Newbies' Guide to Vacuum Brewing
Ahh, arguably (by me at least) the absolute best way to make non-espresso coffee. Most intriguing way too, and I don't think many people can argue that one. Vacuum brewers bring a combination of elegance, science, and just plain gee whiz excitement to the table, literally. They also bring something very important - great taste.
These days the consumer market is starting to show more and more vac pots, which is good for us consumers. It means more choice, better prices, more competition. The next few years will be pretty cool for vac pot enthusiasts.
Budget Vac Pots
There are a few vacuum brewers out there for under $50 if you look hard enough. Some have a proven track record, some are antiques, and most brew a great cup of coffee.
Bodum Santos ($25 and up)
The venerable Bodum Santos brewer comes with some well thought out parts (like the protector for your table, stand etc), and a poorly designed filter. Be wary of it, or replace it with the steel filter from here or with a cloth or paper filter from Hario.
Yama Vacuum Brewer ($35-$40)
Baratza is importing the Yama 5 cup vacuum brewer now from Asia, and as a manual vacpot (you put it on your stove), these are a great low budget option with a cloth filter. It also includes a trivet for the stove, and the lid doubles as a siphon stand.
FoodService Steel VacPot ($50)
Recently a steel vacpot has shown up on the Internet. I just bought one, and it is essentially an exact copy of the old (1950s) Nicro stove top steel vac pots. In other words, worth it if durability and longevity (not to mention easy clean ups) are important to you. Not much of a show though. This baby's all action with no fluff or ceremony. You can buy it here.
eBay Deals ($5-$50 or more)
eBay is an excellent source for old vacpots, and they can be found cheap. Make sure you read the VacPot FAQ on this website before you venture off to eBay, to get some tips and things to look for before bidding.
Mid Range and Upper Tier
There are more and more options in this range, including Hario vac pots (the Nouveau is gorgeous and functional), rarer eBay finds like mint Silex and Cory models, and even more coming down the pipe.
There's also the very expensive Cona models and the even more expensive (but absolutely luxurious and stunning) balance brewers from Coffee4You, called the Cafetino and Royal. These are vacuum brewers, but they work side to side instead of up and down.
Bodum has recently designed a new electronically controlled vacuum brewer called the Bodum Electric Santos (eSantos), which is also sold by Starbucks as the Starbucks Utopia coffee brewer. It can be finicky, but it is also one of the largest capacity vacuum brewers you can buy today - it can brew 1.5 litres of coffee.
Since this is a newbies' guide to coffee and espresso, I do not recommend you buy an expensive vacuum brewer until you try one of the inexpensive ones first. Find out if you like it, then give it to a friend and buy one of the expensive ones if you prefer. They will brew the same way, but you get some better features, better materials, and better overall looks from the $$$ units.