How To Brew Coffee With A Siphon – Beginner Guide

A siphon coffee machine - how to brew coffee with a siphon
Siphon is consists of two glass vessels

My love affair with siphon coffee brewing began when I first experienced it at one of the old-world siphon bars in Tokyo. These bars are a heavenly escape where you fall in love with what you see.

The stylish baristas made siphon-brewing look like a theatrical work of art. Ethereal yet beautiful, and with some practice you can be a master at it. I have managed to get there so you can too!

So, how to brew coffee with a siphon? The brewer consists of two glass vessels and the first one is filled with clean water.

It gives you the feeling of performing a science experiment in a physics lab. When heat is applied to the bottom vessel, the vapor is released and this forces water to travel north and climb to the upper glass bowl.

In the upper chamber, the heated water comes in contact with coffee grounds and extraction begins. The vacuum effect pulls the liquid back into the lower piece and it passes through a filter attached to the upper chamber. The rich filtered coffee then percolates to the bottom chamber, ready for you to enjoy!

The fascinating movement of your favorite brew from one vessel to another, and seeing the action take place right in front of the eyes makes it sought after. No other brewing method looks so classy and delivers a flavorful Java while making you look like a scientist!

Let’s learn some more about this incredible style of brewing coffee!

What Differentiates A Siphon Brew From Others?

Excellent clarity, gorgeous Physics inspired equipment, and a generous amount of aromatics are what make a siphon brew so distinct from others. The brewing method allows extraction of a broader spectrum of flavors and sports a greater level of complexity. Despite the use of filters, all oils pass into the bottom vessel to give you a delicious and rich brew.

A siphon brew is known to have more oils and no fine sediments (particularly if you use the cotton filter). While cotton filters are known to deliver the best results, they need to be cleaned properly. Some people prefer using the metal mesh filters, but they may not be able to keep out the microscopic fine grounds.

What You Need To Know About The Origin Of Siphon

The roots of siphon go back to the early 1830s when some people who were fed up with bad coffee decided to invent a brewing system. It soon gained popularity and spread throughout Europe. Although numerous patents were filed for the improvement of Siphon’s design, the most notable was by Madame Vassieux in 1841.

The first commercial version was a French balloon style, similar to the ones used today. So, from its origin in Europe and foray into the US market to the theatrical art in Japan, Siphon brewer has come a long way.

Despite the various changes and improvements, the structure (although slightly complex) remains the same. Whether you call it a siphon, vac pot, siphon vacuum coffee, or a French balloon, if you get the basics right, you will hit the nail right on the head and brew an amazing cup of coffee.

What Will You Need To Brew Coffee With A Siphon

If you like the idea of doing real science in the morning, you will first need a siphon brewer. There are several brands and models available in the market. I would recommend that you use one of the contemporary models like the Hario TCA 3 (see on Amazon) or 3-cup Yama.

You will also need a burner to heat the bottom vessel. If you are brewing at home, I would recommend a butane burner. If you want to add frills to your brewing and make it look fancy, get a halogen-based heater. Some models come with their own heater in the package.

The third important thing you will need for the brewing device is a filter. Most models will include a cloth filter that secures the top vessel with a chain and spring. You may also use paper filters with different types of attachments, anything as per your preference.

Now, you have your brewing lab ready. Just grab your gear – freshly ground coffee, filtered water, and thermometer.

Steps To Brew Coffee With A Siphon

Coffee being brewed with a siphon.
Put a kettle on the stove top first
  1. Put a kettle filled with filtered or distilled water on the stovetop and let it boil. Once it comes to the boiling point, let it cool down a bit.
  2. Preheat the bottom carafe by rinsing it with hot water. Attach the filter to the midsection of the top chamber using the hook or string and keep them aside for now.
  3. Measure your coffee. I recommend using 20 to 25 grams for brewing two cups of siphon coffee. Grind the coffee grounds to a coarse texture using a burr grinder and put the grounds inside the top chamber.
  4. Now fill the bottom vessel with two cups of hot water from the kettle. You may also fill it with room temperature water and boil it in the carafe but I prefer using hot water to accelerate the process.
  5. Light up the burner and put it under the bottom vessel to start heating the water. Also, set up the top vessel and attach the filter at the bottom.
  6. Wait for the water in the lower chamber to reach the boiling point. You may put the thermometer inside the water to check the temperature. The ideal temperature is 190-200 °F.
  7. As the water starts bubbling, hold the top chamber securely into the lower vessel to create a seal. At this point, you can see water traveling northwards into the upper carafe. Use a flat stirrer to mix water with grounds to saturate them.
  8. Now, wait patiently for at least 45 seconds to one minute for the extraction to take place. You will see gas and bubbles releasing during this period. If you like stronger coffee, let it steep for a few extra seconds. When the extraction is complete, there will be no more bubbles forming inside the top vessel.
  9. Remove the siphon from the heat source and stir once again to ensure even extraction. As the vacuum is created, the brew will be sucked into the bottom chamber, filtering out the coffee grounds as it travels through the filter.
  10. Keep the top vessel away and let the coffee collected inside the lower carafe cool down a bit before you serve. If you see a smooth and evenly distributed dome of grounds on the filter, it’s a sign of good extraction.

What Makes Siphon Coffee A Better Choice

According to a coffee expert, the siphon brew presents a beautiful blend of culinary delight with performance art, and each sip is a different experience. Even those who don’t order siphon coffee at a bar watch in awe and appreciation at the fascinating method of brewing.

Here are a few things that make Siphon Coffee a better choice you can try at home.

1. It gives you an experience that delights the senses

You get to see delightful visuals in the morning that awakens your senses even before you sip on your Java. Watching the action take place right in front of your eyes is a different experience altogether, something you cannot expect in a drip coffee maker.

2. It delivers a great tasting cup of Joe

woman, drinking, coffee
Siphon produces rich and savory flavors for your coffee

The bottom line for any brewing style you choose is the taste and flavor of the resulting coffee, and Siphon scores high at the front. It produces rich and savory flavors. If you have enjoyed a Siphon Coffee before, you know that kind of balance and smoothness is incomparable.

3. It lets you control the different aspects of brewing

Contrary to conventional pod coffee, the vacuum pot lets you control the coffee strength by regulating the number of grounds used. You can adjust the water temperature and measure ground depending on whether you like a weak or strong brew. This aspect makes siphon brewing popular among coffee connoisseurs.

4. You can impress your guests with a siphon

If you want to ow’ your guests with your style of coffee brewing there cannot be a better way than using a Siphon at home. The beautiful mix of visual arts and science presents a spectacular experience for the brewer as well as the audience.

5. It emits a more intense aroma

When compared to other brewing styles, siphon coffee delivers a more intense aroma and flavor. It produces a crisp, clear, and vibrant coffee that not only pleases the taste buds but also makes your olfactory senses happy.

What Type of Filters Can Be Used For Siphon Coffee Makers

When you purchase a new siphon brewer, it comes with a filter and some replacement parts too. For more than a century and a half, different types of filters have been used to get that perfect and richest brew without any sediments. If you are not happy with the filter that comes with a coffee maker, you can buy one of these filters available.

1. Cloth filters

Cloth filters that come with a metal or ceramic shaper may sometimes use a doubled cloth material. One side may have a heavy thread texture while the other side may have fine threading. They are circular in shape with stitches on the exterior edge and a tie string to securely attach the filter to the top vessel.

Some coffee experts believe that clean cloth filters are a better option because unlike paper, they do not allow fine coffee grounds to pass through them.

If you are using a cloth filter, make sure you clean them immediately after use with a soft brush, soak it in a solution of hot water and oxy clean, rinse clean and dry. Avoid using bleach.

2. Paper filters

filtering coffee grounds
You can use paper filters in brewing coffee using the siphon

Some siphon models like the Hario Nouveau come with a paper filter and steel holder combination which works effectively. You may also buy these filters separately. With paper, you filter the same way as you do in an auto-drip method.

Some people feel paper obstructs the aromas and oils from passing, but hey, you are brewing at optimum temperature and that’s something you can’t expect with auto drips!

Cleaning the paper filters is considerably easier. You just need to remove the filter, rinse it well by holding it under running water. Remove the clamping disc, discard the filter, and rinse the plastic disc again.

3. Glass filters

The glass filters were first used in a device called the Cona Glass Rod, which was meant for brewing tea. They later upgraded the device to make it suitable for coffee making. The brewer had small channels made of glass that trapped the coffee grounds and allowed only water to pass through.

Glass filters have received mixed reactions from customers. While some people like this method, others do not approve of the glass. In my opinion, they do not work well for small siphon brewers but may be a good option for a slightly larger size.

4. Metal filters

Both mesh and non-mesh, are often used in some models to keep out the coffee grounds when the liquid travels from the top carafe to the bottom vessel. The biggest advantage of using metal filters is that they are easier to clean. On the downside, they let more sediments pass than needed to give you a muddy brew.

5. Nylon Mesh filters

Some electric siphon coffee makers such as the Bodum Electric Santos or Black and Decker Infuze come with a one-piece filter assembly. They use a nylon mesh filter that allows the filtered brew to pass through easily.

These filters work great as they allow more coffee oils to permeate through them. On the downside, they are extremely fragile and can be torn easily. Cleaning these filters is easy and some of them are also rated as dishwasher safe.

What Are The Different Heating Options Used For Siphon

The heating element constitutes an important part of the siphon coffeemaker and the user has two options. You may use a stovetop (gas or electric) or a self-contained burner such as the butane burner or alcohol-wick burner.

The shape of the lower carafe usually gives a hint of what type of burner will work best. If it’s flat then it is designed for a stovetop and if it’s round then you will need to use a wick alcohol burner. I prefer the butane burner and luckily quite a few siphon coffee makers sell different variations of this burner.

The alcohol burners are pretty slow and they produce a lot of soot that may destroy the appeal of your vac pot. If you wish to use an alcohol burner, you may want to look for a soot-free burner using denatured alcohol, such as ethyl/isopropyl mixes.

Another common option of modern burners is the very fancy halogen burner, which was first developed in Japan for the Hario models. These contain a high wattage 400W halogen bulb that is regulated by a dimmer switch. The lamp is enclosed in a grid screen that looks classy and elegant, but the heating effect is less than butane burners.

What Are The Grind Basics For Siphon Brewer

Roasts and Grind
The perfect coffee grinds for siphon depends on the filter material used

Despite all the pomp and show of the device, if you don’t get the grind quality right, it can spoil the show! So, make sure you pay attention to the grind basics and timings which may slightly vary for the siphon coffee maker.

I prefer grinding coffee based on the filter material. When using a cloth filter with my brewer, I choose to go with a fine grind. When using a paper filter, a drip grind should work fine. If you are the type who uses a glass or metal filter then I would recommend a coarser grind.

While most siphon experts will recommend a coarse grind, I would say that you must experiment with your grind consistency to see what works best for you. An important thing to remember is to grind seconds before brewing.

If you are using pre-ground coffee, you are almost killing half of the good effects, my friend! Fresh grinding is extremely critical to protect the rich flavors and aromas that are responsible for a great cup of Joe. Use a burr grinder to grind coffee beans minutes before you start brewing.

What About The Perfect Timings

I am sure you will agree that timings play an important role. Leave your brew for an extra minute with grounds and a rich coffee can turn bitter! So, let’s briefly talk about the time.

First, the time taken to brew will vary depending on your method. If you pre-boil water in a kettle, this will reduce the time taken to brew.

If you prefer using room temperature or cold water, you will need a butane burner to get a full flameworking on it. For 3 cups of water, it may take 3 minutes to get the water to reach the 167°F mark. When you see the steam forming, not yet boiling, reduce the gas and grind your coffee.

After you are done with the grinding, put the flame to maximum again and let the water heat up enough to travel into the top vessel. If you use normal temperature water, some water will start climbing into the top vessel while the remaining may not be hot enough which leads to poor extraction. If the water is too hot, it will scald the grounds and give you a sour taste.

As the water starts climbing up northwards into the top vessel, adjust the heat source to make it a tepid at the bottom. This helps in maintaining a favorable brewing temperature. If the stovetop is at a 7 or 8 range, bring it down to 3 or 4 just to maintain the vapor formation.

The time needed for brewing will vary depending upon your personal preference. If you brew for longer, you get a stronger and more flavorful Java. I prefer giving a 3 cups siphon maker an infusion time of 70 seconds after all water has traveled upwards.

If using a 5 cups model, you may want to wait for up to two minutes for the brewing to take place. In the 8 to 10 cup models, an infusion time of 3 minutes may be good depending on how well you can adjust the heating source.

10 Tips For Brewing Coffee With A Siphon

  1. Place the filter at the center of the top vessel and secure it with an attached spring or hook. If you are using a muslin filter, soak it for five minutes in warm water prior to attaching it.
  2. Grind coffee beans to a coarse consistency like an auto-drip (slightly smaller than the ones used for a French Press) and then transfer the grounds to the upper carafe.
  3. Use pre-heated water in the lower vessel before heating as this quickens the process and helps you achieve the desired water temperature faster.
  4. Choose a butane burner for heating a siphon brewer as it fosters clean heating without the odor of alcohol that can damage the coffee flavor. It also heats water faster than the heating device included in the siphon.
  5. Set up the device by attaching the top vessel to the bottom one when water is close to boiling point. After one inch of the water climbs up north to the top vessel, use a bamboo stick to push grounds into the water. Don’t stir yet!
  6. When all water climbs up to the upper carafe, stir rapidly in the anti-clockwise direction to create a whirlpool. Count up to 15 rotations as you stir. Try to create the fastest whirlpool with the minimum number of rotations to reduce the damage to grounds.
  7. After you remove the siphon from the heat source, cover the lower vessel with a damp cloth until all the filtered brew permeates and collects into it. This works as a stimulus to draw the coffee quickly without any over-extraction taking place.
  8. Keep an account of the time taken for coffee to descend down and if it takes longer than 30-90 seconds, the grind is too fine. Next time, keep it coarser for better results.
  9. When removing the top chamber, you will need to gently rock it backward and forward to detach it from the lower vessel.
  10. Pour out the beautifully brewed coffee into a pre-heated coffee mug to keep your Java warm for longer. You will feel no less than a scientist who has accomplished a mission!

FAQs About Brewing Coffee With A Siphon

What is siphon coffee?

Siphon coffee was invented in the 1930s by a German engineer and French housewife who realized that coffee tasted best when pulled by vacuum. It went through several patents and improvements in design to look like the one you can see today.

Also known as vac pots, siphon brewed coffee, and vacuum coffee, this is a quite a theatrical brewing method. It is so popular in Japan that they have intense competitions for siphon brewing.

What can you expect from a siphon coffee?

This is a full immersion brewing method similar to French Press, which results in a clean and full-bodied cup of coffee. It lets the coffee grounds bring out their best qualities and balance everything to make siphon brewer extremely extraordinary!

As you brew coffee in a siphon, you get to witness the out-of-this-world extraction process, water climbing up, and then the vacuum pulling it down. It’s like performing a visually pleasing science experiment and also smelling the fresh aromatic flavors as the extraction takes place.

Is the siphon coffee making process too complicated?

It looks complicated, but once you get a hang of it, the process becomes a joy ride you will love doing every day. It’s just basic science that works behind the brewing process. A little time consuming for sure, but it is worth the excitement!

What are the parts needed for brewing a siphon coffee?

The siphon coffee maker is composed of five different parts – the bottom pressure pot, top brew chamber, a lid, a burner, and a filter.

What is the best siphon coffee filters

There are different types of coffee filters (for eg, cloth, glass, nylon mesh, and paper) available in the market. I recommend using the cloth filters as they allow the coffee oils to pass through into the flower pot for a fuller-bodied coffee. Paper filters are convenient to use but they absorb natural oils.

How often should you replace the coffee filter?

If you use a cloth filter, I would suggest that you switch after 2-3 months of regular use. You may clean it using hot water, a brush, and a mild odorless detergent.

Rinse it properly under running water so that no detergent residue is left behind. The cloth will be stained after a few uses and there is nothing you can do about that!

Downsides Of Brewing With A Siphon

• Siphons brew quickly and if you are not right with your timing, it may over extract and turn your coffee bitter.

• You may burn yourself if you don’t handle the burner, and heated top and bottom vessels with care.

• Although the brewing is quick, the preparation is time-consuming and not suitable for those who need a quick Joe.

How To Brew Coffee With A Siphon: The Final Words

Interestingly, this 150-year-old brewing method hasn’t lost its charm amidst the glitz of espresso machines and automatic brewers. It delivers a kind of visual treat you cannot expect to find anywhere else. It can be slightly complicated to master, but hey, being a star barista takes hard work, right?

A little practice can give you clearer, full-bodied, and sediment-free coffee every morning. Impress your friends by applying physics to coffee brewing at dinner parties and you will be flooded with compliments on how good the coffee tastes!

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  • Aisling O'Connor

    Aisling is an Irish food and drinks writer and journalist fueled by coffee and herbal tea. She followed up her journalism degree with nutrition studies. Find Aisling on LinkedIn.