Today I want to highlight a particular style of brewing coffee that is just as enjoyable to watch as it is to consume. If you’ve ever seen a siphon brewer in action then you already know it’s part science experiment and part parlour trick all wrapped up in an elegant package.
Siphon brewing is a manual technique in line with such methods as French press and Clever Drippers. Immersion methods soak coffee grounds for a period of time rather than using gravity to extract water through a filter like a pour over system or a drip system. A handful of different siphon or vacuum coffee brewers were originally developed in Europe in the early to mid 1800s. These days, the most widely produced siphons are made by two Japanese glass companies: Hario and Yama.
There’s no doubt about the visual appeal of a siphon brewer, but what’s the difference in taste? Similar to a French press, siphon brewed coffee tends to result in a very full-bodied flavor. Where they differ is that the metal filter of a French press allows more of the coffee bean’s oils to mix with the water giving it a thicker consistency–which some prefer–while the cloth filter of the siphon results in a cleaner tasting brew and guarantees that you won’t find coffee grounds in the bottom of your mug.
Siphon brewers also have the distinct advantage of a constant heat source throughout the entire process of extraction, whereas other immersion methods see the temperature of the water steadily decline. This consistency in temperature results in fewer variables to consider which allows for more experimentation with various beans. As if all that wasn’t enough, you even get to play with actual real-life fire! Of course, nothing in life is without drawbacks. Siphon brewing requires a bit more setup and a lot more cleanup. With that you might see many siphons become more display pieces used coffee equipment.
Siphon brewing is certainly one of the most intriguing ways to craft a delicious cuppa joe, just seeing a picture of one in a book was enough to convince me to buy. Most siphons will come with a small alcohol burner as a heat source, but in my opinion a butane burner is a worthwhile alternative that provides much tighter control. If you’re interested in trying out siphon brewing for yourself, bear in mind that a good brew starts with good beans, a good grinder, and good water, so be sure to check out our previous posts about home brewing essentials!
For detailed instructions on how to best use a siphon brewer, you can download a PDF of the Specialty Coffee Association’s guidelines here:
Written by Derek Cox, Lead Barista @ Dry Bones Mud House