siphon coffee machine

Differences Between American And Japanese Siphon Coffee Brewing


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Siphon coffee brewing is essentially the utilization of vacuum process and upright glass chambers to brew coffee. For a techie, or true coffee connoisseur no coffee brewer is visually more interesting than the siphon coffee maker.

In fact, some small coffee shops give courses in how to use siphon brewing and test different brews. It becomes a focal point in a big draw for customers.

Strangely enough the process itself was invented in the 1830s in a laboratory. The principles have not changed since. The coffee makers have simply gotten more efficient and stylish.

Siphon coffee brewing has really caught on in Japan. I guess there love of technical and precision instrument processes appeals greatly to them. There is also an element of art and beauty to this process. Naturally, they have developed their own version of the siphon coffee method.

In this post we will compare and contrast the Japanese versus American methods of siphon coffee brewing and equipment.

Let’s see what Siphon brewing looks like. Check out this video.

Basic Siphon Coffee Brewing Method

We’re going to explain the basic siphon coffee brewing method. This basic method is very similar in both American and Japanese brewing methods. Physics is physics. The differences between the two methods are extremely subtle and will be detailed later.

Here we go on the basic method:

  1. Prepare the filter and coffee. Presoak filter warm water for about five minutes. Measure out the amount of coffee you want to use in place in the upper bowl The coffee should be a medium grind.
  2. Fill and boil water and lower carafe. Pour hot water into the lower carafe turn on your heat source and bring the water to a boil.
  3. Insert and attach stem of the upper bowl (containing the coffee), while the water continues to boil in the lower carafe.
  4. Hot water is forced upward toward coffee. Because of the expansion of the evaporated water it will mix with the ground coffee in the upper bowl.
  5. Stir the coffee. Stir the coffee to immerse all the grounds in the upper bowl. Wait for all the liquid to reach the upper bowl.
  6. Remove assembly from heat source. As the glass carafe school the evaporated water will contract brewed coffee is sucked down through the filter by gravity the pressure differential.
  7. All coffee is now in bottom container. The brewed coffee is finished and is now all in the lower carafe. Separate the assembly, and enjoy a great cup of coffee.

Easy, peasy, right?

Here are a couple of home siphon coffee maker examples:

 'Amazon's Choice' Good Starter Brewer Luxury Siver Finish Syphon Coffee Maker

The American Siphon Coffee Brewing Method

The American siphon coffee brewing method follows the basic outline given above for siphon brewing. However, there are few nuances which we will detail.

This will be helpful in distinguishing it from the Japanese method. The physics and water pressures are the same in each method, it’s just a couple details are changed.

Here are the changes:

  • Wait for all water to rise into upper bowl.
  • The coffee is not placed in the upper bowl until all the water has risen into it.
  • Add coffee. The coffee is not added until you have reached a stable temperature of approximately 185°. Use a thermometer to be accurate.
  • Adjust heat as necessary so that temperature is constant.
  • Gently agitate coffee until it is moistened. Pretend you are gently buttering toast, not stirring chocolate milk.
  • What the coffee brew for about 30 seconds. Quickly and vigorously agitate the coffee about a dozen stirrers to create a whirlpool.
  • Turn off heat and serve when coffee is sucked back into bottom bowl.

The Japanese Siphon Coffee Method

To say the Japanese are fanatic about siphon coffee brewing is a bit of an understatement. They have developed it into a fine art. Here is the Japanese national siphon champion giving a demonstration at the Atlanta trade-show.

Once again, we will not list each and every step in the siphon brewing process which has been covered previously.

We will only note significant differences between the Japanese brewing method in the American brewing method.

Here are the differences: 

  • The Japanese will initially place the upper bowl at an angle (not securely) on the lower bowl with the chain dangling.
  • As opposed to using a thermometer as the American method dictates, they measure the temperature of the water by observing the chain as it touches the water. The water is hot enough if tiny bubbles gently form around the chain. No bubbles - the water is too cool, vigorous bubbles - the water is too hot (remove the pot or just the flame).
  • Once the proper temperature is reached, they will flip the top ball upright push down so what is securely attached and the vacuum reaction can occur.
  • The Japanese start with the coffee in the upper bowl before placing on the lower bowl.
  • They wait until an inch or two of water has risen and then using the stirring paddle, gently poking (not stirring) the coffee until it is immersed and soaked. After waiting about 30 seconds they will give the coffee of vigorous stir creating a fast and deep whirlpool. The stir is only about 10 to 15 strokes. It takes skill to get the whirlpool up to speed.

In some videos, once the assembly was removed from the heat they used a cool towel to wrap around the bottom bowl making the coffee sucked down faster. (Please note that the grand champion did not do that, he poured straight and hot on the process was finished).

This is just my opinion, but I believe the Japanese have combined siphon brewing as an art form & a little bit of theater with technical precision.

Check out this video for a bit of theater and precision. (all that to make one pot of coffee):

What Is The Verdict: The Conclusion

After doing a lot of research and watching count was videos on the different coffee siphon methods, my conclusion is a bit of a cop out. Either method uses the exact same physical principles to brew a good cup of coffee.I think stylistically, you should go with whatever works for you.

One thing I would strongly recommend you keep it detailed log that shows you amounts of coffee, water, brewing times, beans and type of grind. So that when you finally hit that perfect cup of coffee, that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, you can duplicate it.

Below are them samples siphons ranging from the basic to the elaborate. Remember, they all work on the same principles. So whether it is fashion forward style, mechanical elaborateness, or basic economical functionality that appeals to you, there is sure to be a coffee brewer that fits your needs.

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