CoffeeGeek – Siphon Coffee How To


Siphon Coffee How To

Ahh siphon coffee makers. AKA vacuum brewers. AKA vacpots. AKA Silexes.

It’s our opinion at CoffeeGeek that Siphon Coffee is the best brewing method ever invented for brewing coffee… that isn’t called espresso. We love siphon coffee so much that we’ve done an entire two part history podcast on the brewing method, and we not only have this How To, but a Master Class (coming soon) on siphon brewing.

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Here’s the thing. Siphon coffee can be intimidating. There’s a lot of science going on with the method, and it looks like it could be right out of Professor Julius Kelp’s laboratory in the Nutty Professor. And hey, that could mean explosions! (but there won’t be, so don’t worry!)

That said, did you know siphon coffee was by far and away the most popular brewing method used in American homes for a time in history? Yep, between the early 1930s and the mid 1950s, siphon coffee was king, with dozens of American companies designing, manufacturing, and marketing these brewing devices. Siphons were king once, and were almost killed off by the pursuit of convenience and economy.

In the past 20 years, siphon coffee makers have not only made a comeback, but have become the true darling of the home coffee aficionado. The brewing method not only leaves Pour Over coffee in the dust when it comes to taste, but makes pour over look like it belongs on the island of misfit toys when it comes to its presentation. Fact is, watching a siphon coffee maker at work is like watching theatre; it’s a spectacle.

If you want a bit of theatre in your own coffee brewing life, we present our simple how to on using these spectacular brewing devices. If you want a lot more detail, make sure you check out our Master Class, which is coming soon.

How Do Siphon Coffee Makers Work

A siphon coffee maker works on the principle of expansion and contraction of gases — actually one gas, water vapour — that allow the device to brew a full infusion style of coffee and filter the grounds efficiently, leaving a generally clean, pristine cup.

Siphon coffee makers are made up of four parts:

  • the bottom container (or vessel, or “bottom chamber” or “bottom globe”l) where the water initially sits and the brewed coffee eventually rests;
  • a top container (or vessel, or “top chamber” or “brewing chamber” or even “siphon chamber”) that has an open ended siphon tube attached to it, where the coffee brewing takes place; it’s the vessel with the siphon tube attached to it;
  • a type of sealing material (usually a rubber gasket) to help create a partial vacuum in the lower vessel while brewing is taking place; and
  • a filter, which can be made of glass, paper, metal, or cloth.

There is also a heating source needed, and there’s usually three readily available types: a cloth-wick alcohol burner (slowest); gas or electric stovetop (faster); or a specialty butane burner (fastest). There are also fourth heating source found often in Japan and some high end coffee bars: halogen light heating devices designed for siphon coffee brewing.

When the bottom globe of the siphon coffee maker is filled with water to a specific level, then heated up, eventually the water will start to vaporize into steam. Steam is what makes everything happen in this brewing device. Steam forces liquid water (at near-boiling temperatures) up the internal siphon. Steam keeps the brewing chamber’s action at optimal brewing temperatures. And the reduction in steam (and it’s conversion back to water) helps the “vacuum” stage of the brewing process, where your finished brew is drawn back into the lower chamber.

It’s always been fascinating how this brewing method was designed in 1840 in France. Even more so that it was the preferred brewing method in millions of American homes in the 1930s. With very few improvements (like safety glass), this brewing method, and its design remains largely unchanged to this day, but still looks like super science coffee brewing.

How to Use a Siphon Coffee Maker

Now that we’ve covered a brief bit of the siphon coffee maker’s history and how it operates, let’s get into how to use one. We aren’t going to provide much in the way of measuring, of exact timings, or even demanding you grind literally just before infusion starts (though you really should do that!) because the goal here is to get you using one of these devices in a simple, straightforward way, while still understanding what is going on and what the potential pitfalls (and rare dangers) are. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll end up with a really good cup of coffee that was superchic to watch while it happened.

Bird Rock Coffee and Baratza Virtuoso
Important Parts of Great Brewed Coffee
You can’t have good brewed coffee without a quality grinder, or some high quality, freshly roasted coffee. We’re using a Baratza Virtuoso for this How To, and coffee from Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.

Even though we’re striving to keep this part simple, there are some absolute cardinal rules about good coffee you must follow:

  • Use fresh roasted, freshly ground coffee. There’s no getting around the fact that coffee is a perishable product, and the best results in the cup come from coffee that’s been roasted within the last few weeks, and is ground just before you start brewing.
  • Use good quality coffee. You’re making siphon coffee here, and Costco coffee isn’t going to cut it. For this How To, we’re using coffees from Birdrock Coffee Roasters, one of the best new coffee roasters in the USA.
  • Use good quality water. Some of us are blessed with having awesome tap water. Many are not. Use a Brita filter or similar to pre-filter you water before brewing. It makes up 95%+ of your coffee.
  • A quality grinder is an absolute must. For this article, we’re using the veteran Baratza Virtuoso, which has been around for well over a decade, but has also seen many improvements and tweaks over the years, making it an amazing all purpose grinder.

You might be thinking that siphon brewers are expensive. Well, they can be. But you can also pick up some very inexpensive stovetop and 2 or 3 cup standalone models for well under $50 these days. And guess what: these $30, $40, self contained siphon brewers brew pretty much exactly the same as $150 Hario Nouveaus, on $400 Halogen Burners do. For the purpose of this Simple Brewing Step By Step, I’ll be using a Hario Technica 3 Cup brewer which retails for around $70, but you can find nice 5 Cup Models by lesser known brands for under $40.

We’re also using an aftermarket butane burner for this simple guide. It allows for much better control over the brewing process, and speeds up the heating of the water. Butane burners can cost as much as $100, or as little as $20 (like this one, a “Sterno” model).

For the amount of coffee to use, stick with our tried and true ratio of 7 grams of coffee for every 100ml of water used. Don’t have a scale? A slightly rounded tablespoon of ground coffee is about 7 grams. A 3 “cup” model siphon can brew about 350ml of coffee (maybe 400ml to the max). To keep things simple, we measure out 300ml of water to use, and 21g of coffee, ground slightly finer than drip.

Siphon Coffee, Step by Step.

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Ensure All Your Equipment is Clean
This also means your cloth filter. If you want low-hassle filter maintenance, freeze the filter (put it in a zip lock, and right in your freezer) between uses after you rinse it out; this effectively “stalls” any degradation in the remaining coffee oils. But please note, this is simple cleaning advice – for more thorough cleaning, use a cleaner like Oxyclean on your cloth filters.
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Optional: Preheat Your Brewing Water
If you decide to just stick with using your siphon’s included alcohol cloth wick burner, this is not optional. The alcohol burners will take ages to heat your water up to brewing temperatures. If you’re using a butane burner like we are for this simple guide, pre-heating your water in a kettle is optional, as it will only be marginally faster.
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Add Your Water
Measure your water into the bottom portion of the siphon brewer, keeping in mind your ratio of 7g of ground coffee used for every 100ml of water used. You can do this with an optional scale, or by using a measuring cup.
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Time to Apply Heat
Place your burner under the bottom portion of the siphon brewer. If you’re using the cloth wick alcohol burner, make sure your wick is about 5-10mm away from the bottom of the glass. Light it up (or fire up your butane burner) and let the water in the bottom globe of the siphon come to a boil.
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Assemble Top Section
Insert and attach your siphon brewer’s clean (or just out of the freezer) filter into the top glass portion. Make sure the spring catch is attached to the bottom of the siphon, and the cloth filter is flat.
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Adding Top Section to Bottom
Insert the siphon into your bottom globe, and make sure the gasket is sealed down; it doesn’t have to be super firm, but make sure you create a good seal.
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Adding Coffee
At this stage, grind your coffee. It should be a bit finer than your usual drip coffee stage. Once ground, add roughly 7g for every 100ml of brewing water you’re using.
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Watch the Action
If you used preheated water (or if you’re using a butane burner), it won’t take long for water to finish it’s travel up the siphon to the top chamber, mixing with the coffee you just added; don’t stir yet, but get ready to!
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Stir the Coffee
At this stage, give the top a stir with a regular spoon (be careful not to touch the side of the glass with a metal spoon!) a wooden spoon or a paddle. Just a few quick stirs to incorporate the coffee into the hot water.
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Start the Timing
Once all the water (except for what’s below the bottom of your siphon) has made it to the top, start looking for at your clock. You want to time your brewing time for roughly a minute and half.
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Optional – Reduce the Heat
If you’re using a butane burner, once the water is up in the top brewing section, turn the flame down a bit – just enough to maintain the boil in the bottom, but not so much to “superheat” the steam and over-heat your brewing coffee.
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Remove the Heat Source
Once 90 seconds has elapsed, cap off your cloth wick alcohol burner with the metal cap it came with, or turn off your butane burner.
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Optional – One Last Stir
This isn’t necessary, but if you like, give the coffee slurry up top one quick stir as soon as you remove the heat. Again, exercise caution if using a metal utensil to stir. It will lead to an interesting effect once the siphon has finished brewing.
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Watch Science at Work!
Sit back and watch science happen as the gasses in the lower vessel start to contract and phase change, thus creating a vacuum that will pull the brewed coffee through the filter back to the bottom vessel. The vacuum effect is strong enough that it can (usually) easily handle the finer coffee you ground earlier.
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Grounds “Vacuumed” Dry
Once all the brewed coffee is back in the bottom vessel, you will note the grounds in the top are quite dry, as the suction effect from the bottom globe draws almost all liquid from the top, and even some air through the spent coffee as well. If you stirred just as your removed the heat, you may notice the ground coffee forms a domed half-ball shape above the filter.
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Remove Top Chamber & Pour
At this stage, it’s time to separate the two parts of the brewer. You do so by gently rocking the top brewing chamber back and forth until you feel the seal break between it and the bottom globe. Place the brewing chamber in the included lid/stand, and pour your coffee out and enjoy! Be careful though, it’s very hot, hotter than most other brewing methods.

And that’s really all it is to brewing with a siphon coffee maker. If you want more advanced techniques or want to learn all you possibly can about siphons, put aside some time and dive deep into our Master Class on Siphons (coming soon!)

The coffee used in this Siphon Coffee How to was supplied by Bird Rock Coffee Roasters, a southern California, award winning roastery and cafe company.

The grinder used in this how to was supplied by Baratza, a designer and manufacturer of some of the world’s best coffee grinders. We used the Baratza Virtuoso for this guide.


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