If you’ve been wondering what that strange laboratory gadget is at your local third wave coffee house then you’re in the right place, as we’re gonna dive into the weird and wonderful world of Siphon coffee.
So what is it?
Siphon Coffee is the name for coffee that has been brewed using a Siphon coffee maker, also known as a vacuum coffee maker. It uses evaporation and the law of gravity to brew and filter the coffee, the process can seem quite complex for beginners. It results in a smooth brew that is often hailed as a great balance of body and clarity.
There’s your simple explanation, read on to get more about it including a neat video on actually how that strange process works.
What is Siphon Coffee?
You’d be forgiven for not realizing that the Siphon coffee maker is 100 years old. It looks like it could have been invented yesterday! This method was given a shot to the heart by the 3rd wave coffee movement and its focus on high-level coffee making and artisanal products. One of the reasons for its resurrection was the unique taste that wonderfully straddles the body/clarity divide giving a lovely balanced brew.
The siphon coffee maker is variously referred to as a vacuum coffee maker, vacuum coffee pot, siphon brewer or even syphon coffee maker. Whatever you call it, it’s awesome and the display of coffee making it does is mesmerizing.
Its sleek, straight-from-the-science-lab design impresses all who see it and is only bettered by the smooth coffee it can produce. It’s not for the faint hearted though, the price is higher than most non-espresso ways of making coffee and the total time to brew including setup can be up to 10 minutes. It’s in this sense that you can think of it as a luxury brew method. If the French Press is your reliable Honda Civic, then the Siphon coffee maker is your sexy Porsche 911.
In short, this is a pretty badass way to make coffee. And it’s gonna look great in your kitchen.
Where did Siphon Coffee makers come from?
Amazing as it may seem, vacuum coffee brewing predates espresso machines, french presses, drip coffee and a whole lot of other things. It’s really old! First invented by a German named Loeff in the 1830s and was considered a specialty item at the time.
Before then, it was widely acceptable to boil coffee in a pan then pour it straight into a cup, grounds and all! A far cry from these days of hyper-accurate coffee grinders and almond milk lattes!
The siphon coffee maker remained popular for over a century. Check out this advert for one from 1914. It was an expensive item back then, the $41 in that advert would be over $800 now!
It fell out of favor sometime around the middle of the 20th century, largely due to the rise of the newer methods like the french press or espresso machines.
It has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the last few years during the so-called ‘third wave’ coffee era. So much so, that the Siphonist World Championships are held each year in places likes Seoul and Taiwan.
How do Siphon Coffee makers work?
Here’s a great video that shows you a brew. Props to the guys who made it and their awesome camera!
What are the advantages of Siphon Coffee?
Unique, balanced taste. The siphon with its immersion brew and cloth filter gives a lovely smooth and balanced taste that has great body and complexity at the same time. In layman’s terms, you’re getting a cup that embellishes all the gorgeous notes of chocolate or honey in your coffee beans while delivering a rich texture at the same time.
Looks fantastic. Let’s not kid ourselves, if you’re looking to buy something like this then the ‘wow’ factor is probably a part of your decision. And believe me, people will say ‘wow’.
No sediment. Immersion brews like Turkish coffee or the French Press are associated with a gritty sediment that finds its way into the bottom of your cup. No such problems with the clean tasting siphon and its cloth filter.
What are the downsides of Siphon Coffee?
Difficulty. It’s not a starter coffee method, it doesn’t come with training wheels like the French Press, Clever or Aeropress (kinda) does. If you’re just getting into home coffee making then I advise that you learn how to make great brews with the simpler and more forgiving brew methods before you tackle the trickier ones.
Takes ages. It takes about 10 minutes to make a brew and you should probably give yourself 15 minutes to be safe. The Gourmia option is quicker than this however, it plugs into a wall outlet which speeds up the heating process considerably.
Cost. Plain and simple, the prices of siphon coffee makers are more than many other methods of brewing coffee.
How to power the flame? (Stovetop, alcohol or outlet…)
This is your big decision when buying a siphon. How you power it. You’ve got three options and a little further down I’ve picked my recommendations for each method.
Pop the pot on your stove and watch it brew. The Yama Glass Stovetop, my first selection, works on all types of stoves and includes a small wire trivet that you use for electric and induction stovetops.
You need to fill your alcohol burner with denatured alcohol, like you were lighting a lamp from the 19th century. There’s an amazing Victorian feel to pouring in the alcohol and letting it heat up, not a wall outlet or stovetop in sight.
The least romantic, but probably the most practical. Plug it in the wall and the water heats up and brews your coffee. all without losing that same great siphon coffee taste.
Is it worth getting a permanent filter?
The cloth filter you use with the siphon has a couple of quirks that put people off using it. Namely, it can be annoying to clean and the cloth is not as long lasting as it could be.
One popular option is to use a Cory glass filter rod which will provide the benefits above along with a lovely thicker and creamier mouthfeel like that of a French Press. Do note that this one doesn’t fit the Gourmia, my third option below. Actually, they don’t sell these on Amazon anymore. You could try ebay, or you could try…
Another option, and my personal recommendation is the Diguo which is a ceramic disk. It’s similar to the glass filter in that it gives a creamier texture than the normal cloth filters and the Diguo brews well and is built to last. I’ve heard nothing but good things about this filter.
Which one makes the best coffee?
A common misconception that I hear all the time is that you should choose a coffee maker that makes the best coffee. The truth is, all coffee makers can make fantastic coffee. Yes, even old timey drip machines.
Great coffee comes from buying high quality freshly roasted coffee beans that are ground just before brewing and are made with precision. The coffee maker doesn’t matter. Where it comes into play is what type of coffee you get and how you like the features. Siphon coffee, when made well, has a beautiful rich but balanced taste that is just as good complementing the nutty tones of a Sumatran SO as it is highlighting the fruitier notes of your Ethiopian Harrar.
Heated by… Stovetop
Best for… cost and can be used on any stovetop
Heated by… Alcohol
Best for… looking glorious
Best for… convenience
Heated by… electric heater powered by battery
1. Yama Glass Stovetop
|Filter||Cloth (2 included)|
|Need to buy anything extra?||No|
|Size options||5-cup (22oz) and 8-cup (40oz)|
The Yama Glass stovetop is an inexpensive siphon coffee maker that is probably the best all round choice. It’s the least flashy, but the most practical. It’s made of heat-resistant borosilicate glass and is even handblown, a nice touch in these days of giant factories and mass-production lines. Also, as with any siphon, people are generally amazed by how good their coffee is.
This siphon works on all type of stovetops. Gas, electric, ceramic, induction, it can do them all. It’s important to bear in mind that you need to use the wire trivet between the pot and the burner if you an electric or induction stovetop. I can’t explain the science behind it, but without this little thing it won’t work.
You get two size options, the 5-cup makes 22oz and the 8-cup makes 40z capacity. Plenty for entertaining large groups although it’s tricky to make smaller batches.
The Yama comes with two washable cloth filters that can be reused – bear in mind you only use one at a time. It’s easy enough to apply and as I mentioned previously, you have the option of getting permanent glass or metal filters. The cleaning process is simple enough for such a complex device – it’s dishwasher and microwave safe. And replacement parts are easily available.
|Best for…||Looking majestic|
|Filter||Cloth (3 included)|
|Need to buy anything extra?||Yes, alcohol for burning|
|Size options||One, makes about 17oz (500ml) of coffee|
It doesn’t need pointing out what a majestic looking device this is. The gold and chrome design resting on its solid wooden base is an amazing thing to look at. You might imagine it’s how the queen gets her coffee served! Certainly not a bad way to impress your significant other. (the other SO).
It gets even more impressive when you learn that the burner is fuelled by alcohol. It feels like you’re transported back to the 19th century as you carefully fill it up, like filling up an old lamp with gas. Of course this means you need fuel to get it working and it is not included. Here is a link to some cheap denatured alcohol that will do the job. Bit annoying, but still, this just adds to the sense of wonder when you show people this thing.
The Nispira is, despite how complex it looks, a remarkably easy siphon to use. The heat source shuts itself off after a certain amount of time so you can pop your coffee on and forget about it while you watch the news drone on about the latest Trump debacle… Clean up, too, is easier than many other coffee methods.
The device makes about 17oz (500ml) of coffee, enough for two decent-sized cups or one pretty large one and it also comes with three washable filters. It makes a great gift for someone who’s into coffee and, above anything else, is probably the most visually striking coffee ‘thing’ you can own. And let’s face it, you want it cos it looks nice!
|Heated by…||Wall Outlet|
|Filter||Cloth (1 included)|
|Need to buy anything extra?||No|
|Size options||One, makes about 12oz (350ml)|
If the Nispira is the model of the 1830s then the Gourmia is surely the model of the 2020s! The futuristic base plugs into a 110v wall outlet. You place the pot on the node on the base which then heats up the pot electrically and makes your siphon coffee. As simple as that!
The Gourmia, fitting in with its space age modernity, offers automatic and manual functions. Automatic heats the water for 60 seconds whereas Manual gives you the opportunity to control the brew time – a nice touch when you’re dialing in your coffee.
It’s the fastest way to brew siphon, you can get one of these done in less than 5 minutes with the right conditions. A far cry from the 10-15 minutes brew time people think of with siphons! All round, in this category of terribly inconvenient coffee makers, this one’s the most convenient.
The Gourmia comes with a measuring spoon, useful if you haven’t got a scale yet. It comes with a reusable clother filter but it’s probably the weakest of the three, the string is quite short and it’s hard to clean. You might want to think about the convenience of the well-regarded Diguo permanent filter.