A Siphon Coffee maker — also called a Vacuum Pot or a Vacuum Coffee maker — looks like it comes from a laboratory more than a coffee shop. I mean, just look at the thing.
In this article, you’re going to find out what Siphon Coffee is and how to brew it. You’ll also discover one special reason why some coffee pros think this might just be the best way of making coffee.
What Is Siphon Coffee?
A Siphon Coffee maker looks like the next photo. The trick with Siphon Coffee is there are two chambers, a lower chamber with the water and an upper chamber with the ground coffee. Can you spot them?
But how does Siphon Coffee work? Well, the trick is that you don’t heat the water up first. You’re going to use a heat source that heats the water up in its lower chamber which sends it up to the upper chamber as water vapor. The next photo has a heat source being applied. Can you see it?
The coffee will brew in the upper chamber. After a few minutes, you cut the heat and the brewed coffee will drip back down the lower chamber. Now it’s ready to be served.
What does siphon coffee taste like?
Siphon Coffee is renowned for its unique, complex and well-balanced taste. Its hallmark taste is having high flavor clarity, where it’s easy to distinguish the vivid tastes in the coffee.
The reason Siphon coffee is unique is because it uses an immersion method combined with a filter. This is a rare combination. The immersion brewing means the coffee and water can extract for a long time, which gives nice body to the coffee. It’s like the French Press in that regard.
Another reason the Siphon Coffee offers a unique taste is its range of filters. The cloth filter that is standard in many Siphon Coffee makers for example, I don’t think I’ve seen in any other way of making coffee.
You can change this to a stainless steel mesh filter for a thick, richer more French Press-like taste. Or you can use a paper filter which will result in a cleaner, more Pour Over-like taste.
How to make siphon coffee
- Set up the siphon. The filter is important, it needs to be locked on and tight
- Put water into the lower chamber and heat it to boiling. The water will start to evaporate into the upper chamber.
- When all the water is in the upper chamber, add coffee and give it a stir.
- Let the coffee and water steep (1-4 minutes is typical).
- Cut the heat, this removes the pressure that keeps the water/coffee in the upper chamber. The coffee will begin to drain down back through the filter to the lower chamber. This is called the drawdown.
- When your coffee is all in the lower chamber, disassemble the siphon. BE CAREFUL while doing this it’s really hot.
- Pour yourself a fresh coffee.
You can follow the steps in this beautifully produced video.
Siphon coffee history
Siphon Coffee was first invented by a German named Loeff in the 1830s. Back then, it was considered a specialty item.
And that does mean that Siphon Coffee predates espresso machines, french presses, drip coffee and a whole lot else. It’s really old.
At that time, a lot of folks used to just boil coffee in a pan then pour it straight into a cup.
The Siphon Coffee maker remained popular for over a century. Look at this advert for a Silex Siphon from 1914. It was an expensive item back then. The $41 in that advert would be over $800 now!
Sometime around the middle of the 20th century, Siphon Coffee started to fall out of favor. This is because of the introduction of new 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.
Is Siphon Coffee worth it?
For most people, Siphon Coffee isn’t worth it. That’s because it requires more preparation and clean up than almost any other method. Here’s an analogy that might help you understand:
I remember reading somewhere that using a siphon to brew every day is like commuting to work by elephant. You’d look cool, but it’s not practical in the slightest. (Animal rights considerations aside).
That said, a Siphon Coffee brew is a gorgeous process. Watching the water evaporate upwards and then stay suspended through air pressure is just kinda cool. It impresses anyone watching, that’s for sure. And it does make wonderful coffee.
Personally, Siphon Coffee is something I’ll order if I see it somewhere. Nice cafe? Bit of time to kill? You can be sure I’ll be going for the Siphon. I just don’t fancy going through the motions with my own brewer three times a day.
So.. here’s a few reasons to get (and not to get) a Siphon Coffee maker:
If you want something that gives you lots of control but at the expense of it being difficult.
If you’re looking for something to show off with. There is nothing that inspires awe and elicits questions like a beautiful siphon setup sitting in your kitchen.
If you’re looking for good flavor clarity with decent body. It’s considered by many to be one of the best methods to get a rich and flavorful cup.
If you’re new to coffee. This is not a simple method and is not very forgiving. You need loads of equipment and no small amount of skill.
Now you know a little more about this fascinating way of making coffee. Tempted to get one? They’re not as popular as other methods, so they are harder to find. A quick search on Amazon should get you some decent options.
If you’re looking for something similar but without the effort, maybe an Aeropress would be a good idea? It’s a similar idea, using an immersion brew with a filter. It even uses a vacuum, actually.
The great thing about the Aeropress is it’s super fast to brew and clean up is a breeze. And the coffee is good. So good, in fact, they hold an Aeropress World Championships each year.