Coffee in a Vacuum

How to Brew Siphon Coffee, American and Japanese Style

January 14, 2016 Guides & How-To's By
siphon-coffee-gear-patrol-lead4-full

In 2008, just six years after the coinage of the term “third-wave coffee,” James Freeman, owner of the Blue Bottle Cafe in San Francisco, made headlines when he imported a specialty coffee brewing machine from Japan for the total cost of $20,000. The elaborate machine was a “siphon bar,” designed to make siphon coffee — also called vacpot, vacuum brewed and siphon vacuum coffee — a century-and-a-half-old brewing method that fell out of favor in America and was supplanted by the electrical drip brewer and the Chemex Coffeemaker. Relegated to only a few niche coffee geeks, the siphon coffee maker has enjoyed a resurgence in the last decade, both for the clean coffee it produces and for the beauty of watching it brew.

A basic siphon coffee maker, which you can pick up for around $70, consists of two connected glass vessels. The bottom vessel contains water, the top vessel coffee grounds. Heating the bottom vessel causes vapor pressure to draw the water into the top vessel, where it brews the coffee. Once the coffee is brewed, the heat sourced is removed and vacuum pressure draws the coffee, through a filter, into the bottom vessel. The movement of the coffee and the quality of the resulting cup has made this a favorite brewing method among java heads. Below is an excerpt from the book The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee, written by James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman and Tara Duggan, on how best to brew siphon coffee. – J. Travis Smith

From ‘The Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee’

By James Freeman, Caitlin Freeman and Tara Duggan

There are many different makes of siphons; the recipe below is based on using the Hario TCA 2 or TCA 3. While the general principles can be adapted to other makes of siphons, our experience is greater with the Hario, and your results with non-Hario siphons may vary. For that matter, results on Hario siphons are not guaranteed to be consistent given the subtle nature of siphon coffee preparation.

Some siphons, including the Hario, come with a burner that uses denatured alcohol for fuel, which, in my opinion, is inadequate to the task of making excellent coffee. Seek out a Bunsen-style butane-fueled burner for best results, such as Yama brand. Butane is available at most hardware stores.

siphon-slider1-coffee-gear-patrol
siphon-slider2-coffee-gear-patrol
siphon-slider3-coffee-gear-patrol
siphon-slider4-coffee-gear-patrol
siphon-slider5-coffee-gear-patrol
siphon-slider6-coffee-gear-patrol
siphon-slider7-coffee-gear-patrol
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
Siphon filter
Siphon upper bowl
Siphon holder
Gram scale
20 to 31 grams (0.7 to 1.1 ounces) coffee beans
Coffee grinder
Siphon lower bowl with stand
8 fluid ounces (1 cup / 240mL) good-quality hot water
Butane burner
Thermocouple or other thermometer
Bamboo stirring paddle

The American Method:

1. Soak the filter in warm water for 5 minutes. Drop the filter into the center of the upper bowl, then pull the chain to secure the filter and set the upper bowl into the holder.

2. Weigh out the coffee; the amount depends on the brewing ratio you’ll use. Grind the coffee to a medium coarseness, a little finer than you would for French press.

3. Pour the hot water into the lower bowl in its stand.

4. Ignite the burner. Place the lower bowl over the flame and wait for all the water to rise to the upper bowl. Measure the water temperature in the upper bowl and adjust the flame until it stabilizes at 188°F (87°C).

5. Add the ground coffee to the upper bowl. Gently incorporate the ground coffee into the top layer of hot water by rubbing the paddle along the top of the coffee mass for no longer than 30 seconds. The motion is like trying to spread cold butter on a piece of particularly delicate toast. Within 30 seconds, all the coffee should be moistened by the hot water.

6. Let the coffee brew for 20 to 40 seconds.

7. Stir the coffee with the paddle for no more than 12 rotations. The goal is to create the fastest and deepest whirlpool with the minimum of rotations.

8. Physically separate the siphon pot from the heat source and remember to turn off your burner. The coffee should descend into the lower bowl in 30 to 45 seconds. If it takes longer, the coffee is ground too finely.

9. To remove the upper bowl, gently rock it back and forth as you twist and pull it out of the lower bowl. Rinse the filter (don’t use soap) and dry it with a dish towel. You can store the clean, damp siphon filter in a resealable plastic bag in your refrigerator. If you make siphon coffee sporadically, keep the filter in a covered bowl filled with water and a quarter-teaspoon of espresso cleaning detergent. If you are storing your filter this way, you will need to make one pot and throw it away before making a pot to drink. Hand wash the upper and lower bowls. There’s no need to take the lower bowl off the stand during cleaning.

FOR FURTHER READING…

siphon-coffee-gear-patrol-sidebar2

Copyright 2012, published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Cover photography copyright © 2012 by Clay McLachlan.

Buy Now: $25

The Japanese Method:

1. Soak the filter in warm water for 5 minutes. Drop the filter into the center of the upper bowl, then pull the chain to secure the filter and set the top into the holder.

2. Weigh out the coffee; the amount depends on the brewing ratio you’ll use. Grind the coffee to a medium coarseness, a little finer than you would for French press. Transfer the ground coffee into the siphon top.

3. Pour the hot water into the lower bowl in its stand.

4. Ignite the burner. Place the lower bowl over the flame and wait for the water to boil. Test the heat of the water by inserting the upper bowl so the chain touches the water. You want to see a reaction (bubbles), but if the reaction is too wild, remove the lower bowl from the heat and swirl it in a counterclockwise direction to release bubbles.

5. With the lower bowl over the heat, insert the upper bowl into the pot firmly but gently, as you will soon need to remove the top.

6. Once 1 inch (2.5cm) of water has risen into the upper bowl, use the stirring paddle to immerse the coffee into the water. Scrape the edge and plunge the grounds into the water. Resist the temptation to stir.

7. Keep the siphon on the heat, undisturbed, for 30 seconds, then start stirring in a counterclockwise direction, with the burner still on. Stir for no more than 12 rotations. The goal is to create the fastest and deepest whirlpool with the minimum of rotations. (This skill is best acquired by practicing stirring without the coffee grounds.) Think of the coffee grounds as a school of fish that want to stay together. Don’t cut into the mass of coffee with the paddle.

8. Physically separate the siphon pot from the heat source and remember to turn off your burner. The coffee should descend into the lower bowl in 30 to 90 seconds. If it takes longer, the coffee is ground too finely.

9. To remove the upper bowl, gently rock it back and forth as you twist and pull it out of the lower bowl. Rinse the filter (don’t use soap) and store it following the instructions, opposite. Hand wash the upper and lower bowls. There’s no need to take the lower bowl off the stand during cleaning.