with the seal between the two chambers creating drain issues. While this isn’t the highest quality brewer, it is a good option if you are just starting out and wanting to test the waters.
Bodum Pebo Stovetop Vacuum
The Bodum Pebo is another option if you are looking for a stovetop brewer. The Bodum Pebo has a clean and simple design and is made from slightly higher quality materials than the Yama. The lower chamber has a flat bottom so can be placed directly on a heat source, or you do have the option to buy the brewer with a burner and stand. This Bodum is known to brew a consistent cup of superb tasting coffee and is great value for money. It has a plastic filter rather than a cloth one making it easier to clean. It does have a few quirks though… It does not use a cover for it’s top chamber, this is not an issue unless you use too much water. It is also a large brewer, so takes up a lot of space.
Yama Glass Tabletop Siphon
The Yama Glass Tabletop Siphon is a beautiful vintage-looking piece that will grace any countertop. While more expensive than some of the other options on this list, it is a well made coffee maker and comes with an alcohol burner and a reusable cloth filter. If you are serious about Siphon coffee makers you should consider the Yama. It can produce a darn good cup of coffee! You are also able to purchase a butane burner and extra cloth filters that are compatible with the Yama. The only issue some people have found is that the rubber seal is not always effective, which can prevent a vacuum from forming.
Kitchenaid Siphon Coffee Maker
If you are just starting out with Siphon brewing and are concerned it may be too complex, the Kitchenaid coffee maker may be just the thing for you! Kitchenaid has automated the process of brewing coffee, resulting in a consistent and easy way to brew siphon coffee. This coffee maker has a modern look, and is made of high quality materials. The filter is made from stainless steel making it easy to clean. While the Kitchenaid Siphon coffee maker is easy to use, it is expensive and a coffee aficionado may not appreciate the automated process.
The Final Verdict
If you are looking for the best siphon coffee maker you really can’t go past the Hario Technica. This is a high quality and stylish brewer with an affordable price tag. If you are wanting an electric siphon coffee maker, the Kitchenaid siphon coffee maker is the best option.
How Do You Make Siphon Coffee?
Siphon coffee makers can be difficult to master, and will take some patience and time to produce consistent results. Below is general guide to brewing siphon coffee but we would recommend using a recipe such as this one, where you weigh out your coffee and water.
What You’ll Need
- Soak the filter in warm water for at least five minutes, then drop it into the bottom of the upper chamber and secure it in place.
- Grind coffee to a medium grind size as per the capacity of your brewer
- Fill the lower chamber with hot water (pre-boiled water speeds up the brewing time)
- Put the upper chamber in place and then situate the coffee maker over the burner
- Turn on the burner and watch as the water begins to boil and rise up into the upper chamber
- Once the water has moved to the upper chamber, lower the heat slightly, then add the coffee grounds and stir gently to ensure it is all submerged
- Allow the coffee grounds to steep for a minute
- Remove the coffee maker from the heat source and give it 10 brisk stirs to create a vortex
- The coffee will draw downward into the bottom chamber
- Remove the upper chamber and let the coffee cool
- Serve and enjoy!