Bodum's been manufacturing vacuum-style, stovetop coffee brewers like the 32-oz. Santos (at right) for more than 50 years, so I assumed they know what they're doing. My take: pretty much.
Find out why it's vital to read the directions, how I almost broke my Santos, then telepathically alerted the fire dept, and yet somehow still wound up brewing some really delicious coffee, after the jump...
Some basics: A vac pot is the opposite of a French press, where a plunger forces the grounds to the bottom of the glass to expel the essential oils from the grounds. A method that's very easy to grok and do, at least for me, since I've used one for years.
Initially, I found the Santos to be a bit more complicated. And that is why I suppose it costs $80: more glass, moving parts. There are two chambers, with a tiny filter bridging the glass channel that runs between the two. Attached to the filter is a chain and spring that hooks to the bottom lip of the channel. On the outside of the channel is a rubber sheath that ensures a proper seal.
The water begins below, heats up via flame (or e-coil), and rises up to the grounds in the top chamber, where -- after about 10 minutes from my experience -- most of the water eventually rises. The brown sludge bubbles and boils, and then -- and here's where I first blew it -- you remove the pot from the stove, place it on a surface that's room temp, and initiate the vacuum.
The result: The coffee, oils and crema are PULLED DOWN into the bottom chamber. So instead of elbow grease, you're getting a hand from mother gravity*.
Sounds simple, but it took me two tries to get it right. Here's why: I neglected to read the instruction manual... because one did not come with my box**. By looking at the simple, mostly-graphic instructions on the packaging, I stupidly assumed the vac-action would happen while still on the stove. Nope. You gotta pull that sucker off the flame onto a surface that's room temp. Only with the temp change will the sucking begin (double duh).
Like a chump, I sat for a good 2-3 minutes watching the top half of the Santos shake, before I decided to remove Mt. Vebrewvious from the stove. Here's what it looked like right before I realized I was flirting with disaster (fire dept at 00:30):
Once you do it right, though, oh man. I enjoyed a few very tasty cups of semi-local Sumatra-mocha blend from Thanksgiving Coffee in Fort Bragg, CA***. Virtually no grit or grounds, and it tasted way better than the usual cup. Clean-up wasn't a dream (especially drying the bottom chamber). Regardless, anytime there's brown, fragrant organic matter involved, it's never too fun.
Warning: do not leave pot unattended; remove from flame when 2 cm of water remain in lower chamber; if no water remains in lower chamber, remove from flame immediately.
*I did not originally intend that to sound dirty. Really.
**If only there was some vast resource where information could be available 24/7 to deliver all of the esoteric content we need and desire.
***I apologize if this sounds pretentious. I almost bought Dunkin' Donuts coffee instead.