A centerpiece of Blue Bottle Coffee’s Mint Plaza shop in San Francisco is a siphon coffee bar that looks like something out of a steampunk science lab. Watching the coffee brew in the glass orbs is magical (and so is the resulting coffee). Lest you think this fine brew is limited to artisanal coffee shops, siphon (also called vacuum) coffee brewers for the home are in easy reach.
What sets these coffee makers apart is a brewing process that’s entirely sealed off so that no aroma can escape. When the water reaches the coffee, it is said to be the perfect temperature to extract the oils and rich flavors. The coffee has a great body similar to French press but without the chewy sediment.
Vacuum coffee brewers are made of stovetop-safe borosilicate glass, which is extremely strong, scratch and heat resistant, and won’t become cloudy over time. Heated water creates pressure in the lower bowl, pushing the water up to mix with the coffee grounds in the upper funnel. The heat is then turned off and the pressure drives the coffee back down to the lower bowl through a filter. For a thorough primer, see Coffee Geek’s Using a Siphon Coffee Maker, which includes the whys, the hows, and what you’ll need to achieve the perfect cup.
N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on October 2, 2012.
More caffeine? See 10 Easy Pieces: Stovetop Espresso Makers and Design Sleuth: The Elusive Red Espresso Coffee Pot.