If you want to impress your guests by serving them a great mug of coffee AND treating them to a show, then a siphon (aka vacuum) coffee maker is perfect for you. Sure, these elaborate glass coffee makers might look intimidating, but with the right guide, they’re a piece of cake.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place for the right guide!
This article walks you step-by-step through how to use a siphon coffee maker, with a few pro tips that will make you stand out from the crowd. Prepare to be the talk of your local brunch scene!
What You Need
- Siphon coffee maker
- Siphon filter
- Heat source
- Kitchen scale
- Bamboo paddle or wooden spoon
- Optional: kettle, infrared thermometer
- 300 g water
- 20 to 25 g of ground coffee
A few notes: Some of the more expensive siphon coffee brewers have heat sources included. Otherwise, popular choices are a butane burner, alcohol burner, or gas stovetop. Also, as with all coffee brewing, the better the water quality, the better the cup of coffee. If you don’t have great tap water, consider using filtered water.
How to Use a Siphon Coffee Maker
While brewing coffee with a siphon coffee maker, also known as a vacuum coffee maker or vacuum pot, might be impractical on a regular basis, it is definitely a brew method worth having in your repertoire.
Siphon coffee making has been around for nearly 200 years, and it continues to be trendy for good reasons (1). Not only does it produce a delicious cup, pairing the flavor intensity of a French Press with the clean cup of a pour over, but a siphon/vacuum coffee maker is also a piece of art, a science experiment, and a performance all rolled into one (2).
A siphon coffee brewer consists of a lower chamber, an upper chamber, a filter, and usually a silicone gasket or similar to create a good seal between the two chambers. This diagram details the set-up:
Alright, now that you have your equipment and some background, we’ll get started. Let’s learn how what looks like lab equipment in some mad scientist’s lair can actually produce an incredible cup of specialty coffee.
Step 1: Insert the filter
A siphon coffee maker works with special filters, which are typically small and round. Before inserting the filter into the brewer, give it a thorough rinse with hot water to remove any pre-existing flavors or aromas.
Slide the filter into the upper glass portion of your siphon brewer, which is often called the hopper, ensuring it is flat and snug against the bottom of the chamber. Typically, a siphon filter has a chain coming out of the bottom side, which you need to secure at the base of the siphon.
Pro tip: The filters can be either paper or cloth. If you’re brewing siphon coffee on a regular basis, you might prefer the convenience of paper filters. However, for most people, a siphon brewer is used only on special occasions, in which case a cloth filter is a practical choice both from a financial and environmental perspective.
With the filter secured in the top chamber, you can now add water to the bottom chamber with the heat source underneath. For one cup of coffee, weigh and add 300 g of brewing water. Then turn on the heat to high. Watch carefully, and as it approaches a boil, add the hopper with the filter. There should be a good seal between the two glass chambers.
Pro tip: If you have a kettle on hand, you can speed the process by adding pre-heated water to the bottom chamber, because it can take a little while for a small heat source to get the water to a boil. This is especially true if you’re making multiple cups at a time and need to heat more water.
Step 3: Add the coffee
As you wait for the water to boil, weigh out between 20 and 25 g of freshly ground coffee, depending on the preferred strength of your brew. For more detail on coffee dosing, check out this coffee to water ratio calculator.
Once the water in the lower chamber begins to boil, you will see it rise to the upper chamber. At this point, you want to lower the temperature of your heat source.
Ideally, you want the brewing water to be around 200 ℉, but it may take some trial and error to get it just right.
Temperature management is one of the trickiest aspects of brewing with a vac pot. If you have access to an infrared thermometer, this is one of the best ways to track water temperature in the upper chamber.
Once most of the water is in the upper chamber, add the coffee grounds. Give the ground coffee a quick stir with a bamboo paddle or wooden spoon, and start the timer.
Pro tip: Like a French Press, a siphon/vacuum coffee maker is an immersion brewer, so it performs really well with a wide variety of coffees, as long as you choose coffee beans that are high quality. Coffee enthusiasts who love light, medium, or dark roast coffee beans will all be satisfied, though you may need to experiment a bit with dose and brew temperature.
Step 4: Brew the coffee
Keep the heat on and the coffee brewing for 1 minute and 30 seconds, giving it another stir with the wooden spoon at 45 seconds.
Once the minute and a half has elapsed, turn off the heat source. This will start the draw-down, sucking the brewed coffee from the brewing chamber through the filter to fill the vacuum you created in the bottom chamber. It should take about one minute to complete the draw-down, yielding a total brewing process time of around 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The coffee grounds will have formed a dome atop the filter.
Step 5: Serve and enjoy
Remove the upper chamber, and pour the freshly brewed coffee from the lower chamber into your favorite mug. Most people prefer to drink siphon-brewed coffee black, but there’s no rule saying you can’t add cream or sugar to your finished coffee. Sit back and enjoy the fruits of your science experiment. According to James Freeman, owner of the famous Blue Bottle Cafe in San Francisco, you’re in for a treat.
Siphon coffee is very delicate. It’s sweeter and juicier, and the flavors change as the temperature changes. Sometimes it has a texture so light it’s almost moussey.
There’s nothing to follow after Freeman’s sweet words.
Pro tip: After brewing, let the coffee sit for a minute or two before serving. Not only will this let the glass components cool a bit, making them safer to handle, but allowing the coffee to cool will bring out more complexity of flavor.
Step 6: Clean up
The relatively inconvenient clean-up is one reason people don’t like to brew with siphon coffee makers on a regular basis. The clean-up isn’t necessarily difficult, but there are a lot of parts, and you need to treat the glass ones with care.
First, separate the two chambers. Remove and discard the coffee grounds from the upper chamber, ideally into your compost. Remove the coffee filter. If it’s a paper filter, add it to the compost as well. If it’s a cloth filter, give it a very thorough rinse. Wash both the glass chambers with warm soapy water, rinse them well, especially around the gasket, and set them to dry.
Pro tip: The most common way to store a cloth filter, especially if you’re not using it regularly, is in a ziploc bag in your freezer. This prevents the growth of any unwanted bacteria in between uses.
There you have it. Not nearly as hard as you thought, right? Making siphon coffee might look like a science experiment, but you definitely don’t need a Ph.D. to make great coffee. If you don’t already have a siphon brewer, pick one up today and use this guide to really wow the next person you invite over for a morning brew.
Who invented the siphon coffee brewing method?
The first siphon coffee brewer was invented in 1830 by Loeff of Berlin. A decade later, Mme. Vassieux of Lyons, France, refined the design into the more modern siphon coffee brewers still found today.
What other brewing methods brew coffee similar to siphon brewers?
There are many other coffee brewing methods that use immersion for extraction and thus brew coffee similar to siphon brewers. For example, check out the Aeropress, French Press, or Clever Dripper.
What is the difference between Japanese and American siphon coffee brewing?
The main difference between Japanese and American brewing methods is that in the American method described here, the coffee is added to hot water in the upper chamber, whereas in the Japanese method, the coffee is added to the empty chamber before brewing. The Japanese method also tends to advocate a slightly longer brew time (3).
- Schwaner-Albright, O. (2008, January 23). At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/23/dining/23coff.html
- Hendon, C.H. (2017, September 28). The Chemistry and Physics Behind the Perfect Cup of Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/science-behind-brewing-great-cup-coffee-180965049/
- Anderson, J. (n.d.). Japanese Vs. American Siphon Coffee Brewing Methods. Retrieved from https://acquiredcoffee.com/japanese-vs-american-siphon-coffee-brewing-methods/