KitchenAid Siphon Brewer review: Seductively strong, rich coffee, but not for everyone

Performance

Once you flip the KitchenAid Siphon Brewer's switch the stage is set for some pretty dramatic brewing. After about 3 minutes into the brewing cycle, tiny bubbles begin to form within the carafe accompanied by the soft hiss of steam. Thirty seconds later the water level noticeably starts to drop inside the carafe while the coffee grounds above slowly dampen.

Once the water in the carafe reaches the boiling point, it rushes dramatically into the brew unit.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

At the 4-minute mark, most of the water in the carafe reservoir has creeped up into the brewer. A few seconds later, the remaining water violently leaps upwards into the brewing chamber where it churns together with the coffee grounds. I can confirm this liquid is very hot -- between 210 and 211 degrees Fahrenheit (98.9 to 99.4 Celsius) -- just below the boiling point of water.

Thermocouple readings put the temperature inside the brew unit at a slightly lower 205 degrees Fahrenheit (96.1 Celsius) where it remains for about 2 to 3 minutes frothing and bubbling with great energy. This is slightly above the sweet spot for correct brewing as defined by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA). The group's Golden Cup Award states that water temperature must be at 200 degrees Fahrenheit (+ or - 2; equivalent to 93 Celsius) when it comes in contact with the grounds.

Within this brewing period the coffee maker's lever-like power switch flips automatically to the off position. Once the brew cools enough it cascades down forcefully into the Siphon Brewer's glass carafe, sucked back by vacuum pressure. The coarse grounds remain inside the brewer above, strained by the metal filter. All told the entire process takes just over a short 6 minutes, 30 seconds.

Liquid coffee is sucked back down into the carafe in one fell swoop.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Does the Siphon Brewer make good coffee? It consistently made some of the best java I've ever had. Within the bundled manual, KitchenAid describes siphon-brewed coffee as, "clean, crisp, and vibrant" and I must agree. Using my humble Costco House Blend test beans (medium coarse grind), I was astonished by the level of bright floral flavors I tasted from the first sip. Frankly I couldn't wrap my head around the amount of complexity and depth that hit my tongue, cup after cup.

I warn you though. If you're used to standard drip, the solution the Siphon Brewer makes is another animal altogether. More like coffee from an Aeropress, French press or brewed cold, this is liquid is cloudy, rich, almost silty. Those who crave the silky smoothness of highly filtered drip brew may find it off-putting.

Rich and cloudy, this is quite a different animal from standard drip.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Refractometer readings confirmed the Siphon Brewer's concentrated drink. I consistently measured very high TDS (total dissolved solids) percentages of 1.9 percent or higher. This translates to extraction percentages of between 27 and 28 percent. While that's above the ideal -- commonly said to be between 18 and 22 percent -- it's in line with my results from other great coffee makers such as the Bonavita BV1900TS (26.8) and the Bunn Velocity Brew (30.4). By contrast the Technivorm Moccamaster KBT-741 turned in a less extracted beverage (1.5 TDS, 21.1 percent).

One area where the KitchenAid Siphon Brewer will disappoint is its inability to keep coffee hot. Since the machine's carafe isn't thermal, its non-insulated liquid quickly drops below 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.6 Celsius) in less than 2 hours. By contrast the current thermal champ is the Moccamaster KBT-741, which holds java hot for over 6 hours.

kitchenaid-siphon-coffee-maker-product-photos-22.jpg

This delicate glassware is not, repeat not, dishwasher safe.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Cleaning and usability

Aside from the lack of a thermal carafe, other attributes of the KitchenAid Siphon Brewer will make you think twice about using it as your daily coffee maker. Cleaning the machine takes a bit of work and caution. Its fragile glass parts must be hand washed and not put through the dishwasher. You also can't submerge either the brewing unit or carafe in water, to avoid shattering glass or damaging electrical components.

Spent coffee grounds tend to stick to the sides of the brewer, too, even after vigorous shaking and tapping. The best way to clear everything out is with lots of water, which makes a sink garbage disposal a key accessory unless you'd like to clog your kitchen drains.

Conclusion

KitchenAid should definitely be proud of the $250 Siphon Brewer. It's the only fully automatic and electric siphon-style coffee maker I know to be sold anywhere. Unlike the many siphon gadgets (sold by Yama, Hario and others) that either require a special Sterno alcohol flame to operate or be heated via a gas stovetop (or Bunsen burner), KitchenAid's product works at the flip of a switch.

I do acknowledge that cleaning the device is much more of an ordeal compared with basic drip coffee makers. And the rich, silky beverage it concocts isn't for everyone. That said, if you want to get siphon brewing without having to shell out big bucks for a fancy halogen heater or use chemical combustion every time you want coffee, the KitchenAid Siphon Brewer is the best game in town.

Comparable Coffee Makers

All coffee makers

Best Products

All best products