Siphon Coffeemakers: A Fitter Filter

The latest siphon coffeemakers bring high tech to an Old World technique

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Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes for TIME

They may look more at home in a chemistry lab than a kitchen, but that’s apt when your audience sees the perfect cup of joe as serious science. Developed in Europe in the 1830s, siphon coffeemakers use gravity and the expansion and contraction of water vapor to force hot water between two glass chambers and through a filter to brew coffee. By the 1960s, most major manufacturers had abandoned vacuum models for coarser cousins like the percolator, but aficionados never gave up hope (and Bodum, for one, never stopped making them).

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Stateside, siphons made their official comeback with the aid of James Freeman, owner of the Blue Bottle CafĂ© in San Francisco, who lit up an instant sensation among coffee nerds when he imported a $20,000 halogen-powered siphon model from Japan in 2008. This year, he brought siphon technology to Blue Bottle’s first Manhattan location. The flavor of siphon-brewed coffee is “kaleidoscopic, and it intensifies from when it is first poured to when it is cooled,” Freeman says. “It’s sweet and juicy, with a light, moussey texture compared to the grittiness of a French press.”

Luckily, you don’t need a spare $20,000 or a nearby Blue Bottle location to get a daily dose of the siphon experience. These coffee-chemistry sets will do handsomely in a pinch.

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1. Northwest Glass Yama pot, $125, 2. Bodum Pebo Vacuum, $80, 3. Cona vacuum coffee maker, size C, chrome, $236, 4. Bonmac TCA-3 siphon set, $160,