Hario NXA-5 “Next” 5-Cup Syphon Coffee Maker

Flywheeel siphon sample 4 The Hario Syphon is perhaps the ultimate quality siphon, also long-known as a vacuum coffee maker. The Syphon works on the principal that near-boiling hot water in an enclosed lower vessel releases steam that expands, forces the hot water up through a tube into the upper bowl, where it is inherently the right temperature to brew coffee. As long as the lower bowl is kept heated, the water will stay up there, brewing coffee. The bubbling below causes the water in the upper bowl’s water to agitate the grounds, facilitating the extraction process. When the operator decides enough is enough, she simply removes all heat below and within about a minute the cooling and contracting vapors below cause the lower bowl to suck (hence the word vacuum) the finished brew back down into the lower bowl. Oh, did I mention there is always a filter between the two bowls? Haha, that alone is worth a patent. Siphons vary in the heating method (earliest samples were flame powered) material (glass is original and common, metal durable but no theater, plastic combines both benefits but it’s plastic) and filter type. The filter type is likely the most important of the variables to affect taste, and I’ll go into that later.Syphon overhead froth Should history ever agree to repeat itself in a different order, I’ve long felt the siphon would have been the ideal brewer to replace drip. After all, the siphon fixes the following drip issues:

  • Grounds to Water Ratios remain constant when making different size batches.
  • Easy to maintain in-standard brewing temperature.
  • Grind is less critical because it has no effect on contact time.

There may be other benefits too. But, in an effort to keep this review from taking my record for the all-time windiest, let’s now cut to our Hario version on the test bench. It’s a beauty all right. I promise not to let looks intoxicate me, but as with my marriage, I’m a sucker for looks. And this one’s a knockout. But, can it make coffee? And how! The Hario Syphon and its companion infrared heater are amazingly competent in that ability. This is a completely professional kit for any barista. Best of all, for the well-heeled devotee, it offers perhaps the ultimate home siphon setup. Syphon majesticYou get:

  • A lower bowl on a sturdy metal stand. The glass is clearly a thick, robust, tempered type. The upper bowl’s stem (in my experience) is often prone to breakage, but with this unit so far, no such problem.
  • Two filter types. You get the original cloth filter, that is most effective and (I think) the original method, offering the cleanest, clearest coffee. You also get a Hario-designed metal filter which effectively filters and apparently matches the flow rate of the cloth one, so they are interchangeable. More sediment but that’s what metal filters do. Much more convenient.
  • Infrared heat. To me flames take too long, the liquid fuel is a hassle and flames vary in temperature due to air flow. To be honest, infrared still isn’t fast enough for me, but it looks beautiful and is wind resistant.

Say What You Think, Kev… I absolutely think this siphon is the best one I’ve yet used and I’ve used lots of them. It brews some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, which is saying a lot. But……… all siphon brewers I’ve yet tested have the following potential issues:

  • Variable contact time. Try though I may, I find the idea of shutting off the heat and then expecting the coffee to dutifully drop back through that filter to the bottom again varies a bit. I’ve done pretty well overall. After some practice with this unit I was able to get a four minute contact time within fifteen seconds most of the time… but, not always. Compared to drip or other full immersion methods such as French press, the siphon varies more and I see no solution to this. I made one last batch before starting to write this review and I had a nearly six minute extraction. The coffee still tasted fine, but it is worth noting for those to whom it matters.
  • The cloth filter is a hassle. Not this one in particular. All of them. If you’re an occasional user, it’s practically a no-go as storing the cloth filter requires cold water, a spot in the refrigerator to keep it cold, and frequent water replenishment. If you use the cloth filter often they are prone to absorbing built-up coffee tastes. The stainless filter, which I admit I used for most of my testing, allows fine sediment through. Paper, my personal filter material first choice is not an option. (Update: See below under tweaks for just such an option.)
  • Heating, even with the fancy infrared heat source, is not fast. Compared to coffee brewers such as Bunn’s Phase Brew, Kitchen Aid’s KCM0802, OXO’s 12-cup Barista Brain and others that get the water to SCAA certified brew temps before contact begins, the room-to-ideal temperature on this siphon brewer using the Infrared heater is roughly ten minutes. Too long. I learned quickly to heat the water in a separate kettle first. Solves the problem and not that big a hassle, but still an extra step.

Syphon closeup So, recommended or not? I will never knowingly write anything but the truth in this blog. While I acknowledge that this brewer still requires more active concentration from the end user, I also know it makes some of the best coffee I’ve yet tasted. No getting around it. For ultra-fresh coffee, very good quality coffee, roasted to its more flavorful degree, the Hario Syphon does a unique job. Carefully used, you can get a very thorough extraction, full of fruit and complexity. You truly feel you are tasting deep into the coffee. So, yes, highly recommended, with the caveat that you must become part of the task of brewing it. It is not yet truly automated in this product, and if used in a way that is automated, you are, in my opinion, giving up flavor in exchange. How Do I Use It? There are lots of ways to use a siphon or vacuum brewer. Here’s my personal method.

  • Heat four cups of water in an electric kettle to 200°F.
  • Weigh 38 grams fresh roasted beans and grind them a coarser than auto-drip but a notch or two finer than for Chemex drip (coarse).
  • Once water is heated to 200°F, transfer it to the empty glass bottom half and place on infrared heater. Turn heater on to maximum or one notch less.
  • Place empty upper mixing vessel with filter inserted into lower half so that they fit snugly together.
  • After water has completely risen scoop or pour grounds into top half. Very gently stir near top to ensure all grounds are wet. Start timer.
  • At one minute begin another few seconds of stirring. Do not stir downward, as I found if you do, there’s a risk that some amount of brewed coffee will work itself down into the bottom half. Reduce heat a few notches after stirring.
  • At two minutes stir gently again. Lower heat a notch or two.
  • At three minutes, stir one last time.
  • At around three-twenty, turn off heat. After a few seconds, the coffee will begin its final descent into the lower bowl, which becomes a server upon completion.
  • When the coffee has completely returned to the bottom, carefully unplug the upper bowl, remove it and place it in the top coffee, which when upside down, becomes a holder for the spent grounds.
  • Serve.

Tweaks

You should know that I notice a significant difference between using a cloth and metal filter. The cloth does a more thorough job removing grounds, some might say ideal, although I’ve been around coffee long enough to know that ideal is a subjective term. Let’s just say it’s my favorite. At the recent CoffeeCon NY festival I noticed Georgio’s Coffee’s Georgio Testarossa using a siphon to brew his own delicious fresh-roasted coffee. I also noticed the brew’s viscosity matched my own using the cloth filter. I asked if he was using cloth. “No, paper”, he responded. “Paper”, I exclaimed. Then he disassembled his filter to reveal how he’d cut matching circles from a Bunn filter. Look at the amount of fine grounds a little paper can hold back. It's up to you. Some people use fine grind for vacuum. I used to, but lately I’ve found a coarser grind to work best. Siphons can use any grind as grind really does little to affect contact time. Of course surface area exposure affects the taste strength; that remains. Using the metal filter I find the coarse grind reduces particles in your cup. I use close to what I’d use for regular drip.

Conclusion

The Hario Syphon is a gorgeous brewer that can make state-of-the-art coffee. I had both the single-knob and digital control base units. I found each to work well. The digital control unit will appeal to anyone who enjoys its programmable features, although to be honest, I didn’t explore them. Different article. The filter options are enough to make me choose this vacuum unit. I never felt the glass was fragile and had no incidents nor near-incidents during my tests. About the only thing missing compared to drip pour-over such as a Hario V60 is the ease of controlling brewing temperature. Vacuum/siphon is high-temperature brewing, inherent in the process. But the results are impressive. Any time during my time with this unit that anyone came to visit they immediately noticed the unit. Whenever I offered to make coffee and asked if they had a preference, the unanimous response was to point directly at the Syphon and say, “That one!”

Unhesitatingly, highly recommended.

Why I Created CoffeeCon

Kevin Sinnott AKA CoffeeKevin

CoffeeCon is a lifelong dream to give consumers a chance to see and compare different coffees and coffeemaking gear. When I first started my interest in coffee, there were few coffeemakers. Now there are many. The internet’s role in this is obvious. It’s now easy to see and read about so many methods and bean varieties. But, the internet has one limitation: It is not possible to come face to face with these methods. Like shoes, loudspeakers or other products, the missing element is undeniable and huge. I’ve ordered so many coffees and coffee brewers, only to find they did not suit me. Sometimes just a taste will tell. Other times I’ve held off, only to find by chance that a given method was perfect for me.

Well, CoffeeCon answers this need. You simply come and compare. Have you wanted to see what the Chemex fuss is all about? Wondered if the vacuum method is too complex? Will the French press give you too many leftover grounds in your cup? Now you’ll know.

There’s a second reason for CoffeeCon. I’ve met a few experts during my quest, who know things, some big, some little, about how to brew with various methods. Coffee can easily produce as complex a beverage as wine, but wine comes to us as a finished product. Chill, open and drink. Coffee does not. Coffee requires some knowledge. It is really a cooking art. Not everyone wants to become a renown coffee chef, but to be able to brew a perfect cup is not really beyond the scope of anyone, but, like riding a bicycle, baking cookies or any other worthy creation, we need to be shown once by someone who knows how to do it. I say this as a published author of two books on the subject, a producer who created a how-to coffee video and writer of countless articles on the subject. None of it is as effective as seeing it performed by an expert, and then doing it yourself with some help. Again, the web cannot really do this. CoffeeCon can.

If you stop reading and sign up for CoffeeCon here, that’s fine. But, there are a couple more reasons I think CoffeeCon’s time has come.

Consumers are a powerful force in any industry. They are not organized and never meet. We are isolated and that prevents us from having the clout we need. I think people in the coffee business will benefit from meeting us. They need to hear our concerns. They try to buy focus groups and mimic other industries, but there’s not substitute for them hearing from us just what we think. A year ago, some people in the coffee business got together to discuss some important world coffee ecology issues. The attendance was several coffee roasters, a coffee importer, a brewing manufacturer and a trade organization administrator. Like Christ at the United Nations, not a single coffee farmer was invited, nor were any consumers. CoffeeCon changes this.

The final reason is so simple I’m surprised no one has considered it before. Coffee aficionados have something in common. I’ve attended wine tastings and one of the fun aspects is meeting other red wine enthusiasts and hearing their opinions, not just about wine, but where they come from, what their best experience so far was, that kind of thing. Again, the web does not really bring us together, well it does, but only so close.

Come be a part of CoffeeCon 2012. If nothing else, I want to meet you. I want to share a cup or two. I want to show off my favorite brewing method. What is it? Come and find out.

Starbucks does the Unthinkable: Blonde Roast

Blonde Coffee Moment

Starbucks has happily shocked a lot of us by introducing a new light roast. Like anything they do, it is accompanied by media hype. Frankly, I’m happy to see them benefit from doing the right thing. I’m happy that the coffee will taste better, which I think it will because they are capable. I wanted to get my genuine positive points out first, both because it is appropriate and because it’s the right decision and it will taste better. What it is not is good marketing, which may surprise a lot of people.

This was heightened for me reading a sound byte by Robert Passikoff of Brand Keys, a New York City (marketing?) consulting firm. He said, “”It’s just good marketing. If virtually half the people say that the more European, heavier-tasting coffee is not to their liking, why not (do it)?” I could take Mr Passikoff to task for calling it more European – not, the Starbucks roast originated in San Francisco (and Alfred Peet). But, what makes me bristle more is calling it marketing. It might be paying attention to consumer trends but that is not marketing.

Good marketing is leading. Roasters such as George Howell, Oren’s Daily Roast, Counter Culture and Intelligentsia are light roast’s marketing champs. They forged ahead when angel investment groups would have looked cross-eyed that any small-time coffee guys were bucking the Starbucks “secret sauce”, the black roasted product with umami (savoriness). Starbucks marketing was so good so early and it convinced people that overroasted coffee was a virtue, that the only reason it was light roasted was to save weight loss during roasting. Still, sometimes people unchurched in the nomenclature of the coffee industry would simply say Starbucks was too strong, and this was even true among some specialty coffee folks.

Coffee strength alone was never the real problem with Starbucks, although it might seem like it at first glance. Many years ago, after Starbucks first came to rule the Evil Empire of consumer coffee, they attempted briefly to follow the Specialty Coffee Association’s hefty brewing formulas. Consumers collectively gagged and, again in a response to consumers, Starbucks hastily backed off in the brew basket. They made it less strong, but it might be argued that consumers were less in angst about the strength than that they were really tasting the stuff for the first time under the full-strength taste spotlight. The reality and the the real problem was roast. Starbucks came out a while back with a Pikes Roast, which attempted to bring their roast up a few notches lighter. It goes to show just how dark was Starbucks roasting that some, including me, were unable to appreciate Pikes as anything approaching a light roast.

The coffee business likes to pat itself on the back for marketing. It’s as if it doesn’t really believe in its product and are privately saying, “Can you believe people actually like this stuff”? There are two areas where the market (not to say “marketing”) has gone and in both these directions, Starbucks is a follower. So-called slow brew methods, such as Chemex, Hario and other drip techniques have replaced espresso with coffee aficionados. Truthfully, Starbucks never sold espresso anyway but café lattes. Slow brew means filtered coffee, which is really the specialty coffee world’s “special sauce”. Not only is Starbucks burning off the most prized flavors in their roast. They finish it off using an espresso machine. Espresso was invented as a socialist experiment to shorten the Italian coffee break and to bring forth flavors from some of the world’s least costly coffees, not exactly in lock step with the flavor seduction a Chemex can achieve with high-end beans.

Lately, espresso has become the proletariat drink and single-origin slow-brew drip the beverage choice of the literati. Witness Oliver Strand’s precious New York Times columns. Slow brew drip using some single family farm’s beans is cool. This movement was started by high-end consumers, independent farmers who learned to market their coffees using direct trade and, lastly, those high-end coffee guys previously named who stuck it out after Starbucks had attacked them and taken a good portion of their market share. Now consumers flock to them and places like Grumpys, Blue Bottle, Stumptown, all delivering a much lighter roast, and most highlighting the virtues of a small personal pot of coffee brewed per guest or couple.

Meanwhile, Starbucks has done a great job creating community centers. They are modern suburbia’s equivalent of Target, with the same uniformity. They can rightfully claim to have invented or at least won in this competition. The new roast is different. It will allow consumers to have it their way, which is a lighter way. I wish Starbucks well in joining them with the Blonde roast. It might be considered flexible and a smart response. But, it was not a marketing coup.

©2011 Kevin Sinnott All rights reserved.

Hario V60: Reinventing Manual Drip or Overpriced Geek Gear?

There is hip and there is hip. The Hario V60 is definitely what the doctor ordered for the new slow coffee movement, that is brewed coffee done by hand, one cup at a time. I heard some marketing guru state the other day that the single-cup coffee market was going to be big. Really? That would have been big news a few years ago. Frankly, I’ve been using one-cup brewers for a dozen years, but I’m not claiming to be psychic.

Recession Chic: You already own a cup, half the coffeemaker.

They are just what the doctor ordered for upscale expensive beans, and my desire to drink a brewed cup par excellence. Manual drip brewing is a superb extraction method. Realize that brewing 10 cups at a time is difficult for drip because it takes so long for hot water to get hot, and get through the grounds without over-extracting and becoming bitter. One cup? No problem.

Let’s look at what’s different about the Hario and why it’s getting such a buzz.

Brewer – the power of this brewer is the bottom, where the coffee exits. Usually it’s a tiny hole. This allows the brewer to regulate the water to help control how long the water is in contact with the grounds. If the water goes through too fast, you just get hot water. If it’s too slow, you get bitter coffee. The Hario hole is so big, it hardly controls the flow at all. This allows you to grind super fine and that is mostly a good thing. The Hario presumes you will grind your own coffee. If you use preground drip grind, it the water will likely run through too fast. The key to grinding is to grind fine enough to slow the drip, ending up with between four and six minutes contact between the water and grounds. In this way, it is similar to the Chemex, which also has a large gap at the filter bottom.

Negligee-thin filter

The filter is an extension of the philosophy of the exit hole. The filter appears designed to encourage flow, not hold it back. Again, this will encourage you to grind fine. The filter paper is designed to be practically transparent, quite different from Chemex’s, which seems thicker and slower in comparison.

Grind – so what grind you should use? I said between 4 and 6 minutes is the ideal contact time. But, why such a large spread? Well, this allows for your personal taste, but also when you grind finer for drip, there’s a double effect. The finer grind slows the flow, but it also increases contact area between the water and grounds, so trial and error is necessary. I found when brewing four cups, which this brewer is capable of, I ground slightly coarser, still a fine grind, but just a bit less fine, so that my entire batch was ready in six minutes. When I only needed to brew one cup, I ground superfine, but it still took less time because there was less water to run through the grounds, so I had to grind very fine, almost a powder, and due to the increased ground surface exposed to hot water, I got the same strength in about four minutes. Is that clear? I hope so.

Oversize Hario coffee exit means use fine grind.

The Hario has these swirling fins inside. One colleague of mine was just overwhelmed with this brilliance of this innovation. I must just be different, but I fail to see how important these are. They add a nice visual design touch, but I seriously doubt if they really encourage a specific flow in any significant way.

The Hario V60 is available in plastic, glass and ceramic versions. I tested the least expensive plastic version. I would expect the ceramic version to be allow the water to cool fastest, and glass perhaps slowest, but I’d reckon the water travels through the grounds so quickly that it won’t be an issue.

Nice brewing view of first pour. Note channels peeking through filter.

Here’s my method: Boil some good tasting water. Place one 10gram scoop of coffee per 6 ounce cup. I used Counter Culture’s Peruvian Valle de Santuario for my tests. Grind fine, finer than for auto drip, but definitely not espresso grind. As grind is so important to this brewer’s performance, expect to do some futzing to get the taste you like. Also expect to alter your grind if you change the batch brew volume. For four cups, I weighed 40 grams coffee, and backed off to almost an auto-drip grind. Then the contact time between grounds and water was just shy of 6 minutes. This particular coffee has vanilla, fig and chocolate notes in it and the Hario brought out all the noble acidity and richness I could ask for. I suspect the filter paper webbing has a lot to do with the extraordinary success of the Hario V60. The filter is the closest to a glass or fine mesh filter with all the flavor and oil you could ask for, yet absolutely no sediment.

The Hario rinses clean, but the plastic version I tested is not dishwasher safe!

The Hario V60 is a fine brewer, far from being overpriced and it is not just geek gear. If you want jewelry or high end kitchenware, you can buy a glass or ceramic model. It does not displace either the Melitta cone nor Chemex, but it offers a fun and good tasting option to manual brewing, and places a healthy emphasis on grinding fine, rather than counting on the exit hole or filter to regulate contact time. With its innovative filter paper that offers the best in flavor transparency, the Hario V60 is a winner.

Highly recommended.


©2010 Kevin Sinnott All rights reserved.

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