Howdy all, I've been lurking around CoffeeGeek for a couple months now, and I figured I'd ask the fine people here for their opinion regarding first-time vacuum pot use.
Background: I wouldn't consider myself a real coffee enthusiast; I'm more of a general food enthusiast (also a chef), and coffee happens to fall under the umbrella of food. I've always ground my own coffee and brewed in a hand-me-down French press. I've considered the results...adequate.
Now I want to step up my coffee-making, and give a vacuum pot a try (I also spent some time as a chemist, and vac pots have that "lab equipment" look that I love).
My question then is, what would be a good "entry-level" vacuum pot?
I've done a bit of looking, and had my eye on a Bodum Santos (although the cheapest one I could find was $60 (and used, which always makes me a bit nervous), which is a little pricey for my current budget). There was also a Yama SY-8 model (more reasonable at about $35), but it looked a little...dubious, especially compared to some of the other models.
Things I'm looking for: -Easy to use. Or at least with good instructions. -Cost. I don't want to buy a piece of junk, but I also don't need anything fancy. -Size: doesn't need to be huge, just enough for 2-3 (6 oz.) cups, or somewhere around there.
Perhaps more pressing, I also need to upgrade my grinder. I'm currently using a Mr. Coffee blade grinder that I picked up at a thrift store, and which I'm pretty sure is infested with demonic spirits. I've managed so far by giving my grounds a quick run through a sifter to separate out all the dust and microparticles that lead to French press sludge, but I think what I really need is a good burr grinder (especially if I'm going to be using a vac pot).
I was thinking of getting a manual ceramic-burr model to begin with, as they are quite a bit cheaper than the electric models. Unfortunately, I have no experience with manual grinders, and couldn't really find much info on them. Questions, then: -Are they really that terrible to use? I don't mind doing a bit of manual labor, especially because I only make 2-3 cups at a time, but is it difficult to obtain a good, uniform grind with them? -What constitutes a "good" burr grinder? I've seen some conflicting opinions about this, and I was hoping to benefit from y'all's experience. -Any special maintenance needs?
Vac pot is a great choice, probably my favorite way to brew coffee.
Yama is not the least bit dubious. For 2-3 6oz cups, the 5 cup Yama should be fine. I typically make a full pot with 625g water, which yields enough coffee to almost fill my 600ml thermal carafe.
I believe Northwest Glass is the American distributor for Yama. In any case, they carry a great range of Yama vac pots and parts: Click Here (www.northwestglass.com)
Vac pot filters are a whole subject unto themselves. My favorite filters are paper disc filters in the Yama filter holder that Northwest Glass sells for use with a metal screen filter, and my second favorite is the Bodum Santos/Pebo plastic disc (which you can buy as a separate part). Both yield a nice clean cup with no stalls, and are not very sensitive to grind or agitation.
Some people love the standard Yama cloth filters or vintage glass rod filters, but I find both too fussy for my preference -- cloth because of maintenance and glass rods because they are easy to knock out of position during brewing, are more sensitive to grind and more prone to stalls (in my experience).
For a grinder, you can't really go wrong with a Baratza for home vac/drip use. Even the bottom of the line will get the job done and they have very good deals on factory refurbished units on their website.
Sorry, I don't have any experience with hand grinders.
Hope this helps.
Just because it happened to you doesn't make it interesting.
In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.
A Vac pot will give you a cup very similar to a press pot but much cleaner, so if you do not like the sludge that remains in the bottom of your cup from a press pot, you might really like a vac pot, it is my fav way to brew other than espresso.
A hand grinder can do a great job but with quite a bit of work on your part, think several hundred turns of the crank to get your coffee ground. Some people don't mind and enjoy the process as part of their routine, me, personally, I would rather spend my time drinking the coffee than grinding it. YMMV.
Vac pots tend to work best when used at their designed max size. Yes you can brew stronger and make less etc but they are what they are. Good deals can be had on used pots but watch out for the gasket, this is the heart of a vac pot and if it is bad, there is nothing that can make that pot work. Some pots do not have replacement seals so when the seal goes bad, the pot is shot. I have a '40s era pot and it still works great so YMMV!
While I have not used every pot out there, in fact I have used very few of them, they all work the same so I really can't see any advantage of one over any other performance wise. Go with a pot is the best deal you can find on the size you want.
In real life, my name is Wayne P.
Feed the newbs, starve the trolls and above all enjoy what you drink!
I like hand grinders, the top of the pack would be the Orphan Espresso Lido but its rather pricey if you are just getting into things
I also have the 5 cup Yama and can attest that it is really straight forward and simple to use. I like the stove top model just because it makes life less complicated for me, and I don't use alcohol torches often so that would be just another accessory for me to buy. I do use the metal filter because it allows me to just clean and reuse.
Bit of static in the grounds, but goes away with a stir with a metal spoon or stirrer.
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"...I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind;..." - Lord Kelvin RECIPES thread => http://www.coffeegeek.com/forums/coffee/machines/585708
For siphon, it is a bit easier to stir if the top vessel is more or less straight, instead of round.
Both Yama and Hario make decent siphons. The TCA (5) makes 120mlx(5) size drink. I actually like the siphon to be smaller, like the TCA2 or TCA3. This way there are more chances to practice, and try more coffee.
For hand grinder, my current favorite <$100 is the Porlex, which comes in tall and mini versions. Due to design, burrs on the Porlex don't wabble as much as the Hario grinders. I also have a Zassenhaus, but despite the reputation and price, the grind is quite uneven, at least in my unit.
Unless you get the stove top or electric version, plan on getting a small butane camping burner. The plastic handle of my stove top Yama eventually melted, due to my carelessness.
Since you are in SF, the siphon and hand grinders are available at Ritual. You can also see the siphon in action at Blue Bottle, at the Mint location.
Siphon brewing is a lot of fun. In addition to hot brewing, the apparatus can also be used for cold drip brewing......
Took a research trip down to Blue Bottle today; picked up a Hario hand grinder that they had received in a damaged package for cheap, and got them to give me a demonstration with their vac pots. Those things are officially neat.
One question about stovetop models: I imagine you need a heat diffuser of some type (glass on burner seems like a bad idea...). Would a normal high-density (read: cast-iron) skillet work, or are there better ways? I had a thought about using a hot-water bath too...
Also, how forgiving are vac pots w.r.t. ground size? I've fiddled a bit with the new grinder, and it delivers a grind that is slightly less uniform than I was hoping (but still much better than the Whirly Blade Demon).
Also also, is there a significant advantage / disadvantage to stovetop- vs. burner-type pots? I could easily snag a Bunsen burner from the lab, but a stovetop model would be a little less in violation of my lease terms (my apartment building has some rather strict rules regarding open flames).
For the Hario Slim, take out the burr with carrier, and wrap Teflon tape around to decrease the wobble. This is not a permanent fix, though, as the Teflon eventually wears out.
Other than available sizes and shapes, there is probably no taste difference between stove top vs burner type.
Now the controversial part....as long as the coffee particle distribution is within certain range, ground and not chopped by a blade "grinder", the coffee will taste fine. I read a scientifc article that, from memory, at the point of impact of the blade to coffee, the temperature can be as high as 80-90c, therefore the suboptimal flavor. Hand grinding has the advantage of low generated temperature, so the aromatic compounds are better preserved. In fact, when coffee is served blind made with different grinders, so the tasters are without bias, often the coffee that is picked as "better" tasting is not the more expensive grinder, or grinder with supposedly more uniform particles. Just some coffee for thought.
When Barismo first carried the "Skerton"/Skeleton grinder, they touted the aroma-preservation properties...I had a Porlex for a while, but I don't know if I can verify that. It's also important to note that with vacuum pot, it's okay if your grinder isn't the most even, or if there's more dust than you'd like. That sort of grind would really throw you off for drip--I hated the Porlex for drip, soon discarded it in fact--but for vacuum, it's not ideal but certainly serviceable, I would think.
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