Enter The Dragon Brewer
I’m in my living room with a black plastic suitcase- the kind musicians use to transport expensive equipment and mobsters use to hold weapons and drugs. Inside is what Todd Carmichael has dubbed “The Assassin Kit”, which contains a first production run of his renowned brewer, The Dragon. It also includes an illustrated brew guide, 3 samples of coffee from La Colombe, and a Hario Scale for good measure.
In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, The Dragon is the invention of adventurer/philanthropist/coffee professional Todd Carmichael. Essentially, The Dragon is a new interpretation of a siphon brewer, also called a vacuum pot- one of the oldest ways of making coffee in the world. Carmichael commissioned The Dragon to be made for his Brewers Cup routine at the 2014 US Coffee Championships. Carmichael’s routine fell one place short of earning a spot at the world championship, but it stole the show both at SCAA and in the press following the event.
The Dragon brewer has two innovations that improve upon the traditional siphon. A normal siphon brewer relies on a heat source placed under the bottom chamber to create a vacuum. This constant heat source makes vacuum pots one of the most notoriously difficult brew methods. The Dragon, however, creates a vacuum by cutting off air flow with a designated cylinder and plunger. This allows the user to control the vacuum without fear of burning the neighborhood down in a freak butane accident.
The second innovation is a dual chamber system which allows the brewer to manipulate the temperature of the slurry by adding cooler or warmer water in the outer chamber. Although temperature stability in espresso machines has been an industry focus for some time, temperature modulation remains a largely unexplored frontier.
Back to My Living Room
I skim the instruction manual a couple of times. Seems simple enough. I mean I make coffee for a living. Besides, I’ve always been a-leap-before-I-look kind of guy. It’s time to do this.
Carmichael recommends a medium-fine grind “a little coarse for a Chemex”. I use a fairly coarse grind for Chemex, so I’m confused. I see the recommended dwell time is 3:20 and I decide to grind 26 grams of La Colombe’s Ethiopia Werka Bauka at 22 on my Baratza Virtuoso. After inserting the paper filter in the springy siphon filter thingy, I dose and tamp the ground coffee, per Carmichael’s instruction. As in espresso, the tamp is supposed to aid in even saturation. I make hundreds of espressos each day at work, but this is the first time I’ve tamped a bed of filter coffee. Suddenly, I have the urge to start tamping all of the coffee I brew.
Next I add the hot water, at a rather high 97C. I’m halfway through filling up the chamber when I realized I haven’t started my timer. Crap, I’m not even 10 seconds into the brew and I already screwed something up. I begin to fear Carmichael is going to recall my Assassin kit and give it to a different blogger. Maybe those jerks at A Table in the Corner of the Cafe or Abandon Coffee.
I’m 30 seconds in and it’s taking all I’ve got to not stir the slurry right now. But Carmichael is categorically against stirring and I’m playing by his rules this first time. Besides, I’m supposed to add room temperature water to the outer chamber in a second.
What in the world?!?
I add the room temperature water and things go crazy. The slurry becomes turbulent as the energy is exchanged between the inner and outer chambers. The outer layer distorts my vision and for one terrifying second I think the slurry has leaked through the glass wall. The particles floating on top begin to sink. I begin to worry I didn’t secure the filter evenly. Realizing there’s nothing I can do about it now, I take a few pictures.
At this point I’m just watching the clock. At ~3:20 I give the plunger 3 long pumps. When only half of the slurry drops through I give it 3 more pumps. I notice the the brew bed is perfectly even.
After it stops dripping I remove the top and immediately assess the aromatics that begin wafting through the air. They’re wonderfully floral with notes of rose water and hibiscus. I decant the coffee into one of my favorite mugs and wait for it to cool. It reaches drinking temperature sooner than expected. The first sip yields flavors of citrus and honey suckle, carried on a delicate, tea-like body. I’ve never had this coffee before, but I think that this is exactly how it should taste.
More thoughts to come
This was my first experience using Todd Carmichael’s Dragon brewer, but it won’t be the last. I look forward to experimenting with different techniques and parameters in the future. Rest assured we’re likely to share them here.
Many thanks to Todd and everyone at La Colombe for choosing us to test The Dragon!