Nothing quite says “I’m a massive coffee geek” like owning a vacuum coffee maker (also known as a siphon, or syphon coffee pot).
Although the method has been around for approaching two centuries and enjoyed considerable popularity in that time, siphon machines are not really en-vogue right now. It’s hard to account for siphon coffees lack of mass-market appeal – especially when the brew method is famed for producing really excellent results at fairly modest prices.
But what are the best vacuum coffee machines on the market? What makes siphon coffee better than other types? And perhaps most importantly: What should you look for when buying a machine?
If you are thinking of taking the plunge, let this article be your guide to the topsy-turvy world of the siphon filter. We have included a round-up of our top five best machines on the market below, or to learn more about vacuum brewing, click here.
This machine from Japanese coffee stalwarts Hariro comes in a two cup, three cup or five cup size, and has an alcohol burner included. It is made from hardy heatproof borosilicate glass and has a sturdy stand.
This produced some full-bodied and clean coffee and is the easiest unit on this list to take apart and clean. Out of the box, this machine comes with a cloth filter – however, Hariro also sells a steel adaptor which uses disposable filters at a modest price and is almost certainly worth purchasing.
We liked the coffee from this machine the best – it was clean and full-bodied. Though it is marginally more expensive than some of the machines on this list, the build quality is excellent and it is easy to set up and use.
This modestly priced affair is a good option for anybody looking for a siphon brewer that makes enough coffee for one or two people. It’s electric too – and while we can see that may take some of the shine off this method, it is much more convenient than a stand-alone burner.
It looks super sleek and doesn’t take up too much room. The instructions are clear and it is fairly intuitive to use. It comes with a cloth filter which wraps around a steel basket. You can buy alternative silicone or filter paper options if you can’t be bothered washing the cloth out each time you brew.
The coffee produced was lovely. As with all siphon machines the brew-time is in the ballpark of ten minutes, but you really can get it going at the touch of a button.
The upper chamber can go in the dishwasher, but cleaning the stem is fiddly. The lower chamber has an electrical element on the bottom and cannot be immersed in water, so needs to be wiped out after every use – which must be done carefully to avoid cracking the glass.
This cool looking contraption from Bodum is a stovetop machine that will brew up around one litre of coffee. It does go on the stove, but if you have a gas hob you will need to use a heat diffuser to avoid damaging the glass.
It makes strong clean coffee and comes with a stand for the upper chamber, stopper for the lower, heatproof handle and coffee scoop.
It comes apart easily for cleaning and uses a pluglike cloth filter which is easy to use but needs cleaning after each go.
The major downside is that this is fragile – the large upper chamber is essentially a big glass balloon, so very steady hands are needed for this one, as well as somewhere safe to store it.
This borosilicate glass affair is easily the most stylish machine on the list – just look at it!
The package comes with a standalone wick burner that we found to be effective – heating up the 590ml of water that fills the lower chamber in around four minutes.
In all, there was around a 7 and a half mins brew-time on this machine and it comes apart for easier cleaning than others we tried.
The wick on the included burner – in addition to the cloth filters – is another thing on this machine that will need to be replaced at fairly regular intervals, so be warned. Some users of the Yama have reported issues with the seal on the stem wearing out as the product ages too.
In all there was around a 7 and a half mins brew-time on this machine and it comes apart for easier cleaning than others we tried.
The glass is tough enough to handle normally and the Yama produced classic siphon coffee with a lovely smooth mouthfeel.
Siphon coffee 101
The Siphon pot was invented in Germany in the 1830s – a time when electrified homes were still a glint in the wannabe baristas eye. It is a low-tech way of making coffee, but it uses the almighty power of science to make a great cuppa.
Siphon pots contain an upper and a lower chamber, connected by a stem, which is separated by a permeable filter. To brew siphon coffee, water is placed in the bottom chamber and freshly ground coffee in the top.
The water in the lower chamber is heated, changing the pressure inside the chamber and forcing water into the upper chamber, where it meets with the coffee grounds.
Once the upper chamber is full, the lower chamber is taken off the heat. As the air in the lower chamber cools, it contracts, pulling the coffee from the top part back down. The coffee grounds are stopped from passing back through by the filter and stay in the upper chamber.
Is siphon coffee better than other brews?
It has its advocates, that’s for sure. While we are not necessarily comfortable saying one way of making coffee is better than another, siphons do have some clear advantages on their side which help them deliver excellent coffee.
Siphon brewing is what’s known as a ‘full immersion’ process. This means that all the grounds get a good soaking during the brew. This by itself is nothing unique – the French press, for example, works off a similar principle. Full immersion brewing yields light and cleaner cups of coffee when compared to other methods.
Unlike the cafetière, which simply steeps coffee in water to extract flavour, during siphon brewing, a vacuum also pulls the water back through the grounds towards the end of the process, which extracts more flavour than steeping alone.
Siphon brewing also maintains a constant temperature during the brewing phase, which helps evenly pull aromas from the beans and really boosts the quality of the final cup. Given that the brewing all happens in an air-tight carafe, all the aromas are sealed in during the process and cannot escape – so the coffee is also super fragrant. Yum.
Should I buy a vacuum coffee maker?
If you have read this far then probably, yes. In addition to making tasty coffee, the process of making siphon brew is wonderfully involving, and watching the magic happen is a great bit of theatre.
Obviously, if you are looking for a faff-free affair then you’re probably more likely to prefer a pod or cappuccino machine. Just one note of caution, siphon brewers can be fairly fragile and quite bulky too – so if you have a cramped kitchen and lots of wee ones running around then it is perhaps not the best idea either.
What should I look for in Siphon coffee machine?
The biggest dichotomy in terms of design comes between machines that are designed to sit on your stovetop and machines built to use their own burners.
Machines that come with burners are cool as hell, and have a real ‘alchemists laboratory’ vibe to them. They are obviously more of a faff, as you will need to buy separate ethanol/gas fuel to power your burners, which will be a long-term cost you have to suck up.
Depending on your fuel source, cheap stand-alone burners can marr the process a bit by filling the room up with the smell of spirits or gas when you really want to be savouring the coffee.
Also consider the filter type. Some machines opt for cloth, others for stainless steel. The cloth ones need to be cleaned and dried pronto after each use, lest they go mouldy. This requires a bit more forward planning than the steel options.