If there’s any coffee maker that looks like it’s designed by a mad coffee scientist, it’s the siphon.
A device of shiny metal, crystal clear glass, and flame, it’s one that’ll make the eyes of your friends go wide—and it’ll also brew some amazing coffee
In fact, siphon coffee is widely considered some of the best, purest coffee. The method produces a stunningly smooth and velvety brew, and it’s no wonder that cafes that serve it charge $8 or more!
But you don’t need to empty your wallet for siphon coffee at cafes—you can just make it yourself at home.
Let me walk you through the main considerations of buying a siphon coffee maker. By the end, you’ll know exactly what kind of siphon you want and what type of heat source would work best for your unique setup.
Stovetop VS Standalone Designs
Coffee from a stovetop siphon is the same as from a standalone siphon. The main difference is in how the technique and location changes.
Stovetop siphons must be used on, well, a stovetop. This limits where you can brew and adds a little less flair to the experience. However, using a stove gives you a decent amount of control over the heat level.
Standalone siphons come with a stand that raises the lower bulb to make room for some type of heat source, usually an alcohol or butane burner. This allows you to brew coffee other places than the stove—the dinner table, for example—and adds quite the aesthetic appeal.
Generally, stovetop models are cheaper since there’s no need for a stand or burner of some sort, though I have to be honest: I really love the visual aspect of a flame below the siphon. It looks and feels incredible—and I don’t mind my friends seeing me as a mad scientist.
Which one sounds best for you?
Heat Sources: Alcohol, Butane, Halogen, Or Electric?
Intense heat boils the water in the lower bulb, causes it to rise to the upper chamber, and brews the coffee. Really any source of heat can work (fire pit siphon coffee, anyone?), but these four devices below are by far the most common and effective.
- Alcohol Burner — These inexpensive burners require you to pour denatured alcohol into a small chamber and lite the wick with a lighter. It feels very hands-on and creates a steady flame that’s usually just right for brewing coffee. I have, however, had to clean up spilled alcohol all over the counter from knocking over the burner—that’s not much fun.
- Butane Burner — Butane is a pressurized gas that you can shoot into a small hole on the bottom of this burner. Its clean, quick, and there’s no chance of alcohol all over your counter. This burner type has a lever igniter that ignites the gas, and it’s really easy to use. You can control the intensity of the flame by adjusting the release speed of the gas. Personally, this is my favorite heat source, though it is a little more pricey.
- Halogen Lamp — This super-fancy heat source uses light rays to boil the water and brew the coffee. Yup, it’s high-tech and really awesome to look at. However, halogen lamps are expensive—like, $150 expensive—so I only suggest this if you have money to blow.
- Electric-Powered — Many new siphons come with an electric heater that’s akin to the heater in a water kettle. It’s specifically designed for siphon brewing, so it works pretty consistently, but it does reduce your level of control slightly over the heat level. Though frankly heat control is not really a huge deal with this particular method.
If you choose a standalone siphon, chances are your siphon will come with an alcohol or butane burner. However, not all of them do, and even if yours comes with an alcohol burner, there’s nothing stopping you from upgrading to butane later on.
Selecting The Right Brew Amount
Like with most coffee makers, the “cup” sizes of siphons don’t always align with the actual capacity in ounces. For example, an 8-cup stovetop Yama has a 40-ounce capacity, but the 8-cup Bodum Pebo only has a 34-ounce capacity. Yeah, it’s annoying.
So here’s what you need to know: siphons function best when you brew close to max capacity.
A 34-ounce siphon is going to be easiest to use when you make about 34 ounces of coffee. A 16-ounce siphon is going to work best when you make 16 ounces of coffee. Sure, you can have some variation, but the results are most predictable when you stick to the suggested brew amount.
So you’re going to have to decide: do you want to make 2 mugs of coffee at a time with a 16-ounce model, or do you want a bigger 34-ounce siphon for dinner parties?
Siphon Filters (Ever Seen A Full-Glass Coffee Filter?)
Siphons can be used with the usual three main filter types—metal, cloth, and paper—but there’s also an incredibly unique glass filter you can opt to use. Let’s compare these filter types.
- Metal — Stainless steel filters result in a robust flavor by allowing aromatic coffee oils and microscopic coffee grounds through to your final mug. This leads to a punchy aroma and heavier, satisfying body.
- Cloth — The quintessential siphon filter, cloth lets through all those natural coffee oils as well, but keeps every single coffee ground out of your mug. This leads your final mug to have intense aromas and a silky, velvety mouthfeel.
- Paper — You know what paper-filtered coffee tastes like: crisp, clean, and smooth. This is true for siphon coffee as well.
- Glass — The innovative Cona Glass Filter Rod is a full-glass coffee filter that’s designed with dozens of tiny holes that let liquid coffee through, but not large grounds. The result is much like coffee from a metal filter: robust with a heavier body.
You can’t go wrong with any filter type, but I strongly suggest you try out cloth filters. This is the filter type that’s given the siphon its prestige and fame (other than looking awesome, of course).
Recommended siphon Brewers
Here are some of the siphon models that have become really popular over the last few years.
Of course, there are plenty of other incredible and effective coffee siphons out there. Have a different one that you prefer? Drop us a line and let us know!
You can’t really go wrong with a siphon—they all can brew incredible coffee. You can go wrong, however, with the wrong coffee beans.
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