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The Vacuum Brewer FAQ
Home >> Coffee >> Vacuum Brewers >> VacPot FAQ
The Vac Pot FAQ

This is probably the most complete FAQ online for vacuum brewers (aka siphon brewers, aka balance brewers, aka glass brewers) online right now.  It started some time ago when it was obvious that vac pots raised a lot of questions that didn't have centralized answers. So I set out to build it.

The process I followed is this. I sat down with a few friends who know nothing about how vacuum brewers work, and asked them their questions. I came up with the answers. Then I added a few topics that they didn't cover. If you have any vac pot questions you do not see covered here, fire off an email to me and I'll do my best to answer them. Title any email "Vac Pot FAQ question" to help me out a bit.

Frequently Asked Questions
  1. How does a vacuum brewer work?
  2. Do different vac pots work differently?
  3. Are there automatic vacuum brewers?
  4. Has the process of vacuum brewing changed much?
  5. What materials are used in vacpots?
  6. What materials are the best to consider?
  7. Tell me more about the variety of heat sources used for vacpots?
  8. What fuels are commonly used for vacpots?
  9. What is the history of the vacuum brewer?
  10. When did vacuum brewers show up in America?
  11. Why don't I see vacuum brewers at every department store?
  12. What is the status of vacuum brewers today?
  13. Exactly who does make vacpots today?
  14. Where else can I buy a vacuum brewer today?
  15. There's lots of vacpots on eBay. What should I know?
  16. Vacpots come in sizes - which one is best for me?
  17. How hard are vacpots to use day to day?
  18. What grind should I use in a vacuum brewer?
  19. What types of filters are used for vacpots, and how do you use them?
  20. Should I pay special attention to the water I use in a vacpot?
  21. Should I preheat my water before pouring it into a vacuum brewer?
  22. How do I clean and maintain a vacuum brewer?
  23. What are the easiest vacuum brewers to clean?
  24. Do you have any special tricks for cleaning vacuum brewers?
1. How does a vacuum brewer work?
A vacuum brewer works on the principle of suction. This suction is caused by the expansion and contractions of gases - mainly one type of gas - water vapor. A vacuum brewer is made up of 4 parts - a bottom container, where the water initially sits; a top container, where the coffee grounds initially sit; a syphon tube connecting the two containers; and a filter, that allows liquid to pass through (and gases), but keeps most of the coffee grounds in the top container.

Once assembled, heat is applied to the bottom container. As the water heats up, some of it is converted to a gas - water vapor. If you remember your Grade 10 Physics class, vapor occupies a lot more space than the more densely packed liquid or solid forms it can achieve at different temperatures. As this vapor grows and expands - it seeks relief, and the only way to get it is through that syphon tube to the top chamber. The problem is that there is a lot of liquid acting as a barrier between the vapor and that syphon tube. So what does the vapor do? Why it pushes the water up the syphon tube!

This is how you get the heated water up to the top chamber, past the installed filter, where it then mixes with the coffee grounds. This continues until the water in the bottom vessel is lower than the bottom of the syphon tube (note, the syphon tube never touches the bottom of the low container - it clears it by about 1/4 of an inch or slightly less). Once that pesky water is out of the way, the vapor can easily escape up the tube.

This is a good thing, because if the vapor wasn't constantly escaping as it expands, it would a) cause the liquid up top to come back down, and b) the liquid in top would rapidly cool. Because this doesn't happen, and the vapor is constantly escaping at this point, the liquid in the top remains at near-ideal extraction temperatures - between 185F and 200F. It may look like the liquid up top is "boiling", but it isn't - what you are seeing is the escaping vapor from the bottom vessel.

This process continues for between 1 and 3 minutes of "brewing time" where the full volume of liquid that makes it to the top chamber remains there. Then you remove the heat source from the bottom vessel, and very quickly, the reverse of your science experiment occurs - instead of expanding, the gases in the lower chamber start to contract. As they contract, they begin to form a partial vacuum, where the pressure in the lower chamber is actually lower than that of the air around you.

Another event occurs - a "phase change" - when the vapor in the bottom chamber cools, at some point it converts back to liquid, and while this amount is miniscule, it does also boost the vacuum effect even more so than just the gases contracting. (thanks to Jack Denver for this info). These two events - contraction of the gases and the phase change between gaseous to liquid both form suction, and the only thing it can "suck" at this point is, you guessed it, the brewed liquid in the top chamber. This pulls down the liquid, in a gaining momentum, until all the liquid from the top vessel is back down in the bottom container. The effect is so efficient that, after all the liquid from the top is sucked down, your grounds in the top vessel are literally "vacuumed" dry by the process.

The end result is a brewed pot of coffee that was brewed at near ideal temperatures and leaves a very full, satisfying cup.
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2. Do different vac pots work differently?
In principle, all vac pots (or syphon pots) work in the same process - rapid expansion and contraction of gas causes the brew cycle. However, different types of syphon brewers work differently.

The most common type of vacuum brewer is the two globe type, with one vessel sitting atop the other, and a syphon tube stretching in between.

Balance brewers work on the same principal, but the liquids move side to side instead of up and down. they move over into a brew glass when heat is applied, and are suctioned back over to the kettle side when the heat is removed and a vacuum is formed. Balance brewers have the perk of being "automatic" in that the balance itself is what shuts off the flame, but it is also a potential drawback because the brewing time is short and not controlled by the user.

A still less common type is the Napier vacuum brewer, which is a one way only vacuum brewing device. It looks similar to a balance brewer, except that you add most of your pre-boiled water to the brewing side with the coffee grounds, only a small amount of boiled water to the kettle side, and apply heat. The heat expands the water vapors in the kettle, pushing steam through a siphon tube which agitates your pre-mixed slurry. Once the heat is removed, a vacuum is formed and it pulls your brewed coffee over to the kettle portion.
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3. Are there automatic vacuum brewers?
Plenty of them! In fact, the aformentioned balance brewers we amongst the world's first automatic kitchen appliances, and they date to the 1840s.

With the advent of electrical appliances in the early 20th century, Farberware brought out the first automatic vacuum brewer in North America. It featured a glass top and copper and chrome bottom, and had a heating element tied to a crude thermostat that would halt the electric power once a primitive sensor inside (usually an expandable piece of alloy) stretched or bent enough, due to heat, to break a circuit inside.

As the temperature died down, the coffee would move back to the bottom vessel. The sensor inside would contract (or unbend, or move), and reactivate the heat for short periods, keeping the coffee hot until you unplugged it. Very few of these devices had on/off switches.

In the 1940s, Sunbeam was at the forefront of the automatic coffee brewer market with their CoffeeMaster series, an all copper and chrome device that would automatically brew your pot, then maintain the heat of the coffee after brewing. It used a similar heating control as the Robots did. Cory also designed a similar vac pot in the late 1940s, as did other companies. Silex, pioneer of the glass vacuum brewer in America (their first models date back to the 1920s) jumped on the automatic bandwagon as well, but in a different way - they invented a timing device of sorts for their purpose built stoves that they sold with their vac pots. This device would automatically cut the heat after a certain period, allowing "hands off" brewing.

The last Sunbeam automatic device, the CoffeeMaster C50 model was sold in the early 1960s. Other than the rare balance brewer decendants (by this time a hand crafted, exclusive market with maybe 200, 400 units sold a year), no real automatic vacuum brewer was marketed worldwide until recently, when Bodum updated their venerable Santos model into a full fledged electronic vacuum brewer, complete with computerized control. This model is currently sold in N. America by Starbucks, under the name "Starbucks Utopia".
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4. Has the process of vacuum brewing changed much?
No. It still works pretty much the exact same way that was originally discovered back in 1840. The principle of gas expansion and contraction acting as a vacuum, providing both suction and pressure to push and pull water during the brewing process is exactly the same today, there's been no new discoveries to change the process.

Materials, methods, electronics, filters and the like may have changed or improved over the years, but the actual brewing process remains the same.
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5. What materials are used in vacpots?
Just about every material possible has been used in vac pots, including plastic, tin, chrome, copper, brass, glass, safety glass, stainless steel, even wood! Today's models are usually made from glass or in the case of the Starbucks Utopia, polycarbonate.
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6. What materials are the best to consider?
This is an opinionated question and answer, but I will attempt to give the answers for each material.

Some argue (myself included) that glass is the best material to use because it (generally) imparts no taste to the coffee, and is relatively easy to clean. The problem with glass is that it can be fragile, and in the case of glass filters - they do not work nearly as well as some other filtering methods. Still, glass is my first choice, and my tastebuds (at least) do notice the difference.

Others argue that steel is the best because of the longevity of it and how it can be "conditioned" where it improves the taste of your coffee. Some argue that steel leaves off flavors in your coffee, which is a sensitive brew - I personally do not find a "metallic" taste when I brew in my steel devices, or with a steel filter, but not everyone is the same way.

Another commonly used material (up until the 1950s) was copper covered with chrome. Farberware's robots were built this way (bottom vessel) as were the CoffeeMaster line from Sunbeam and some Corys, along with other models. The advantage of these materials were also their disadvantage - copper is a great material for keeping liquids hot, but in doing so, a copper device can stall the "kickdown" phase of the vac pot brewing cycle. Also, you can't see your brew in action, which is a cause for concern for many. Still, chrome imparts less flavour than steel does (so I've been told), so there is a plus on that side when it comes to metals.

Other materials were prevalent, but today polycarbonate is being used in the first mass-marketed vac pot in over 30 years - the Starbucks Utopia. I'm not a fan, no bones about it - polycarbonate was used to save costs, and to me is a detriment, because plastics will easily scratch and become ugly. But Bodum (the manufacturer) claims it used this material because it keeps the product lightweight and is safer to use compared to glass.
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7. Tell me more about the variety of heat sources used for vacpots?
When vac pots were first invented, a simple wick burner (like an old style Bunsen burner) was used as the heat source. To this day, you can buy vacuum brewers that use the same method of heating.

But today, as well as during the 20th century, vac pots use (have used) a wide range of methods to heat the water, and extract the coffee from the grinds. The Starbucks Utopia model is computer controlled for precise temperature and brewing controls, and can even be set on a timer basis for true hands off brewing. It uses an internal coil heating element driven by electricity. The venerable Cona model from Britain still uses a cloth wick, as do many of the Hario and Tayli lines of vac pots. Some Hario models use a copper wick that provides two "jets" of flame to heat the bottom vessel. Sunbeam and Cory models used internal heating elements tied in with heat sensitive coils for knowing when to reduce or shut off the electricity for their automated functions. Earlier Sunbeam models used a flat hot plate, as did some commercial Cory units. Silex models shipped with purpose built electrical coil stoves that served a dual purpose - as a stand for the vac pot, and as the heat source.

Aftermarket items can also be put to use. I use a micro butane burner element that works (and fits) perfectly with almost any globular (non flat bottom) units, and it cuts the brewing time in half. Many people find that micro camp stoves work great with flat bottomed vac pots. Still others find that fondue stoves work like a charm.

All of these methods work, some better than others. The Silex stoves are great for heating up fast, but a serious hazard as the entire stove unit gets blistering hot and it is hard to move once used. Wick stoves are relatively safe and easy to use, but take quite a long time. The Sunbeam automatics often had thermostat failures after 10 or more years of use, meaning you had to put them into "kickdown" mode manually by moving a switch on the base. At least the Sunbeams had this option - the Cory electrics did not, and when their thermostat went, your only option was to unplug the beast.
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8. What fuels are commonly used for vacpots?
The most common "fuel" used today is electricity. It can be found in your kitchen stove, or in the electrical stove unit that older vac pots shipped with. The current Starbucks Utopia model is electric, as were the older Sunbeam Automatics and the Cory Automatics. For flat bottomed vac pots without a built in heat source, a gas stove will also suffice.

For self-contained, non electrical units, the most common fuel is methyl hydrate, or methanol. Often referred to as "alcohol" stoves, that is what they are, but they burn cleaner than other forms of fuel alcohol. Methyl Hydrate can be obtained from most hardware stores.

Other fuels used include butane, gellied camp stoves, camp stove fuel (if you use a micro camping stove), fondue fuel (usually blue liquid) and the like. The important thing here is you want a clean burning fuel source - one that emits no smoke. Of course, you can use a "dirty" fuel source if you like, but your glass or metal vac pot will show the stains from it.

Opinion: I have a sneaking suspicion that, if left uncleaned, it could eventually damage your vac pot, as this residue could superheat and crack the glass.
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9. What is the history of the vacuum brewer?
The first reliable working vacuum brewing devices that were sold to the public showed up in France around 1840. They were patented then manufactured by Marie Fanny Amelne Massot of Lyons (aka Mme. Vassieux on her patents). From that point on, people tried different methods to hone, refine, and improve on these original designs. But even today, you can find vacuum brewers that are faithful to Mme. Vassieux's original design and prototypes.

While Mme Vassieux is often credited with inventing and manufacturing the original vacuum brewer, this is under some dispute. Some proof exists (reference Bramah's book) that the vacuum brewing process was originally patented and invented in Berlin, some 10+ years before. Further, other inventors during the 1930s worked on a vacuum and steam principle to extract liquid coffee from grinds. But Mme. Vassieux stands out as having the most accurate and earliest patents on record, coupled with actual production models of her designs, which exist to this day.

Right around the same period that Mme Vassieux was creating her vacuum brewer, Robert Napier, a Scottish inventor of many coffee brewing devices, invented the Napierian, which also follows the vacuum / syphon principle of design, but albeit in a different form than Mme. Vassieux's invention. Napier's brewer worked one (or one and a half) way(s) - you poured boiling water into the brewer portion and a small amount into the kettle (which had heat applied). Once the heat source was removed, the contracting gases in the kettle sucked the brewed coffee over.

A third type, the balance brewer, showed up around 1842, and tried to improve on Mme Vassieux's products by making it automatic, and in effect, turning it sideways, so it was two portions, side by side instead of one on top of the other. Unlike Napier's invention, the balance brewer worked both ways - sending all the water to the brewing side, then pulling it back.

All of these inventions sought a way to force water through finer and finer ground coffee, because they both worked on the theory that the finer the ground, the better the extraction. When a coffee is ground too finely, water cannot pass through it using simple gravity, so further "aids" to passing water through fine coffee grounds was sought out, and the principles of steam and gas expansion and contraction, much the rage in this time period, was seen as a solution, creating greater force to move the coffee than only simple gravity force could do.

This was the start of a long road that finally led to the mid 1940s when Gaggia first manufactured a reliable device that pushed water through superfinely ground coffee at pressures of 130PSI and higher. By comparison, a vacuum brewer probably only pulls water through a vac pot at maybe 1.5 times the pressure normal gravity provides.
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10. When did vacuum brewers show up in America?
My email pal Matthew Hargraves is working on this very issue right now, authoring a book on this subject. And my knowledge is a bit weak in this area, but I'll take a stab at it.

While it is very possible that vacuum brewers were brought over to America in the 1840s, 1850s and beyond, and may have even been manufactured here, they didn't really show up in force until the early 20th century, when Silex pioneered a new wave of these devices, using "safety" glass. Previously, vac pots were very susceptible to breakage because of the delicateness of glass. Silex and Pyrex (and other safety glass makers) made a lot of these worries a thing of the past.

By the 1920s, Silex was making a good range of glass vacuum brewers, using cloth and metal filters, for the American market. By the 1930s, almost every other small appliance manufacturer was getting in on the game, including Farberware, Westinghouse, Sunbeam, General Electric, Cory, and many others. By the availability of these devices on eBay today, and the amount of advertisements that ran in ladies' magazines during the time between the 30s and the 50s, its a good guess that vacuum brewers enjoyed a huge market in the US, at least during one point in history.
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11. Why don't I see vacuum brewers at every department store?
Theories abound as to why the vacuum brewer seemed to lose almost complete favor in American households during the 1950s and 1960s, and I have my own.

Some believe that it was the improvements and convenience of the percolator that caused the decline. Others believe it was America's movement to convenience and cost over quality, where the "60 cups per pound" cuppa joe that became prevalent in the 1950s in order to maintain 10 cent pricepoints at the diner (note that a pound of roasted coffee should yield between 27 and 34 cups for good quality, adequate strength coffee).

Others still blame the "Americanization" and full commonplace usage of the auto drip machine, but that process happened late in the vac pot's decline (the "Mr. Coffee", complete with ads on the telly by Joe Dimaggio, didn't arrive until the early 1970s).

I personally believe it was a combination of all the above, plus the fact that vacuum brewers are delicate (for the most part), and much more difficult to clean and maintain, when compared to an auto drip or percolating coffee maker.

Whatever the reason (or combination thereof), the vacuum brewer, once made by almost every major and minor small appliance manufacturer in the USA, completely disappeared as an American made product by the 1970s. Even to this day, not a single US manufacturer makes these products under their own brand name, be it made in the US or not.
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12. What is the status of vacuum brewers today?
Today, I still don't think I can say that vacuum brewers are undergoing a rennaisance just yet, but they are starting to show up, and more companies are considering making them.

There still isn't a single US based manufacturer of vacuum brewers as of this writing. They've all moved on to other things, or in the case of companies like Cory or Nicro, simply faded away.

In other parts of the world, vacuum brewing (also called syphon brewing) remains popular. In Japan, vacuum brewing coffee is more popular than auto drip. This is why there are several Japanese and Taiwanese manufacturers of vac pots, including (but not exclusive to) Tayli, Hario and Yama.

Vacuum brewers are making a comeback, I believe, because of the Internet. Before the Net, I never even heard of these devices. It was seeing them online, seeing them "in action" that made me want to buy one. Now I own 38 or so of them! In the next few years, I think we will see an honest-to-goodness revival of vacuum brewers, and possibly even a model or two made by a US company. As of this writing, I know that at least two new Asian companies are planning on manufacturing brand new vacuum brewers using new technologies. We may see them in 2002.
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13. Exactly who does make vacpots today?
In Europe, vacuum brewers are made by Cona (of Britain), and Royal Coffeemaker of Belgium (they make balance brewers, which I wrote a detailed review on). Bodum of Switzerland makes two models currently - the Bodum Santos glass and plastic filter model, in two variations (solo or with alcohol stove, stand, and accessories), and the Bodum Santos Electronic, also sold in the US as the Starbucks Utopia.

In Asia, there are several manufacturers, and this list is by no means complete. There is the Tayli Line, the comprehensive Hario line (sold in the US by Hario USA) and the Taiwanese Yama line, one of which is sold in the US by Baratza LLC. M-Bob and Jeroen Vriesendorp from alt.coffee shared some info on other manufacturers. Toshiba apparently makes an electrical 4 cup model that includes a built in grinder! (Email Masanori Sugawawa at Toshiba for details, but don't pester the person, k?). Jeroen also mentioned Kono and Twinbird as two other companies, but extensive research online (by me) turned up no useful linkage. Twinbird has a website, but no vac pots are listed.
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14. Where else can I buy a vacuum brewer today?
There are lots of ways to acquire a vac pot. Because they were so popular in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, and because they were built to last, many of the old Sunbeam CoffeeMasters turn up at garage sales, antique stores, curio shops, estate sales and the like. Ditto for the Silex and Cory glass models. Even though they were glass, so many of these things went into production that finding one locally today shouldn't be a big problem if you live in a small to medium sized city (or larger).

Once in a while I do run into vac pots new, sitting on the shelf in a store. These are usually the Bodum Santos model, or the Hario models. If you look long enough, you will find them too. And of course, there is the Starbucks Utopia model, which, while pricey at $170 USD, is at just about every Starbucks as of this writing.

Online, there are more and more vac pots being sold. Search at www.google.com for the words hario, bodum, vacuum, coffee, syphon, tayli, cona, brew, yama, vacpot, vacuum brewer, or any combination of these, and you should turn up some retailers.

And lastly (but certainly not least), a major source for vac pots is eBay.
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15. There's lots of vacpots on eBay. What should I know?
www.eBay.com (and other similar auction sites like Yahoo Auctions) will almost always have vacuum brewers on sale. Search for keywords like vacuum coffee, cory, Silex, glass, syphon, sunbeam, Nicro, Westinghouse etc etc and you will turn them up.

A note on pricing. I have found in my own experience that eBay, the biggest and most wide ranging source for vac pots, often goes in cycles for these devices. Get a guy in there who has been bitten by the bug and he will bid outrageous prices for an item that went, weeks before, for 1/5th of what he's willing to pay. I've been caught in those cycles a few times, especially around the time I really wanted a Cory gasketless vac pot, and unfortunately, someone else wanted them as well - as many as he could buy :-)

But at other times, it seems like GEM MINT TEN (as that SportsCardGuy on the shopping channel would say) vac pots go for a song. I've scored my own incredible deals on various models, including under $20 for a mint unused Tayli and under $25 for a mint, unused Silex baby 3 cupper with stove.

What I'm trying to say here is that pricing is subjective. So with that said, here's a price range marker you should stick to if you decide to buy your first ever vac pot through a source like eBay (or in person from an antique shop).

  • Sunbeam CoffeeMaster C20 and C30 series: don't pay more than $35 for a pristine model with filters and all normal accessories. Pay less than $30 for one without a cloth filter (but still with the metal filter holder - you need that).
  • Silex narrow neck models, no stove: You shouldn't pay more than $35 for these models, make sure they include the ceramic filter or Silex Lox-in glass filter.
  • Silex narrow neck models, with stove: Expect to pay upwards of $45 or more for these models in good condition - anything less and you got a bargain, if the stove works (confirm first via email).
  • Silex wideneck models: these are the later Silex models and are much more common than the narrow neck. Expect to pay about $25 without stove, as much as $40 with. Make sure it includes the filter.
  • Cory glass: Corys are much more rare with a stove, so forget that option - you can easily use them on your normal stovetop with a small wire diffuser - pay no more than $30 for a mint gasket model - make sure the cory glass rod comes with it.
  • Cory glass, gasketless: more rare, also, they don't work particularly well. Made during WWII to combat the rubber shortage. About $50+, and I don't recommend for a first timer.
  • Cory Automatic: These come in either aluminum or chromed copper. The alum models can go for as little as $25 in good shape. The chrome models - I've only ever seen two on eBay, mine and another, and they went cheap - if you find one, anything under $50 for guaranteed working (with cord and filter) would be a deal.
  • Other models: From time to time GE vac pots, Westinghouse, even Harios and Yamas and Taylis and Conas show up on eBay. Because of their rarity on that forum, they tend to go for a lot more, and as a first time purchase, you should shy away from these. Unless of course you find a misidentified Hario Nouveau that is bidding at $20 or so. Then go for it.
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16. Vacpots come in sizes - which one is best for me?
Vacuum brewing devices have been made that can brew as little as 4 ounces of coffee, and as much as 48 ounces.

Today, the common sizes available are the 3 cup models (12 brewed ounces), 5 cup models (20 brewed ounces) and the 8 cup models (32 ounces). Less common sizes, include 2 cup models, 6 cup, 10 cup, and even 12 cups (the Bodum Santos Electric / Starbucks Utopia brews 12 cups or 1.5 litres!). Note that some vacuum coffee brewer manufacturers measure a cup as 4 US fluid ounces, others measure it at 5 ounces, and even a few measure it as 6 ounces per cup.

As for what is the right size for you, that is a question best answered by you. If you're brewing only for yourself primarily, a 3 cup model from one of the Asian manufacturers will do nicely. If you're brewing for dinner parties, family, or the office, get as big a model as possible. If brewing at the table is important, get a device that can be heated at the dinner table. Etc. Etc.
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17. How hard are vacpots to use day to day?
Day to day use of a vacuum brewer is not a hard thing to maintain. The cleanup and care is higher than that with an auto drip electric coffeemaker, but not excessively so. Depending on the filter device you use, it can be very low maintenance indeed, and the coffee you get from it will taste great. The normal measurement of grounds is 7 grams (or one heaping tablespoon full) of ground coffee per 4 ounces of brew. This is subjective however: use it as your starting point and adjust to taste.
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18. What grind should I use in a vacuum brewer?
If you remember back to the history lesson above, the invention of the vac pot was a process of finding a way to push water through a finer grind than normal. But that's in perspective - "normal" for 1840 was more coarse than "normal" for today.

Choosing which grind to use is highly subjective, but we can give you a starting point: grind at the same level of fineness that you would for auto drip. Brew a pot. See if the coffee flavor is full enough; see if the filtering device worked well, or if it seemed to clog up. If the water "kicked" down into the bottom vessel excessively fast, or the cup is a bit weak, keep the same volume of grinds (7 grams per 4 oz of water) but grind slightly finer. If the cup was full but the filter clogged a bit or there was too much sediment in the finished brew, adjust your grind a bit coarser, and try again. You may also want to adjust your brewing times (the time the liquid occupies the top vessel) accordingly to increase or decrease the extraction.

Further guidelines: For cloth filtering devices, use a grind slightly finer than auto drip; for metal filters (non mesh), use an auto drip grind; for metal filters (mesh) use a coarser grind, close to a press pot grind; for paper filters, use an auto drip grind; and for glass filters, use a grind halfway between auto drip and French press. The Bodum Santos Electric (or Starbucks Utopia) can use a very fine grind, but it also can overstress the filter, breaking it prematurely.

Again, these are just starting points. Adjust to taste.
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19. What types of filters are used for vacpots, and how do you use them?
A wide range of filtering devices have (and are) used with vacuum brewers. Muslin, oil cloth, and even old socks and silk were used in the past. Today, we have the benefits of technology to aid us, but still some of the best filters are the old methods. Different types in use today include:

Cloth (with ceramic and/or metal shaper and spring): usually a double piece of cloth material - one piece has a coarse, heavy thread makeup, the other piece has more of a felt, fine threading. These are usually circular, with a stitching on the outer edge and a tie string looped through, in order to secure the filter to a ceramic or metal part that acts as the "hard part" of the filter at the top of the syphon tube. Cloth can be used up to a hundred times or more, with care. Some believe you get the best overall cup from a clean cloth filter (as compared to other filters) because unlike paper, cloth filters allow the most volatile oils from the coffee grounds to pass through. Maintenance includes a good scrub with a kitchen brush after each use, and storing in a glass of water in the fridge between uses. You can leave the rest of the filter attached to it using this method. Every 10 or 12 uses, you should give your cloth filters a MILD bleach bath (half a cap of normal bleach for 500ml of water) which will sanitize and whiten your filters. Rinse extremely well afterwards, and remove from your filtering device when you do this - bleach doesn't like metal.

Metal Mesh: Mostly the Sunbeam CoffeeMasters, models C30B and above used a fine mesh filter. The mesh is a finer web than the typical mesh found in press pots (like Bodums), but they still let a bit more sediment pass compared to non-mesh metal filters or cloth or paper. These filters are circular, with a thin steel spoke frame and rubber around the outer edge. Cleanup is pretty easy, but you should be worried about bacteria buildup, especially around the rubber. A good rinse after each use, and a good scrubbing with dish soap every few uses should suffice.

Metal (non mesh): Some believe this is the best filter ever created - the Nicro metal filter. It consists of two shallow bowl discs with cutouts on them (cutouts are offset to each other), a center spine that perforates both bowls, and a chain and spring loaded device to secure it to the bottom of your syphon filter. It does let more sediment pass compared to cloth or paper. Cleaning: a no brainer - rinse, dry, drop in dishwasher, whatever. This is the main reason why people love it so much - easiest filter to clean, and still brews a great cuppa (unlike the Bodum plastic filter, which is easy to clean, but can often stall the brew process, or the glass filters, which while easy to clean, leave a muddy cup).

Paper (with plastic and/or metal shaper): The Hario Nouveau vacuum brewer (and other brewers) uses a plastic/paper combination that is effective and fairly efficient. It can be purchased separately as well. You end up with a coffee filtered in the same method as auto drip, which is a detriment to some because paper can impede some of the more volatile oils and aromas from passing through into the final brew. But hey, you're brewing at optimum temps with a vac pot, and most auto drip owners can't say the same. Cleanup is a bit messy for the fingers, but easy - remove filter, rinse over the sink (or shake over the garbage can), untwist the top plastic clamping disc, drop the paper filter, rinse plastic once more, done.

Glass: Cory made their reputation partially on their "Cory Glass Rod" which ironically was originally created for tea brewing, not coffee. They modified the original Cory Glass Rod, calling the original name of "Cory New Glass Rod" after optimizing it's size and shape for coffee brewing. The device is a long glass tube with a bulbous, rough middle. It sits inside the syphon tube with the bulbous part acting as the filter at the top of the tube. The extremely rough (but not sharp) surface of the middle was the filter - coffee grounds would get trapped in the little channels between the bumps, but liquid would still pass through. In practice, the Cory rod allowed a lot of sediment to pass - which some find beneficial, others find detrimental. I call it Crunchy Coffee, and don't mind it. Also, Cory rods DO NOT work in smaller vac pots - the increased agitation these smaller pots seem to have causes the rod to bounce and dance, letting a lot of full grinds pass through to the pot below. Cleaning is a no brainer - rinse, done.

Glass and Metal: Silex, probably during WWII to fight off shortages, came out with their glass and metal "Silex Lox-In" filter. This was also designed to combat a problem Cory rods had - dancing around and letting grinds pass to the bottom. The Silex has a similar design to Cory rods on top - a spike with a bulbous, rough end, but the bottom was a spring and catch for attaching to the bottom of a syphon tube, thereby (in theory) keeping the filter secure. I say in theory, because I own three of these filters, and all three are terribly designed - part of the bulbous middle part has a seam of solid glass (no rough bumps) and as a result each of them allow a lot of grinds to pass through to the bottom vessel. Cleanup is as easy as Cory rods.

Other Materials: The Starbucks Utopia uses a very fine fillament mesh filter that does a great job filtering grounds but letting oils and the volatile brew stuff pass through. Problem is, it's too fragile. When it works, it works great. The current glass Bodum Santos uses a plastic wedge filter that tends to clog too much, but is very easy to clean and maintain.
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20. Should I pay special attention to the water I use in a vacpot?
Hey, water's water. Remember, water makes up 98% or so of your cup of coffee, (unless you add milk), so judge accordingly. If your tap water is pleasing enough for you to drink, then brew with it, Dano. If you drink bottled water in the home, then used bottled water in your vac pot. If you are worried and are thinking maybe you should invest in a water filtration device like a Brita System, then by all means, spend the dough, buy one, and use it.
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21. Should I preheat my water before pouring it into a vacuum brewer?
Some devices will benefit from preheating the water you use, others won't. Remember that all vac pots with self-contained heating sources will (eventually) heat your water hot enough to brew. The problem is time. Alcohol-based wick burners (and fondue-fuel burners) take a long time to heat water up sufficiently - about 15 minutes for a 3 cup model (12 oz of water) or as much as 20 minutes or longer for a 5 cup model (20 oz of water). Preheating your water first is always a good bet with these devices, as your brew time with a 5 cup vac pot can take as long as 25 minutes without preheating, and as short as 5 minutes with.

If you brew on the kitchen stove, make sure you use a wire diffuser, so your glass pot doesn't directly touch the electric coils (not necessary with gas stoves) but you don't necessarily have to preheat your water.

With purpose built electric stoves like those with Silex and GE models (and others), they get so bloody hot so bloody quick that preheating is not really necessary.

Lastly, if you own a 3 or 5 cup vac pot that is self-contained (i.e. with a stand) and uses a wick or fondue burner, consider buying a micro butane burner, sold around the net (including at the Hario USA website). It can reduce your total brewing time in half, and is nearly as efficient as using your electric kettle - and the bonus is, you don't use any electricity, and brew right at the dinner table without excessively boring your guests!
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22. How do I clean and maintain a vacuum brewer?
This has been covered elsewhere in this FAQ (for eg, see types of filters, above), but I'll attempt to put simplified instructions here.

For glass vacuum brewers, a rinse under tap water, followed by a sponge soap scrub of the upper chamber will suffice. Run water through the syphon, from the bottom through to the top globe, and water will cascade, rinsing it nicely. Leave the top chamber (with its syphon tube) in the stand that most vac pots ship with to dry, and you're set. The bottom chamber is best cleaned with a bottle washer type of brush - long metal pipe with white bristles at the end, and dish soap. Be careful you don't scratch the glass. Some people feel comfortable putting the bottom vessel in a dishwasher. I don't, but that's me.

For metal vacuum brewers, the process is nearly identical. Every two dozen or so uses, you should use a harder metal cleaner, like TSB, and soak it for an hour or so, followed by a complete rinse. MAKE SURE you keep this stuff away from rubber - it eats it alive. You can (and should) use dishwashing gloves, which are usually a hard, thick latex.

For metal (or glass, or plastic, or polycarbonate) vac pots with built in heating devices, NEVER immerse the bottom vessel in water. You should know that, right? Otherwise, cleanup is nearly identical to the above method.

Once in a while, I give my vacpots a "super cleaning". What I do is give them a good scrubbing with a Scotch Brite sponge, lots of dish soap, and I even use a super thin bottle brush I bought to clean out the syphon properly. Then I give every surface a complete drying with a clean dishtowel. They absolutely sparkle. This is why I don't like using dishwashers - I find the dishwasher will scratch, mar, and cloud glass after a while, and all my glass products that I cherish (like my vac pots) never get that abuse. To this day I can make my (previously mint, unused) Silex 3 cupper "Baby" model appear brand spankin' new because of a little T & A once in a while.

Other parts of your vac pot, depending on what you own, will need cleaning from time to time. Metal purpose-built stoves like Silex models will benefit from the occasional TSB scrub (use dishwashing gloves), but do not immerse them. If you are a bit of a tinkerer (and what vac pot owner isn't?) you can take these devices apart easily for a more thorough cleaning if you desire. If you own a cloth filter device, once in a while, you should remove the cloth and give the ceramic or metal a good scrubbing. Lids, stands, etc can stand a nice dry wipe with a cloth once in a while. I use Fantastik on most of the parts of my vac pots that never come into contact with my brew.

Lastly, on the subject of soot. An alt.coffee participant raised this issue, and shared an easy way to clean built up soot that may occur in some alcohol-heated vac pots using dirty fuels. You can use any of the new wave of "environmentally friendly" cleaners like OxyClean or the like, but eucalyptus oil, which is cheap and should be fairly easy to find, works wonders on these stains.
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23. What are the easiest vacuum brewers to clean?
Hrmm, this one is tough. How about, "the one you like the best"?

Pretty much all vac pots are a pain to clean, when compared to other coffee brewing methods. Each has their own peculiarities that make them hard to clean, at least in one aspect. For instance, the Sunbeam CoffeeMasters are big enough for most folks to fit a hand into both the top and bottom, but you cannot stick the bottom unit in water. The Silex all glass narrow neck models are difficult because they are hard to place securely in a dishwasher, and the bottom vessel has such a narrow neck.

I guess overall, the wide mouth glass models by silex and cory are the easiest to clean, followed by any vac pot that uses glass filters (since they are the easiest to deal with). The metal models by Nicro are also very easy to clean because you don't need to exercise kid gloves with it, and the metal filter is a snap to clean.

And lastly on this subject, personally I find the Hario 3 cupper the easiest of my "kit" to clean. But that's because it is my favourite.
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24. Do you have any special tricks for cleaning vacuum brewers?
The Bodum Santos deluxe model comes with a very funky brush. It is a steel rod bristle brush, but it is curved into the shape of a question mark. It works great for cleaning all these narrow-necked models that are near impossible to scrub otherwise. I bought a Bodum deluxe kit just to get this brush.

You can also hack one of these yourself, sort of. Buy a steel rod bristle brush (the kind found at homebrew stores, for example, for cleaning bottles), and try to find one with the longest length of bristles possible. Then use some elbow grease and bend the end into a half circle, like a question mark. This will ease your cleaning substantially.

One trick I learned long ago with my cloth filter brewers is to do this. After brewing, hold the top part upside down in the sink. Unhook the filter, but don't let go of it, and run water down the siphon. Try to keep the filter taut against the bottom (now top) of the upper globe, but kind of shake it a bit. This will flush out most of the grounds, and prevent you from getting grinds stuck behind the cloth, wedged up against the steel or ceramic "shaper" disk. Once most of the grounds are removed, let the filter assembly "plop" to your sink. Take a good brush or scotch brite pad, and scrub off the rest of the grinds from the face of the filter.

This allows you to keep the cloth filter on the disc, which then allows you to place the entire assembly in a glass of water in the fridge - saves a lot of effort.
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