Among my home baker friends, there is no kitchen appliance more coveted than a KitchenAid Mixer. With ten speeds and planetary rotation, a KitchenAid Mixer has features normally only found on industrial mixers. Throw in a copy of Tartine Bread and a good starter and you’ve got a decent loaf going.
When we learned that KitchenAid was launching a new line of coffee makers, we were intrigued. Normally, we’re skeptical when big appliance companies try to break into the specialty coffee market, but given KitchenAids’s stellar reputation, we had high hopes when KitchenAid offered to send us their Siphon Coffee Brewer to review.
The siphon brewer, also known as a vacuum pot, is perhaps the most fetishized brew method. It actually predates more familiar brew methods to Western audience, including the now ubiquitous coffee pot.
The siphon brewer utilizes a two chamber pot with a filter places in between. Water is placed in the lower chamber and coffee in the top. As the water is heated, vapor pressure builds, creating a vacuum that forces the water into the top chamber. The coffee then steeps in the water until the user cuts the heat, causing the liquid solution to return to the lower chamber. The coffee grounds are strained by the filter. This full immersion method is prized by some coffee connoisseurs for the heavier mouthfeel of the final cup, but the labor-intensive nature of the device (not to mention the messy clean up), have relegated the siphon brewer to the world of specialists and hobbyist.
KitchenAid, however, aims to change that. The KitchenAid Siphon Coffee Brewer is electric and automated. Compared to the butane burners and halogen bulbs that power most vacuum pots, KitchenAid’s siphon is shockingly simple. In fact, it’s no more complicated to use than a conventional coffee maker (though the cleaning is certainly more involved).
We used the KitchenAid Siphon Coffee Brewer to make a variety of different coffees with varying batch sizes. We used both KitchenAid’s recommended parameters and experimented with our own.
The KitchenAid Siphon Coffee Brewer is very well designed. Attaching and detaching two chambers of a conventional siphon can be a cumbersome affair, but KitchenAid has simplified the process with magnets and a ergonomic plastic handle. The use of stainless steel for the connecting tube was also a nice touch. Siphon brewers are famously fragile, but the KitchenAid is built to take some abuse.
The bottom carafe is smartly designed, with clearly demarcated lines for measuring the proper amount of water for different batch sizes. The manual includes recommended water-to-coffee ratios, which we found to be a bit on the low side for light roasted coffee.
The stock mesh filter makes a surprisingly clean cup that features the rich, oily mouthfeel of a French press without any of the grit. One can also use the included cloth filter for an even cleaner cup.
The biggest problem we found with the KitchenAid Siphon Coffee Brewer is that it actually boils the coffee. Specialty coffee, especially light roasted coffee, needs very hot water, but boiling water will extract bitter flavors that are better left in the grounds. Most butane or halogen-heated siphons hold the brew temperature at a steady near-boiling, but the KitchenAid pushes the temperature past 100 celsius. The designers seemed to compensate for the boiling temperatures by using a very short steeping time. Most of our brews clocked-in at under two minutes, which is much faster than the typical 4-5 minutes recommended for full immersion methods.
An additional problem with the heat source is that the bottom carafe is still sizzling hot when the brewed coffee drains down. Applying heat to brewed coffee breaks down the lively, bright acids we love into the harsh, acrid acids that destroy taste buds and stomach linings alike. As such, we would recommend decanting the brewed coffee as quickly as possible.
In spite of playing opposite extremes off of each other, the KitchenAid Siphon Coffee Brewer makes a surprisingly good cup of coffee. Most of the cups we brewed had a drying finish we would blame on the high temperatures. A longer steep time would have brought out more sweetness from the coffee as well. Nonetheless, each brew was not only drinkable, but enjoyable, with a full body and a coating mouthfeel.
The KitchenAid Siphon Coffee Brewer takes the specialist niche of siphon coffee brewing and makes it accessible for a wider audience. Thanks to its ergonomic design, we found it very easy to use and consistent in making a surprisingly good cup of coffee. Its ability to make very large batches of coffee makes it ideally suited for serving large groups of people. The lack of customization and temperature control, however, are notable short comings that might frustrate some users. Although we think this device will happily meet the needs of many users, if KitchenAid mimicked the temperature control of devices such as the Bonavita Variable Temperature Kettle we would expect an even better product.