Experience with vacuum coffee brewers
February 28, 2011 4:53 PM   Subscribe

I'd love to hear anything you know about vacuum coffee brewers. I watched this video, and it just looks sweet and fun to make. I've looked a bit online, but I live in Portland, Oregon in case anyone has bought one here in town.

I've read a couple CoffeeGeek reviews, and they all seem pretty positive. I've seen the coffee produced described a few times as a less strong Americano, which definitely sounds good to me. And most of the products I've seen fall within my price range (up to around $50). But I trust MetaFilter, so I'm wondering which products you've had good experiences with. How does it taste? Versions that are extra fun to watch? Anything you can think of.

posted by Corduroy to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I should mention I'm primarily interested in the stove top ones, though the gas burner ones look amazing (but seem more expensive, seeing as they require buying gas; or am I wrong about the expense?).
posted by Corduroy at 4:58 PM on February 28, 2011

I have not had good experiences at ALL for the stove top vac pots, they're pretty poor construction and the one's i've worked with have a remarkably small life span, and working on an electric stove is a pain in the ass with these. The gas ones that i've worked with and seen last waaaay longer. Getting a gas (usually butane i think?) table top burner like this one (they've got a billion of them out at Fubon for like 20 bucks) is probably your best bet...the ones at Fubon are smaller in footprint too. Also, think REI if footprint is important in you kitchen.

Since you're in Portland, figuring out if you like the taste would be pretty easy. I would go check out Heart Roasters on Burnside, or (i think) either of the Barista shops. They'll hook you up with some vac-pot lovin, and then you can buy the beans you just tried, to compare it against however you typically brew it up at home. I think both shops also sell the vacpots as well, of pretty high quality.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:10 PM on February 28, 2011

I have a Yama 3 cup (12 oz) tabletop vacpot that I got for Christmas, and it's treated me well so far. I wanted a tabletop model rather than a stovetop one for aesthetic reasons, and I like being able to perform and watch (and show off to company) the brewing process at the table rather than in the kitchen.

I've just been using the alcohol burner that came with my vacpot, so I can't speak to the costs of a butane burner, but a $4 can of denatured alcohol from the hardware store looks like it will be enough to fuel the alcohol lamp for hundreds of pots of coffee.

One thing I would recommend is trying a glass filter rod (check eBay for a Corey rod or a Silex Lox-In filter for $5-$10). I've found them to make a good pot of coffee, and keeping them clean is much less of a hassle than the cloth filter that comes with the Yama.
posted by JiBB at 5:32 PM on February 28, 2011

I dunno, I think vac pots are about the theatre and am not convinced they make a superior cup. Among all the non-espresso brewing methods I've sampled, I keep coming back to pourover. I have an espresso setup at home, but at my office I have a Hario cone with a Zassenhaus hand grinder and a kettle. Best brewed coffee I've ever had, and cheap to boot aside from the somewhat pricey investment in the Zass.

If you're committed to vac, follow furnace heart's adice and invest in a butane heater or if you can find it a halogen one. Heating glass on the stovetop is a terrible idea. Be prepared for some nice refined cups, no grit, and a total pain in the ass cleanup.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:33 PM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I used to vac-pot. It took weeks (2 pots a day) to get my technique down perfectly. In the beginning I'd often have a 'stuck' pot (where the coffee does't get sucked back down.

I don't have time any more to roast and brew like I used to. They were the best cups of coffee I've ever had. I miss my vac-pot every day with every cup of Folgers dreck that gets brewed at work.

p.s. Cory rod never made much of a difference for me.
posted by tayknight at 6:06 PM on February 28, 2011

My ex had a Cona one with a spirit burner and glass rod, similar to the one in this video. It was a bit fiddly to make coffee (especially as he also insisted on grinding the beans fresh) but he was insistent that it made the best coffee. It certainly was good theatre for dinner parties etc and once I got used to using it, didn't take that long compared to using a french press. The clean up wasn't that much of a problem either IMO.
posted by *becca* at 6:24 PM on February 28, 2011

Thanks everyone! furnace.heart, I will definitely check some vacuum from one of those places first and see if I'm just in love with the vacuum shape. I'm intrigued by the butane or alcohol burning ones and will have to look into that more. Thanks for the link JiBB and *becca*, I like the style of both of those (I think I'm drawn to the elongated top vessels).
posted by Corduroy at 6:46 PM on February 28, 2011

Boiling water is too hot to brew coffee. I'm a big fan of the aeropress, which I think would also be classified as pourover, which would mean I'm 2nding ethnomethodologist.
posted by tenaciousd at 6:51 PM on February 28, 2011

I have a yama vacpot, I think it makes great coffee. I would say vacpot coffee > pour over > french press, at least for my taste. However the issue with vacpots is that it's a hassle and you can't make just one tiny cup, you need a larger volume of water for it to work right, but I don't remember how much, exactly. This is a problem for me because with pourover I often make 3oz strong cup and I don't want / can't drink more coffee at a time.

The most practical way to boil is to use a kettle on gas stove to bring to almost-boil, then finish with an alcohol lamp, if you use alcohol lamp just by itself it'll take forever.

sweetmarias has more good info.
posted by rainy at 7:43 PM on February 28, 2011

The water pulled into the top bulb with the coffee is not at boiling temp. It is rolling and looks like its boiling, but it's being pulled out of the bottom pot vigorously. I promise. It's not boiling.

I have a very treasured Yama pot from Sweet Marias. It makes, bar none, the very best cup of coffee you will ever have. The cup is has no sediment, no off taste from paper filters or dirty equipment. It's a very pure, direct experience of the bean. The only off pots I've had have been a result of a shitty roast (my own fault) or kinda stale beans. Black coffee from the vacuum press is perfection. No cream or sugar need apply.

I got the 8 cup for two people. The smaller size was a little small. I frowned when I had to buy another whole pot to replace the top bulb that broke when it fell off the stove, but thru the google I found a replacement parts source for pretty cheap.

It took maybe 2 times to master the technique. My partner, who really makes terrible coffee any other way (espresso or french press) easily nails a vacuum siphon pot every time. It looks complicated but it is easy. You will not regret getting one if you have access to freshly/well roasted beans.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:57 PM on February 28, 2011

I've had quite a few vintage ones through my hands (Australian, English, and US Pyrex branded ones, two Coreys, a Silex, and one Cona) and they were all good to the extent that filters were available (or could be made), and the rubber seal between the top and bottom containers hadn't cracked and had held it's shape. To my taste they make much nicer coffee than a percolator, slightly better than a drip filter or press, but not as good as an espresso machine.

The Silex was the one I was happiest with, but that had a well preserved seal, and came with a rod not filters.

I worked out how to get the best out of them from a couple of forums/review sites, which I'm failing to find right now. This seems closest, but seems aimed largely at short reviews of newer versions. Scan through the alphabetical list at the bottom for details on each brand and model. Try googling for other forums. There was certainly at least one other out there as recently as six months ago.

(Ook. Here's a collector's forum. Yahoo groups, which is why my googling wasn't working. And here's a broader list of resources related to coffee where you might find something.)
posted by Ahab at 8:18 PM on February 28, 2011

I have a vintage Cory, with a glass rod. It works a lot better than my first vacuum pot, a vintage Silex with poor seals.

It took practice to get the technique down. Most of that is the grind and the duration of brew.
I use an electric kettle to bring water to boiling temp, pour that into the base, put the top on, then the whole thing on a low burner (gas stove). We do this on weekends (or use a Chemex, or an Aeropress), and use a french press on weekdays.

I feel like vacuum pots brew from a medium roast better than other methods, particularly better than a Chemex with paper filter for the medium roasts.

I've seen Yama vacuum pots stocked at the Stumptown on Belmont.
Sweet Maria's is a good source.
Espresso Parts in Olympia is a good source too (search for "yama" or "hario" or "vacuum").
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 10:02 AM on March 1, 2011

Corduroy, if you feel like a road trip then I second Prince_of_Cups recommendation for Espresso Parts, and then you and I could hang out and jam. It's just an hour and a half away from you, up here in Olympia. Also we could talk about coffee - I used to work for Espresso Parts and I've gone to nationals before as a barista. EP's got the sweet yama's, and the butane upgrade (totally necessary, the alcohol burners are beyond wack). And they also have harios and aeropresses and a number of other home brew methods.

My brewing method, I shit you not, is a pasta strainer. A fine mesh pasta strainer, a real coarse grind (on my maestro). The coffee is in the strainer which sits in a bowl. Pour hot water (200 degrees, let it boil then let it sit away from the burner for 15 seconds) over the coffee, into the bowl. Stir, not in a circular pattern, but with large painting-like brush strokes. Let brew for 45 seconds (use a timer). Then pick the strainer up, out of the bowl, removing the coarse ground coffee.

Vac-pots lead to over-extraction, especially the stove top ones. Harios make your coffee taste like paper... but that's any time your coffee is brewed in paper. Pasta strainer makes your coffee taste like Pure F'in Magic. But yeah, I know, it doesn't look nearly as cool as the mad-scientist-vac-pot.
posted by special agent conrad uno at 12:17 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ha! That sounds awesome, conrad. I'd love to see the pasta strainer in action. We'll definitely make that happen this summer, when I'm on the farm in Rochester. I wonder if you could tastefully add some coffee undertones to some spaghetti if you strained noodles in the same strainer immediately after using it for coffee. Not sure what sort of sauce/cheese that would go well with....
posted by Corduroy at 4:58 PM on March 1, 2011

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