Hario Syphon: Ultimate Brewing for the Enthusiast

Hario syphon in flight. A beauty isn’t she?

I’ve waited forever to do this review. Why? I don’t know. Words fail me when discussing syphons, which used to be called vacuum makers, glass makers or sometimes percolators. You likely think I mean the dreaded pumping percolator, which became shortened to the single word designation, but I don’t. The two used to be distinguished from each other, but as the vacuum version got phased out, the pumping percolator got called a percolator. Since then, it’s been blamed for virtually taking the coffee industry down, but that’s another story… and blog post!

CoffeeCon Syphon class taught by long-time pal Charlie Sarrin. The Syphon is open-ended tech, with different presenters offering their individualized hacks and variations on the theme.

The Hario Syphon is one of two relatively popular and widely available syphon brewers. The other is made by Bodum and deserves its own review. Let’s take the Hario syphon and examine its strengths, and any potential weaknesses. It’s really not hard to understand a syphon. The lower bowl is really a kettle, where the water is heated in order to make coffee. The two bowls are fitted together. Once the water is heated to nearly a boil, hot air in the lower bowl expands, forcing the near-boiling water up through the upper bowl’s tube, through a filter where it starts bubbling as if it’s boiling – it’s not. At this point the barista (at home, you or me) adds finely ground coffee to the upper bowl and stirs it swiftly so it starts the extraction process. After roughly a minute, the siphon is removed from heat and the brewed coffee travels downward, as cooling air in the bowl below creates a vacuum (hence the original name) and drawing the coffee through the filter, where the spent grounds are trapped. When the coffee liquid is all down below, the two bowls are carefully detached (they’re hot!) and the lower bowl simply becomes a serving vessel.

At this point, lots of question should come to mind. For this reason, I’m inserting an FAQ here.

Syphon FAQ

  • Does the syphon boil to make coffee? No, the water never boils. It remains at a near-ideal 200°F for the duration of the brewing contact time. The bubbles that appear are more expanding air being released as gas expands in the lower bowl. If just looks like it’s boiling.

    Flame heat is slower, prone to wind, but otherwise effective. Call me a modernist, but I prefer Infrared bean heater for their consistency, ease of use and glamour effect. You simply pull this out when entertaining watch the jaws drop.

  • Why finer than drip grind? The siphon’s contact time between hot water and grounds is roughly two to three minutes, approximately half that of most drip brewers. You can grind finer, which reduces grounds surface area exposed to the hot water and the overall beverage strength will even out. Note: Automatic syphon brewers may take drip grind. Follow your maker’s recommendation.
  • How did we get so lucky that the temperature in the upper bowl happens to be 200°F? We didn’t. Truth is, the standards that recommend 200°F brewing temperatures were developed by observing a siphon brewer and measuring its temperature. That temperature became the de facto ideal recommended extraction temperature for various brewing methods. Note, the syphon naturally brews at 200F, but if for some reason you want a lower or higher temperature, you’d best choose another method.
  • Competitor’s syphon compared. All syphons are reliable at achieving 200F brewing temperatures. Differences are durability, capacity and ease of use. Hario’s excels at all three.

    Why wait until the water all goes to the top before adding the ground coffee? It’s the most reliable way to time the contact time, which must be done for consistent results. But, you don’t have to. There are several ways to use a siphon. I’m just giving you the one I’ve found works best in my experience.

  • No matter how long I wait, all the water never really rises into the upper bowl. What am I doing wrong? Nothing. All the water will never rise into the bowl. Just understand, it doesn’t have to. All the water never needs to be in contact with the grounds. However, all of the grounds do need to be in contact with the water in the upper bowl.
  • Is stirring necessary? Yes, I think so. I realize so-called automatic syphons don’t require nor recommend it. These designed used a developed force to propel the water up into the upper bowl and agitate the grounds, which were added before pressing the on button. This simplified method seemed to work, but I think the manual glass method used by Hario (and others) works best when the end user waits for the water to be mostly up in the upper bowl, adding the grounds and immediately stirring to make sure all the grounds are enrolled in the extraction process. The second stir is done because, on occasion, the grounds re-clump together during the minute or so after the initial stir. I realize I’m insisting upon being thorough here, but you may as well learn to do it right. It happens to me often enough that I think it’s worth sharing as a step.

How Did We Test the Hario?

Note bubbling, boiling water in lower bowl during upper bowl brewing. This boiling water has no effect on brewing process, nor is it cause for concern that all the water never attends the extraction process. The syphon brewer is an excellent method.

I tested the Hario using it precisely as I described above. However, there are a few options for you to choose. The filter for instance. Hario supplies both a metal permanent filter and a cloth filter. As a long time syphon fan, to me there is no choice. I prefer cloth as the definitive filter of choice with this method. Metal is fine, but it does let some particulate through and into the final cup. While hardly objectionable and certainly never to the point of being described as sludge, I simply prefer the viscosity and taste of coffee filtered by cloth. To me it offers the ultimate coffee mouthfeel. While cloth filters are not permanent, they do last a month or more if carefully rinsed and stored. They take no more care than the metal permanent filter and they are renewable and inexpensive. I misplaced the one that came with the brewer and didn’t have the nerve to request more from Hario. I went online and purchased some from Amazon for around $5 shipped Prime. About a year’s supply for me. I can’t complain.

On the left is a fresh cloth filter, after its first use. Right is a two-week-old filter. Notice discoloration begins immediately and darkens with each use, regardless of scrubbing. Works fine regardless. I suggest not worrying about discoloration which seems to have little effect on cup taste.

Don’t be a Purist. The benefits of pre-heating water

One thing I recommend. Don’t pour cold water directly into the syphon for heating. Boil it in a separate kettle. It saves time and energy. I just used a nearby BonaVita kettle but any one will do. I set it to 203°, my normal drip set temperature and used its gooseneck to carefully pour the near-boiling water into the lower syphon bowl. Then I placed the syphon bowl on a heat source. I guess I qualify as a barista because Hario supplied me with an infrared beam heater. I do not know if these heaters are available to the public, but if they are, I highly suggest one if you are committed to syphon long-term. They are simply so easy to use. They also illuminate the process beautifully. Admit it. Part of the syphon’s allure is its theatrical visual as it does its stuff. The beam heater captures all this in its glory.

Looks like it’s boiling, but it’s not. The upper bowl, where extraction takes place, is typically within a few degrees of 200F. Many consider this ideal contact temperature.

Beam Heaters versus Flame

A check online of beam heaters tells me it’s at this writing a $250 option.  Meanwhile a flame lamp is easy and inexpensive at around $30. Frankly, some baristas tell me they think it’s the ideal way to brew with the syphon. More responsive and direct heat using the flame. If you preheat it, it takes very little time. If you don’t, the beam heater is still too slow.  Visually, the lamp gives very little to the beam heater. Both make great coffee. Your call.

Is the Syphon Hard to Use?

The Syphon is not hard to use. It does take some effort and attention, but it’s not hard. The method is actually very reliable and, assuming you agree with the industry’s standards, the syphon follows them perfectly. As I said, it was the model for those standards.

Here are a few potential cons to syphon brewing.

  • Thorough cleaning. Not dishwasher safe. As far as I know you cannot just pop the Hario syphon parts into our dishwasher. They require hand washing. You need to thoroughly rinse and perhaps use a little mild or unscented detergent to clean a syphon before putting it away after using. It’s not difficult. The Hario syphon is substantial. It is far better made tempered glass than most others I’ve tried over the years. Still, while hot all syphons are more fragile than cold.
  • Syphons get hot. I just finished teaching a syphon class at CoffeeCon NY in Brooklyn. There were two small children in the first row. I wasn’t worried at all, but know that I would always use care when brewing in a home with children. The parts get hot, near-boiling water if traveling up and down in the unit. The beam heater or lamp both get even hotter to do their job. It’s not a unit to ever leave unattended. However, I also made stovetop French fries the other evening when my family was over, and all the same risks remain. Same cautions.
  • A cloth filter takes an extra step. It must be thoroughly rinsed and a drop of detergent may be helpful as well to keep it free from oil buildup. It never looks clean after initial staining, but practical use has shown me this means little and doesn’t in my opinion compromise its effectiveness in the coffee making process.

Grind fineness depends upon contact time. The Hario typically takes a grind finer than drip coupled with a 3 minute contact time.

Conclusion

Do you need a syphon? Of course not. The question is akin to asking, “Do I really need an iPad? There’s virtually nothing you can do on an iPad  you can’t accomplish on a laptop or other mobile device. The point is it’s ideal for some situations and uses. Same with a Syphon. I know of no better, more thorough and reliable extractor of coffee oils than the Syphon. It never needs to be de-limed with citric acid. Its filtration contains little or no plastic that can become smelly with time and use. The syphon is the best method of extracting from all the grounds. No matter how thoroughly you use drip, most drip cone designs contain some “trouble zones” where grounds in those areas are likely to be less extracted. The syphon’s natural bubbling acts as an extraction facilitator, using what Bunn Corporation calls “turbulence” throughout the contact time. The very dry spent grounds observed after the finished coffee beverage has been drawn down below is evidence of the effectiveness of the final separation of brew from grounds of the syphon.

I can’t imagine being a coffee enthusiast without owning a syphon. And, Hario makes one of the best; perhaps the best.

 

 

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New French Brewer and Interview with its Designer

New French Brewer and Interview with its Designer

Silo Coffee Brewer

New French Brewer

We’re living in a golden age of brewers. If you think they’re all alike, think again. The new Silo drip maker is stunning looking. But looks alone don’t warrant a mention in The Coffee Companion. What sets this one apart is its filter. Another attribute is its double walled carafe. It keeps the coffee warm without a warming plate. I met Romain Gauthrot, designer, at Coffee Fest in Chicago this past June.

Designer Romain Gauthrot

I hope to get a sample to test, but all signs are good from my initial taste. As you may know, I’m not a big fan of permanent metal filters. But, this one seems to really work – that is separate the grounds from the brew. I could detect virtually no sediment in my samples. Apparently, Mr Gauthrot was able to make two separate screens work together to accomplish this.

This is one of those inventions that has much that has happened before. But the sum total of his efforts is so effective that it warrants a second look. People often presume a new drip brewer can’t taste different from ones that have come before. That’s just not correct. Details can make big flavor differences. Mr Gauthrot has promised a sample and I hope to be able to rigorously subject it to my kitchen in the future.

Meanwhile below is an interview I did with him right at his exhibit space at Coffee Fest.

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Automatic Drip Coffee that Rivals Hand-Crafted

Can you really make automatic coffee that tastes as good as the best manual hand-brewed? Let’s just say it is possible. To illustrate this claim, I chose the Bonavita BV 01002 to demonstrate the possibility.  It meets the stringent Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) standards. Most automatic drip brewers do not.  It is simple to use and pretty un-tweaky as well. Frankly, other than having to measure grounds and grind the coffee separately, it’s as easy to use as a K-cup brewer. It works great as is. But, I have found some nips and tucks to my procedures that lift it to match my best manual brew results and I thought I’d share them.

I’m sure you’re already aware that I’m a big fan of this brewer. So is George Howell who uses it to accompany his tasting seminars at our CoffeeCon events. But, if someone were to ask exactly how I make coffee with this automatic drip machine it would be as follows:

Auto drip tweaks grindGrind – If you’ve been with me for awhile, you know I advocate erring a notch coarser when using most brewers. But I also advise playing around with grind and, once in a while, it pays to just experiment a notch at a time. For instance, with this brewer I go one notch finer. That may be because I don’t usually make a full 8-cup batch, but rather fill the water only to the 1 liter mark. Just so you understand the testing procedure for SCA certification,  brewers must make their coffee, start to finish, within six minutes. So when you make approximately 25% less, it’s likely that it will be a little rushed traveling through the grounds. I’ve found by grinding slightly finer I slow the drip rate and this increases brew strength. If I make a full batch I coarsen the grind slightly.

Auto drip tweaks use lessRecipe Measurements – Consider that we may have gone from using too few grounds to using too many. Maybe this brewer does such an efficient job it does not need the requisite 55 grams specified for a liter of coffee. If you make one liter, I suggest you try using 50-51 grams. I found this to be the best recipe. I discovered this by accident as I only had 50 grams left of a particularly memorable ReAnimator coffee when a friend arrived for a visit and a cup. Since I needed to make one liter, I decided to chance it. To my surprise I preferred it using this formula.

Pre-infusion – This brewer has a pre-infusion stage, which drips a few ounces of water over the grounds to saturate them before the majority of water is released and dripped over the grounds. I strongly recommend using it if your coffee is fresh, meaning just a week or two from its roast date. If your grounds are older than this, or you use pre-ground coffee, you may skip this stage, although it won’t hurt, so if in doubt, use it. Its purpose is to allow the coffee to de-gas, which prevents foaming up and potentially spilling over the filter holder’s top edge. Pre-infusion also allows it to de-gas and settle down before the majority of water drips through, which actually helps facilitate the extraction process.

Auto drip tweaks not great dispersion 2

Filter holder – If there’s one area where manual drip still reigns supreme it is the end user’s manual water dispersion over the grounds and subsequent even extraction.  Fortunately, the Bonavita already does a good job dispersing the water. But, for a perfectionist end-user, we are able to occasionally swivel the filter holder to vary the showerhead’s position over the grounds. This is kind of tweaky, but shows to what extent I’ve played with mine over the years. I would not expect this tweak to make a night and day difference with this maker, but it is a slight tweak and just goes to ensure that all the grounds get wet. If someone told me this is too far to go to make coffee, I’d likely agree. But, I do it. Look at my “after” photo of the grounds post-brewing and see if yours matches. Again, if it’s too much, skip this if you like.

IMGP1718

I define tweaks as anything I do beyond the instruction manual, that appears to make a better pot of coffee. This brewer is noteworthy in that none are necessary for it to perform its stuff. But, I’m comparing to the best manually brewed coffee I’ve ever had. That fact that it’s that close to perfection already is impressive. I simply believe I can match that perfect flavor with this brewer, with just a little attention to details.

What are your tweaks?

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Espresso Supply Connected App Preview at SCA Expo

Espresso Suppy scale app 2One of the reasons I so enjoy the Specialty Coffee Association’s Expo is running into products that are in the pipeline, but not quite ready. I realize how this happens. The inventors are tweaking them up until showtime and then the lights come up. Do we or do we not exhibit it? I mean it’s not quite ready? As we used to say in my previous life in television, “We never finish anything. We just abandon it.”

Well, I’m exaggerating a bit with that last line. In this case, Espresso Supply has an app which will definitely be finished. Meaning it will be released and no doubt work for its purpose. Its purpose? It’s designed to assist you when making coffee in a manual brewer. I noticed that they brought along a Chemex, which of course made me happy as it’s one I often use at home. It was quite inclusive of them, considering they have a number of their own manual brewing designs. Glad to see they’re above corporate jingoism that might have cause them to insist it be one of theirs.

The idea is to weigh your coffee on this scale. The scale sends this information to your phone and the app then tells you how much water to pour, step by step. It’s really quite simple to use. The goal is to make manual brewing as consistent as possible. It also allows you to change your grounds weight; then the app will automatically change how much water it tells you to pour into the brewer. This is one of those products where descriptive words take more time and effort than just using it. Espresso Supply’s Elliot Jackson demonstrated this in-development app for me, I recorded his demo along with his observations about its potential.

Espresso Suppy scale app 4It’s worth noting it’s my opinion that the use of such a tool will become more and more useful as it covers more variables. If course as it stands today, it will help maintain brewing consistency. But the real power will come when it monitors the grind. Those of us who attempt to vary batch sizes in a drip brewer know that slight grind adjustments can enable practically identical flavor profiles when changing batch sizes, and this is really difficult. While the demo didn’t demonstrate the app’s capability to change batch size parameters, and it’s unlikely that v1 addresses grind at all. Long term this is the dream I have for all of these products.

Congratulations, Espresso Supply for taking some first steps to move toward this along. Here’s hoping it’s released in in field use soon!

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OXO’s New Manual Drip System, Hot or Cold

This year’s International Housewares Show in Chicago had some exciting news. OXO has introduced a new manual drip coffee brewing system. As usual with OXO, the benefits are in the details. It’s a system, meaning it has attention to aspects of boiling water, of brewing and serving. I couldn’t get them to give me a sample, but I’ll be happy to review it. Based upon a few quick taste samples, it has what it takes. A few features:

OXO Dripper

Attention to balance. OXO has this down. The idea of making sure it’s easy to handle and perform all tasks.

 

OXO Dripper

Deep ridged filter, to allow air to circulate. Facilitates brewing. The filter bottom is narrow, but flat, leading to efficient, consistent flow during steeping.

OXO Carafe

Double walled glass carafe. Cool outside. Evenly hot inside. Designed high enough to place ice cubes in bottom for instant cold coffee, while retaining all the benefits of Specialty Coffee Association specified hot brewing.

It’s interesting to see OXO moving towards manual gear. It gives me hope that there’s life in new manual methods. While this may be refinement more than reinvention, I can think of no more thoughtful minds than OXO’s folks to apply themselves to getting more from your precious grounds. I’ve requested a review sample and am eager to see how it fares in my own kitchen. Meanwhile, enjoy this conversation I had at OXO’s space at Housewares.

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