Siphons and pour overs are two of the most elegant slow coffee-brewing methods, and both are capable of brewing delicious coffee once you master the technique. Each has a place in the home barista’s kitchen (or dining room). When you have to choose between one or the other, however, here are some of the differences that might make you prefer either one.
In This Guide:
- What is Siphon Coffee?
- What is Pour-Over Coffee?
- How to Brew Siphon vs. Pour-Over Coffee
- How Do Siphon Coffee and Pour-Over Coffee Taste?
- How Difficult Are Siphon and Pour-Over Brewing Methods?
- Are Siphon or Pour-Over Coffee Makers More Affordable?
- Does Siphon or Pour-Over Coffee Brewing Look Better?
- Should You Purchase a Siphon or Pour-Over Coffee?
What is Siphon Coffee?
Siphon coffee makers are chemistry lab-like apparatus that uniquely brews by creating a vacuum. The vacuum draws water up through the grounds, and brewed coffee back down through a filter. The result is a captivating method that makes excellent coffee.
Siphon brewers aren’t the most common coffee makers, as people favor faster brew methods such as automatic drips and capsule coffee makers. For the barista that has a free morning, though, siphon brewing still makes some of the best coffee.
What is Pour-Over Coffee?
Pour-over coffee makers are so named because they’re manually poured, and the pouring technique directly influences the quality and character of the brewed coffee. Pour-overs are essentially a manual predecessor to today’s more common automatic drip machines (which afford much less control.)
When the technique is mastered, pour-overs can brew coffee that rivals any other method. In fact, pour-overs have been the method used by multiple World Brewers Cup Champions.
How to Brew Siphon vs. Pour-Over Coffee
Both siphon coffee makers and pour-over coffee makers are hands-on brewing methods that require your attention throughout the process. They also require some practice, but give you a high degree of control over the brew method and resulting coffee once you’ve perfected the technique.
How to Brew With a Siphon Coffee Maker
A siphon coffee maker is a vertical apparatus that has two “balloons” above and below each other. The balloons are connected via a narrow channel, which has a filter for removing grounds from the brewed coffee. There’s a heating element (e.g. stove, butane burner) beneath the lower chamber that heats the water.
The coffee grounds go in the upper chamber, and the water in the lower. As the water heats up and creates steam, a vacuum forms in the upper chamber to draw the water into the grounds. Extraction occurs via immersion brewing, and then the heat source is turned off so that the water cools and draws back down through the filter.
To brew siphon coffee:
- Place the water in the lower chamber and coffee grounds in the upper chamber, using a 1:16 ratio.
- Heat the water until it boils and is completely drawn into the upper chamber. High heat can be used.
- Reduce the heat to maintain the desired brewing temperature. Usually a low to medium setting works well.
- Brew the coffee for 1 to 3 minutes, depending on how large the coffee maker is. Smaller models brew quicker.
- Quickly turn off the heat source so that the brewed coffee draws down into the lower chamber.
- Separate the two chambers to serve. Pour and enjoy.
How to Brew With a Pour-Over Coffee Maker
A pour-over coffee maker is simple to set up, but there’s a steep learning curve for actually pouring. Brewing requires the pour-over coffee maker, a filter (paper or metal), and a gooseneck kettle for precise pouring.
Setting up a pour-over is much like prepping an automatic drip. Some brewers are freestanding, and others sit atop a mug. Place the filter in the brewer, the coffee grounds in the filter, and heat the water in the gooseneck kettle.
To brew pour-over coffee:
- Prep the filter, coffee and water for brewing. A 1:16 ratio works well.
- Pour half of the water in a first pour, beginning in the center and slowly working outward in a spiral motion. Make this pour last about 1 minute.
- Pour the remaining water in a second pour, using a similar pattern. This pour should take about 2 minutes.
- Allow the coffee to brew for approximately 3-5 minutes (can vary). The brew is complete when coffee finishes dripping.
- Serve, and enjoy.
How Do Siphon Coffee and Pour-Over Coffee Taste?
Both siphon and pour-over brewing produce excellent coffee. You’ll get a crisp and clear cup from either method since they’re both filtered, and the high degrees of control let you profile coffees differently for various emphasis.
The fundamental difference of immersion (siphon) vs. gravity (pour-over) brewing does create subtle nuances, however. The brewing temperature can also have an impact.
Siphon Coffee Flavor Profile
The combination of immersion brewing and vacuum brewing creates a full-bodied and sweet cup of coffee. Although it’s still quite flavorful, siphon brewing won’t bring out the most subtle notes that require high brewing temperatures. The vacuum causes water to brew sub-100°C (212°F), and the lower brew temperature emphasizes sweetness over acidity and complexity.
Pour-Over Coffee Flavor Profile
The control of pour-over brewing allows you to adjust the brew substantially, and the pouring technique can significantly change what characteristics are drawn out from a coffee (see Tetsu Kasuya’s method).
You can generally expect a pour-over to have less body, but more acidity and complexity than a siphon. Gravity brewing doesn’t have the same strength as immersion. The brewing temperature is higher (especially if you preheat the pour-over), however, which brings out the brightness and subtle notes more.
How Difficult Are Siphon and Pour-Over Brewing Methods?
Both siphon brewing and pour-over brewing require your attention throughout the entire brewing process. These aren’t methods that you’ll want to use in the midst of a workday morning rush or when a toddler’s throwing a temper tantrum. You should probably plan to give either brewing method the same attention you would a toddler when they’re preparing breakfast.
Both brewing methods can also be considered somewhat difficult, although in entirely different ways.
The Challenge of Siphon Brewing
You’ll likely need a few practices with any new siphon brewer, but you should be able to get the technique down relatively quickly. Subtle changes have an impact, but they aren’t going to drastically change a coffee brew’s profile.
The primary difficulty of siphon brewing is the sheer work that they require. Only Kyoto-style drip brewers require a comparable amount of work, and even they may be less labor-intensive. However long it takes to brew with a siphon coffee maker, budget the same amount of time for both setup and cleanup.
The Challenge of Pour-Over Brewing
The challenge of pour-overs lies in the pouring technique, which is akin to a golf swing. The basics take only one or two tries to learn, but you can spend a lifetime experimenting with and improving your technique. There are endless variations to try, and each requires some practice. We’ve got some of the best Hario v60 pour over methods here.
You could have a decent cup of coffee after only a few tries or a good number of them. It’ll be a while before you’re brewing truly impressive coffee that takes full advantage of the pour-over’s capabilities.
Are Siphon or Pour-Over Coffee Makers More Affordable?
Pour-over coffee brewing has lower initial and ongoing costs than siphon brewing. If you’re on a tight budget, some plastic and metal pour-over models are downright cheap to purchase.
The Costs Associated With Siphon Brewing
Siphon coffee makers generally cost between $50 and $175 to purchase, with the more elegant models being closer to $150. Aesthetics are a large reason to use these coffee makers, and you may well want to save up for one of the fancier-looking ones.
After you have a siphon coffee maker, you may have ongoing filter and heating costs. Less expensive models sometimes heat via a hotplate or stove, and they can have metal filters. Higher-end models use butane heaters and paper filters.
Check out our siphon maker buying guides:
The Costs Associated With Pour-Over Brewing
Pour-over coffee makers tend to cost anywhere from $20 to $50. The higher price range is for large and elegant models, and you can find some single-cup models for less than $20. Moreover, many of the models in the $20 price range brew excellent coffee. Higher prices don’t necessarily mean better quality. Check out the classic Hario V60 for great brewing at an affordable price.
You’ll also need a gooseneck kettle. A good electric one is around $70, but perfectly suitable stovetop versions can be had for $20.
The costs of using a pour-over coffee maker are limited to the negligible cost of a filter. Some models use metal filters that don’t have to be repurchased.
Does Siphon or Pour-Over Coffee Brewing Look Better?
The dramatics of siphon brewing’s upward and downward flows are unparalleled, but dramatics alone don’t necessarily outclass the beauty of some manual pour-overs.
Both methods are elegant and captivating, and each one’s visuals are very much part of the brewing process. While the siphon has vertical movement and bubbling water, the pour over has precision movements and slow drips. Which one is preferable is a matter of personal choice, and a true artist certainly can appreciate both.
Don’t base your decision between siphon and pour-over coffee on aesthetics. Purchase a remarkable version of either coffee maker, and you’ll enjoy watching (and showing off) the process.
Should You Purchase a Siphon or Pour-Over Coffee?
Both siphon coffee makers and pour-over coffee makers have their advantages and disadvantages.
Pros of Siphon Coffee Makers
- Captivating brew process that’s aesthetically unmatched
- Brewed coffee is clean, full-bodied and sweet
- Uniquely low brewing temperature
- Affords control over brew time and temperature
Cons of Siphon Coffee Makers
- More expensive to purchase and use
- Labor-intensive setup, brewing and cleanup
Pros of Pour-Over Coffee Makers
- Affords complete control over virtually all brewing variables
- Brewed coffee is clean, bright and flavorful
- Many affordable models are available
- Beautiful brew process
Cons of Pour-Over Coffee Makers
- High learning curve before you can brew excellent coffee
- Requires gooseneck kettle
- Labor-intensive brewing
Whichever you decide to use on any given morning, you’re sure to have fun brewing and enjoy a good cup of coffee. Consider which one better suits your interests, and start with that one. Get the other next time you’re ready to add a coffee maker to your collection.
Scott M. Brodie covers coffee, theology and boring subjects that pay the bills. When not writing, he can usually be found roasting a new African single origin or composing a fictional work. To see one of Scott’s personal projects, check out seminariesandbiblecolleges.com.