Do you want to expand your repertoire of coffee brewing methods?
For coffee lovers looking to move beyond a simple French press or Moka pot, siphon coffee making offers a remarkably rewarding and highly efficient full-immersion brewing method.
What is siphon coffee, then, and why should you care?
I. What Is Siphon Coffee Making?
Siphon coffee makers are often called vacuum brewers.
You find these coffee makers broadly divided into two types:
- Standalone coffee siphons
- Tabletop coffee siphons
While you might imagine these contraptions sprang into being recently, coffee siphons have been in use since the 1800s. A coffee maker featuring a pair of glass balloons was brought to market by a French woman, Mme. Vassieux. At around the same time, a Scottish engineer launched the Napier Pot.
If you thought siphon coffee makers were made with appearance uppermost, you’re not wrong. The ceremony of brewing coffee this way was something to entertain guests with. Just like today, siphon coffee makers are made to stay out on permanent display.
So far, so good. The thing is, it’s useless to have a coffee maker fit to steal design awards unless it delivers on the performance front. Are siphon coffee makers any good, then?
In a word, yes. The full-immersion brewing method employed when you’re using a siphon coffee maker combined with the benefits of filter brewers results in strong and smooth coffee that’s full-bodied without any grit or sediment spoiling the coffee in your cup.
II. How Does a Coffee Siphon Work?
The basic premise of all coffee siphons is the same…
All coffee siphons contain the following components:
- Lower chamber: the water goes here and the brewed coffee ends up in this chamber
- Upper chamber: the coffee brewing takes place here
- Sealing material: this creates the required vacuum for siphon coffee making
- Filter: as you’ll see below, this can be made from various materials, each with their own benefits and drawbacks
Here’s a snapshot of the process in broad strokes…
You first pop water in the lower chamber and coffee grounds in the upper chamber. Next, as you apply heat, the air in the lower chamber starts expanding. Resultantly, this air is forced up into the upper chamber in the form of vapor.
When the heat source is removed, the air starts cooling and contracting. The brewed coffee is sucked back down into the lower chamber and your siphon coffee is ready to serve and wow your guests.
Now you have a reasonable overview of the principles underpinning siphon coffee, now for the fun part…
How can you find an affordable, commercial siphon coffee maker and use it at home to get gourmet coffee without needing to worry about social distancing?
III. How To Use a Siphon Coffee Maker for Barista-Grade Coffee at Home
First thing’s first, you’ll need to buy a siphon coffee maker.
Tabletop siphons come with a burner included. Alcohol burners and butane burners are the most common. Halogen burners are much costlier. Some new coffee siphons come with integrated electric heaters much like the one you find in your kettle.
With a stovetop siphon, you simply utilize the heat from your gas or electric stove.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to making barista-grade siphon coffee at home, then…
- Start with clean equipment: This might sound like a statement of the obvious, but you should check that the filter in particular is spotless before you get started.
- To preheat or not to preheat?: If you’re using an alcohol burner, you should preheat the water. These burners take a long time to get up to temperature. Butane burners are quick enough that preheating is scarcely worthwhile.
- It’s time for the water: With water making up 98% of the contents of your finished drink, don’t skimp on the quality. Always use bottled or filtered water to give your siphon coffee a crisp, clear foundation. Add 100ml of water to the bottom chamber for every 7g of coffee grounds. Use a coffee scale or a measuring cup. Accuracy counts here.
- Apply heat: At this stage, place a stovetop siphon maker on the stove. If you’re using a tabletop siphon, activate the burner.
- Add your filter: Pop your clean filter into the upper chamber.
- Connect the chambers: Put the chambers together with the siphon tube inserted into the bottom chamber
- Grind and add your coffee: Always use a grinder to blitz up your fresh coffee beans directly before brewing. Coffee beans start degrading within 30 minutes of grinding, so do yourself a favor and grind right before you brew. This small but important step will make a dramatic difference to the quality of the coffee in your cup.
- Sit back and enjoy the action: At this point, the machine does the work. Watch the steam travel up into the chamber with the coffee grounds, start salivating as you can see the vortex beginning and your brewed coffee being sucked at force back down below and ready for serving.
- Stir: First, stir the top with a spoon. Make sure you keep this away from the side of the glass.
- Start the timer: When all the water is in the upper chamber, start a timer for 90 seconds. You can reduce the heat slightly now if you’re using a butane burner
- Remove the heat source: When the timer sounds, remove the siphon from the heat source.
- Watch the vacuum: The vacuum created will pull your brewed coffee through the filter – more on those directly below.
- Remove the upper chamber and serve: Take the top chamber off and pour your coffee to the delight of anyone lucky enough to get on the end of one of your siphon coffee creations.
Note: This is a generalized description of making siphon coffee. You might find there are slight differences depending on what equipment you’re using.
No idea where to get started looking for that? Check out our guide to the best siphon coffee makers for some inspiration.
Now, a quick word about filtration…
IV. Siphon Filters
There are 3 main types of filter suitable for use in a siphon coffee maker:
- Metal: Stainless steel resuable filters allow all those precious oils to make their way into your cup. You’ll get a full-bodied taste and aroma when using this type of filtration.
- Paper: You’ll find you get crisp, smooth coffee when you use paper filters. The downside is the environmental impact along with the cost of ongoing replacements.
- Cloth: Reusable cloth filters allow the oils through without letting any sediment through at the same time.
Now, before we round out today, we’ll serve up some best practice. Follow these simple tips to enjoy your siphon coffee at its finest…
V. Some Tips for Enjoying Great Siphon Coffee
- Always grind your beans right before brewing. This simple step will give you the best foundation to start from.
- You should start with a medium-fine grind. This is just slightly finer than you would use for a drip coffee machine. Dial in from here until you find the precise consistency that works for you and the siphon maker you chose.
- Be patient. If you’re looking for quick and instant coffee, use a single-serve machine. For gourmet coffee, on the other hand, be prepared to put in a little time and effort. It will assuredly be worth it when you taste that first cup of siphon coffee.
- Gentle agitation at the right time can enhance extraction. As with all aspects of this brewing method, experiment and have fun as you go.
- Don’t skimp on the quality of the water or coffee beans you use. Without getting this right, all the rest of your efforts will be in vain.
- Consider investing in a scale. If you are able to measure both coffee and water accurately, you’ll much more easily rack up the right ratio for perfect siphon coffee.
Well, we hope that you’ve established whether siphon coffee making is something you would consider taking on at home.
If you’ve seen siphon coffee makers in gourmet coffee shops but you find the idea intimidating, today’s siphon guide has hopefully cleared up some of the mystique. Once you strip away the science and look beyond the unusual appearance, using a good siphon coffee maker is not that hard.
The benefits you’ll reap come in the finished product, though. The smooth and rich taste, impeccable aroma, and silt-free result will make you wonder why you didn’t start making siphon coffee much earlier!
Before you head off, we’d suggest you bookmark LaMano as your go-to resource for all things caffeinated. We’re all genuine coffee lovers here, and we’ve got plenty more information-packed guides coming your way as we round out the summer. We’ll see you soon!