Our CK March Madness championship confirmed what we've suspected for a while: siphon coffee brewers are a hot item, which is to say, they're seriously cool. Since the Hario Next siphon brewer was the clear winner, we thought this would be a good time to do a recap of our siphon brewers buying guide
, talk a bit about what to look for in a quality siphon coffee brewer and offer some tips to get the best coffee -- and the best show -- from your siphon brewer.
Siphon Coffee Brewer Basics
Siphon coffee brewers, also commonly called vacuum brewers, are among the earliest "automatic" coffee brewers. They combine the advantages of immersion brewing and filter brewers to deliver strong, smooth flavor with rich body and no grittiness. Siphon brewers appeared at about the same time in Germany, France and Scotland. They were among the first coffee brewing appliances designed as much for appearance as for excellent brew quality and quickly became fixtures at Austrian court functions, in French salons and on well-appointed English country sideboards. If you want to know more about the history of siphon brewers, you can check out our guest post at Coffee Brew Guides
Siphon brewers rely on the simple physics of heating and cooling to brew coffee at the right temperature and, with a little assist from you, for the right amount of time. You put water in the lower chamber and ground coffee in the upper chamber, then apply heat. As the air in the lower chamber gets hotter, it expands, taking up more room in the bottom pot. That forces the water up into the upper chamber, where it mixes with the coffee grounds. After it has brewed for your desired amount of time, you remove the heat source, either by turning off the burner or by removing the brewer from the heat. As the air in the lower chamber cools, it contracts, drawing the brewed coffee back down into the lower pot with a showy gurgling whoosh.
Some of the earliest siphon brewers were made of brass or other metal, but the most popular, like Mme. Vassieux were made of blown glass. Needless to say, that made them rather fragile. When the siphon brewer crossed the Atlantic, it met up with the good folks at Corning Glassworks, who had developed heat resistant Pyrex glassware. Most of the siphon brewers made in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th century were made of Pyrex -- so much so, in fact, that it was commonly known as a Pyrex coffee maker. Today, the best siphon coffee brewers, including the Hario Next and the other siphon brewers we carry, are made of laboratory grade borosilicate glass, which is heat resistant and fairly sturdy. It won't generally withstand a fall from your countertop, but most coffee siphons made of high-quality borosilicate will stand up fairly well to everyday use.
In addition to the glass vessels, tabletop siphon brewers come with a stand of some sort to suspend the brewer over the burner. The materials for those include wood, plastic, metal - or, as in the case of the Hario Next, silicon, which stays cooler than any of the traditional handle materials. Some, like the Yama Tabletop Siphon
, also include a base to hold the burner safely.
Burners for Tabletop Siphon Brewers
There are three kinds of burners commonly used for tabletop siphon coffee brewers: alcohol, butane and halogen. They each have their pros and cons, as we explored in our earlier post about siphon brewers. Essentially, alcohol burners, also called spirit burners, are the least expensive, but it's difficult to regulate their heat and they tend to leave soot on the bottom of your pot. Butane burners cost a bit more, but they burn cleaner and more evenly, making it easier to control the heat. It's also a lot easier to find fuel for butane burners -- you can use the same butane used to fill cigarette lighters. Halogen burners are the Rolls Royce of heaters for tabletop siphon coffee brewers. Not only are they sleekly designed and absolutely stunning to see in operation, they have precise temperature controls. They're also pretty pricey, but if you want the best, halogen is the way to go. For the record, the Next comes with an alcohol burner, but it's compatible with both the Yama butane burner and the halogen beam heater.
Siphon Coffee Filters
Typically, siphon coffee brewers used cloth coffee filters, which remove nearly all the fines and a lot of the oils that give coffee its body. Cloth coffee filters are also high-maintenance. If they're not rinsed well and dried immediately after use, they tend to mildew and get musty. The Hario Next comes with a custom perforated stainless steel filter, which makes for a richer cup of coffee and much easier cleaning.
Tips for Great Siphon Coffee
- The recommended grind for siphon coffee brewing is medium fine -- just a little coarser than you'd use for drip coffee.
- Pre-heat the water. Even with the best burners, you could wait forever for it to get hot enough to brew your coffee. Bring it to about 200 F. before filling your bottom pot.
- Add coffee to the top pot AFTER it fills with water. That allows you to check the temperature and add the coffee when it's just right for brewing.
- Stir the coffee while it brews. Gentle agitation helps ensure perfect extraction.
- Follow the directions in our Siphon Brewing Guide.