A siphon coffee maker brews coffee using vacuum and vapor pressure. Siphon coffee makers also go by different names: vac pot, vacuum, or syphon coffee maker. Any time you encounter one of these three, they’re all principally the same.
A siphon or vacuum coffee maker works by forcing water up into a chamber with coffee grounds through a vacuum, and letting air pressure and gravity push it back down through a filter.
This sounds a little complicated but once we get to the how-to, it’ll become much clearer and simpler.
Siphon Coffee Makers: What’s so special?
Before getting into much detail about the 5 coffee makers listed above, it’s useful to know the benefits of siphon coffee makers. What makes them so special? I’ll admit I had no idea about them until only recently, but now I am wishing I had gotten one much earlier!
Factor 1: Water is in constant contact with the grounds
All through the brewing process, water will be in contact with the grounds, similar to how a french press works. This results in a clearer and more consistent brew. However, this method is not as good for extracting every last bit of flavor.
The drip method is far superior for extracting flavor. However…
Factor 2: Consistent heating
It’s no secret that temperature is one of the most important factors for brewing coffee properly. In most other brewing methods, including french press, drip, and even espresso, water is pre-heated before coming into contact with the coffee grounds. For french press, I actually use a little cozy to keep the coffee nice and warm.
In a vacuum brew, heat is constantly applied to the system so it remains uniform throughout the entire brewing process.
Factor 3: the vacuum
We saved the best for second last. The vacuum is the reason this brewing method got its name, and it’s the reason coffee brewed this way is so silky smooth and tasty.
When you boil the water and push it all up into the top chamber, you create a relative vacuum(lower pressure on the bottom) than on the top. As soon as you remove the heat, there’s nothing pushing the liquid up anymore, so the vacuum sucks all the coffee-soaked water back down.
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The force it sucks the coffee back down with is very effective in extracting solubles from the grounds.
Factor 4: bling bling
Finally, the fourth advantage(and coolest, I think) of the lot is that a siphon/vacuum coffee maker just looks so darn awesome. I mean, just look at the machine. It’s beautiful!
One of these in your kitchen is a definite conversation starter, and a conversation is an awesome excuse to put another brew on, right?
Plus, you’ll also get to look like a mad scientist watching your magical brown caffeinated liquid bubble up and down in the chambers before becoming fit to drink.
These machines are truly works of art, and even if you don’t plan on brewing much, just having one of these around as a party novelty and conversation piece with fellow coffee aficionados(or in attempts to convert tea drinkers) will be a nice touch.
How siphon coffee makers work
Vacuum coffee makers use the principle of vacuums, pressure, and siphons to work.
- Two vessels are place on top of one another. The top one is open to the atmosphere, and contains coffee grounds. The bottom one is filled with water. The top one has a siphon and a filter.
- The bottom vessel is heated. As the water comes to a boil and water vapor starts to form, the pressure of the water vapor becomes greater than the pressure of the atmosphere, and starts pushing down on the water, forcing it up the siphon and into the top vessel.
- In the top vessel, the hot water interacts with the coffee grounds and the coffee is brewed.
- Once the brewing is done, the bottom vessel is removed from the heat. As the temperature and pressure falls, the water flows back down from the top vessel into the bottom vessel and is filtered through the cork.
The video in the next section will make it clearer:
How to brew siphon or vacuum coffee
The water in the bottom carafe is heated to a boil
Coffee grounds are measured, weighed, ground, and placed in the top container on top of the filter
The stem of the top container is placed in the bottom container and the gasket forms a seal. The evaporating water’s pressure forces the boiling water up the siphon into the top container where it mixes with the coffee. The coffee is stirred.
Once the brewing is done, in 1 minute and 45 seconds(you can vary this for taste), the heat is removed
Stir again, and the coffee will filter down to the bottom container
Pour out and enjoy
5 best siphon (vacuum) coffee makers
Before buying a vacuum coffee brewer, there are really only two considerations to make. The first is whether it’s a standalone brewer or a stovetop brewer, and the second is the size of the vessel.
If you get a standalone brewer, you’ll need a propane stove or bunsen burner to heat up the carafe.
For size, it just depends on how much coffee you want to make in one sitting!
1) Yama Glass Stovetop Coffee Siphon
The Yama Glass siphon is simple, inexpensive(compared to the rest), and on the whole, makes good coffee. The glass is quite thin, though, so it may be a bit more prone to breaking than other models. The Yama glass has a cloth filter, which may be a little difficult to clean, though a toss into the washing machine or dishwasher should certainly do the trick.
Some people have mentioned however that the manufacturing is a bit poor and as a result the seal is not always properly shut, resulting in an imperfect vacuum and a compromise in quality.
Still, this model is the simplest-looking (and elegant if you like simplicity) of the lot, and we’ve listed it in our top 5 because of the price point.
2) Bodum Santos Stovetop Glass Vacuum
Bodum products are tough, top-notch, and simplistic in their design, but they do the job they’re meant to do very, very well.
An interesting design choice with the Santos is that the top does not have a cover – which is fine, as long as you’re careful and don’t spill anything!
The only issue some people have had with the Santos is that over time, the seal loses its capacity. Otherwise, the Bodum Santos delivers some of the most consistent brews there are.
3) HARIO Technica Coffee Siphon
If you watched the video above, the siphon being used by the gentleman in the video was the HARIO Technica Coffee Siphon. Of all the ones on our list, I feel this is the best designed and most efficient brewer.
Like the Yama, it uses a cloth filter, but the issues of a loose seal and fragile glass that sometimes plagued the Yama are not to be found in the HARIO Technica.
This is a standalone brewer, which means it comes with its own alcohol burner which is separate from the body. The alcohol burner is a bit slow to heat up the water, but a trick you can use to overcome that is to pre-heat the water in an electric kettle before pouring it into the siphon. This way most of the heating is already done.
Even though it’s such an awesome brewer, it’s still relatively low on the price scale.
4) Nispira Belgian Balance Siphon
Interesting fact: The siphon brewing system was actually invented in the mid 19th century.
If you’re an antiques person, or you like really fancy stuff, then the Nispira balance siphon is definitely the siphon you are looking for. It works the same as all modern siphons, but the design is a tribute to the old-fashioned, buy-it-for-life siphons.
Since it is mostly made of metal, it is far more durable than the other models we have listed here.
However, it is also the most expensive, and definitely falls under the “luxury” category.
Even though the two containers are not positioned directly above one another, they still work under the same principle as the water is forced through the tube to the top chamber, and it flows back down through that tube to the bottom chamber once the heat is removed.
The extra fanciness does mean it will be harder to clean, and harder to find replacement parts.
5) Yama Glass Tabletop Siphon
The Yama Glass siphon is a cross between the modern, simplistic glass siphons and the artsy Nispira siphon. However, like the other Yama model, it is prone to poor vacuum seals and compromises in quality for some users.
The Yama Glass looks beautiful, though, with the modern, simple glass containers supported by three elegant metal supports.
Since this is a tabletop vacuum coffee maker, it comes with a butane burner which is much faster at heating water than alcohol burners.
Stovetop vs standalone siphon coffee makers
Siphon coffee makers are available in two broad types: stovetop and standalone. Stovetop siphon coffee makers can be put on the stove, but with the aid of a diffuser in between to help tamp down the heat. Otherwise, the delicate glass is at risk for cracking.
Standalone coffee makers use an external heat source(like an alcohol or a butane flame) to get the water hot. These are more portable in the sense that you can put them anywhere in your house and still make coffee – hypothetically, you can have one as a decorative piece on your mantle that will double as a coffee maker when you want to entertain guests!
What are siphon coffee makers made of?
Back in the day, siphon or vacuum coffee makers would be made from stainless steel or brass. Those became quite heavy, and modern iterations look just as stylish but are made instead with borosilicate glass, which is heat-resistant.
That doesn’t mean it’s shatterproof, though – glass is glass and can break, but sudden temperature changes won’t cause it to crack, so if you’re careful with it, it will definitely last you a long time.
Which filters do these coffee makers use?
Most siphon coffee makers use a cloth filter. Cloth filters, much like cheesecloth, are very good at preventing any unwanted solids from getting into your coffee. However, they’re a pain in the butt to scrub and clean, as you need to clean them almost right away, and it’s not as simple as just running them under the tap.
You also need to make sure they dry completely every time, otherwise they become ripe breeding grounds for mold and mildew.
Many siphon coffee makers now come with stainless steel filters which are far easier to use and clean.
Burner options for siphon coffee
Finally, the kind of burner you use is also a factor. Most of vacuum coffee makers you find will have gas, alcohol, or electric burners(unless it’s a stovetop model, in which case there is no burner).
Electric burners are the most practical and safest as there is no open flame, and the temperature control is much more exact, but electric models are more expensive.
Between gas and alcohol, gas is a lot easier to control temperature and alcohol leaves more of a sooty residue than gas does.
Last update on 2020-09-11 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API