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At this cafe, coffee is the floor show

Posted by Stephen Meuse  April 2, 2008 04:53 PM

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siphon.jpg

This is a barista's eye view of the siphon coffee set-up at uber-trendy Blue Bottle Coffee Company cafe behind the mint building in San Francisco. We first heard about what was going on here in a January New York Times story, and a visit was high on our list of things to do once we got to the Bay Area. The Japanese-made system reportedly cost a cool 20 grand to install. If nothing else, it's a spectacular piece of coffee theater.

The basic technology at work isn't new. The siphon or vaccuum brewing method dates from the early nineteenth century. The system uses heat and a vacuum principal to draw heated water from one carafe into another where it comes into contact with the grounds. When the heat source is removed, brewed coffee flows back into the first carafe and is ready to serve. When I worked in my parents' restaurant in the sixties we had a vacuum pot system made by Silex, but it was nothing like this.

Coffee made this way is definitely something different, with a transparency reminiscent of tea and a purity of flavor that makes you think you're sipping a kind of clarified -- rather than concentrated -- coffee essence; in a way, the opposite of espresso.

There's another difference: the price. At Blue Bottle we paid $9 for a two-cup serving of the high-tech brew.

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