The Hario TCA-5 Siphon Coffee Brewer, much like many of Hario’s products, is an extraordinarily unique piece of coffee equipment perfectly suited for the specialty coffee enthusiast who wishes to branch out beyond the world of french press and pour over brewing.
The Siphon is the product of an elegant intersection between basic chemistry and Hario’s world-renowned, high quality glass construction. The result is an easy-to-use system that consistently brews a delicious, full-bodied cup of coffee. If you are interested in diversifying your coffee brewing equipment to get the most out of your coffee, the TCA-5 is both a top-notch brewing apparatus and a unique conversation piece perfect for sharing coffee with a friend.
The TCA-5 is a 600 milliliter (approximately 21 fluid ounces) Siphon. Hario packages each Siphon with a base, a hopper, a lid that doubles as a stand for the hopper, a stand that holds the entire rig during the brewing process, a cloth filter, and a denatured alcohol lamp with a wick. This lamp serves as the heat source for the brewing process, and you can find denatured alcohol at any home improvement store.
One of the best things about Siphon brewing is that you never have to worry about accidentally running out of paper filters; the cloth filter just needs to be rinsed thoroughly after each use and then stored in a jar of water inside of your refrigerator. This should prevent any mold or mildew from forming on the filter. If for some reason mold does form, the cloth filter can be changed out easily for a new one, and I would recommend purchasing a set of replacement filters to have on hand just in case.
The combined cost of the TCA-5, the denatured alcohol, and the replacement filters will run you about 100 USD; some might balk a bit at that price point for a coffee brewing system, but it is roughly the same as a Chemex of equivalent size and a year’s worth of paper filters.
Brewing coffee with the Hario TCA-5 is a surprisingly simple process that is actually much easier to execute than any pour over method. The Siphon functions by leveraging the ideal gas law; when a heat source is placed below base, the temperature of the air in the base above the water increases. This causes that air to expand, and the pressure from this expanding air pushes the water from the base up through the cloth filter into the hopper. When the heat source is removed from the base this process is reversed, and the decrease in temperature causes the air in the base to condense and create a vacuum which pulls the brewed coffee back into the base through the cloth filter, which traps all of the coffee grounds and sediment.
Despite producing an exceptionally smooth and clean tasting cup, it is likely that you will not find a coffee shop that serves Siphon-brewed coffee. The reason for this is that the brewing process is somewhat time-intensive, clocking in around fifteen minutes; it is long enough to prohibit this method from being feasible to use in the fast-paced environment of high end, third wave coffee shops that try to keep wait times between five and ten minutes for made-to-order beverages. That means that the most reliable way to have access to Siphon coffee is to brew it for yourself at home.
How to get a great brew from the TCA-5
If you follow the recipe and procedure below you should end up with a cup of coffee that delivers the full body of a french press with the clarity of a filter coffee.
What you need:
- Hario TCA-5 Siphon brewing system
- Digital scale with a “grams” reading
- Denatured alcohol
- Grill lighter
- 600 grams, filtered cold water
- 40 grams, light- or medium-roast coffee, ground medium coarse
- A wooden spoon
- A timer
1) Place the filter in the hopper, securing it in place by attaching the hook to the bottom of the down-stem. Make sure the filter is flat and centered in the bottom of the hopper.
2) Pour all 600 grams of cold water into the base. Secure the base to the stand by tightening the clamps around the neck of the base, making sure the rubber stoppers are in place inside of the clamps to avoid damage to the base. Secure the hopper on top of the base by inserting the down-stem into the base. Ensure that the seal between base and hopper is complete and air-tight.
3) Carefully fill the lamp with denatured alcohol and insert the wick into the lamp. Ignite the wick with a grill lighter and place the lamp under the base. It can take around ten minutes for the pressure inside the base to build to the point where it is high enough to push the water up into the hopper. It is important to know that all of the water will not be pushed into the hopper. Some will remain in the base. You will know when it is time to add the coffee when air bubbles begin “pulsing” in waves up through the filter and into the hopper. You will be able to both see and hear this pulsing.
4) Once most of the water has been pushed into the hopper, add the coffee to the hopper and immediately give it a quick, but thorough, stir with a clean wooden spoon to make sure that all the grounds make contact directly with the water.
5) Let steep for 1 minute and 45 seconds, then give the grounds another quick and thorough stir.
6) Let steep for another 15 seconds, and then remove the lamp from underneath the base. Extinguish the lamp using the metal cap provided by Hario.
This is a stock recipe, so feel free to play around with the ratio of coffee-to-water and the steep time. Every coffee brews differently, and even the same coffee on different days of the week will extract differently, so it is important to feel comfortable experimenting with the different parameters of your coffee recipe. You will only find that perfect recipe for your home by constantly trying new things and seeing what works best for you.
Heat / temperature management
The most difficult thing to manage with the TCA-5 is the temperature because you can not adjust the flame size during the brewing process. It will take some trial and error to find the correct length of wick you will need to keep the water within an appropriate heat range (200-205F) for brewing, but my advice is to start off with a very short wick and extend it as you see fit.
Because the denatured alcohol lamp is so difficult to work with, the best improvement to a home Siphon system that you can make is to purchase an adjustable butane burner to use in place of the denatured alcohol lamp. The butane burner will allow you to speed up the brewing process significantly by allowing you to initially set a very high temperature to quickly increase the pressure in the base and then set a lower temperature to keep your water within a good temperature range for the steep. However, butane burners typically cost 40-50 USD and the recharge canisters are more expensive than denatured alcohol as well.
If you plan on brewing Siphon coffee regularly, I highly recommend making the additional investment to upgrade your heat source as it will make the overall process much easier and ultimately produce a more consistent and higher quality cup of coffee.
It’s not for everyone
To wrap up, I think the TCA-5 is particularly well-suited for folks who are already actively engaged in brewing coffee at home as a hobby. What that means is that if you are the type of person who has already invested in a quality digital scale, water filtration system, and coffee grinder, then this brewing system is certain to give you a new and valuable experience. If you are an established home brewing enthusiast, I would highly recommend the Siphon for its uniqueness, design and operation.
I would not recommend this brewer for beginners. If you are a novice home brewer, or a brewer on a restricted budget, I would recommend a simpler, less expensive method, such as a Bodum french press or Hario’s V60, to begin with.
You will see much larger improvements in the quality of your coffee by first investing in the auxiliary equipment needed for home brewing; it does not matter how nice your brewer is if you are brewing low quality coffee beans that are unevenly ground with low quality water. The nuanced differences between the coffee produced by different brewing methods will be entirely covered up by these other variables.