Review: Two Days w/the Santos Vac Pot [Verdict: Good Sucker]

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... [$80 via Bodum , $69 via Amazon] 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.
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21 Responses to Review: Two Days w/the Santos Vac Pot [Verdict: Good Sucker]

  1. strider_mt2k says:

    Well I simply have to try some coffee made this way if it’s worth all the time and lab gear.

  2. mackenzi says:

    Coffee at my wedding suave, memorable. Portable pots for all the guests to keep. For the children as well.

  3. pork musket says:

    I am still hunting for the perfect vac pot. I saw one I fell in love with and have been trying to find a similar one ever since. I feel a link to Mat Honan’s vac pot post is worth posting:

  4. bob says:

    An online place called Sweet Marias sells a MUCH better version for less. I got my girlfriend a similar one about 7-8 years ago that she absolutely adores. And for the best coffee you really need to roast your own (easy to do, if messy — all you need is the right kind of hot air popper and green beans SM sells those too).

  5. mackenzi says:

    What I really want to see is a talk radio show devoted specifically to coffee. Then I could instantly have coffee atmosphere without all the fuss.

  6. Jeff says:

    Actually, as the name implies, the partial vacuum in the lower pot actually does the work of drawing the water down – notice the furious bubbles towards the end of the cooling phase. The filter is just fine, cleanup is pretty easy (cleaner if you wait until the grounds finish drying). I have a good burr grinder so getting the grind ‘just right’ just means selecting the right grind number every time. Takes no longer to do than a drip, albeit with more hands on, with a much better result.

    I use an electric thermometer to monitor the upper water temperature, wait until it closes in on 190 to lower the heat, around 198-200 pop the coffee in and leave for one minute before cooling. Also, its not recommended to use direct flame on the lower glass pot as the video shows.

  7. Bobsledboy says:

    I have one of these. The most important thing you can do is replace the terrible filter that comes with it. It clogs really easy and fucks up your perfect brew. Any cloth filter (stored in cold water in your fridge when you aren’t using it) will be a million times better.

  8. TheRev says:

    I have a vintage stainless vac pot that I use with a cory glass rod. I’ve already broken one glass pot so I feel better with the stainless. The coffee is great and not too difficult to make. Consistency of grind and my girlfriends dislike of the pot are my only problems.

  9. mackenzi says:

    Dr. Pepper has a new flavor out, Cherry. It’s like extra grenadine in bubbly coffee. It’s beautiful.

  10. Anonymous says:

    You don’t have to remove the device to a cool surface to make it work, just turn the flame off. It might take a minute or two longer to cool down, but that’s all. I always worry that the sudden temperature change of going from the stovetop to the countertop might crack the glass.

  11. Michael says:

    I’ll second the electric version of this. We’re on our 3rd machine in almost 10 years.

    The scaling gets to be a bit much, but it makes a damn fine cup of coffee.

  12. dr says:

    I’ve used one of these pretty regularly for almost 20 years. The only part I’ve had to replace is the plastic lid. Mine came with a metal stand for the pot, a holder for the upper bowl, and a curved cleaning brush; these make use more convenient.

    I’ve rarely had trouble with clogs or otherwise getting a good brew out of it.

  13. DJ says:

    My grandparents used one of these for at least 30 years. The pots were made from aluminum. The “filter” was a stainless steel spring.
    Thanks for the nostalgia!

  14. Narual says:

    I second the glass cory rod. They’re only a few bucks and the coffee comes out tasting better. Plus you can whack someone on the head with one if you ever need to leave a nasty bruise. :)

  15. theDude says:

    “Their” = possessive.
    “They’re” = contraction of “they” and “are”.

    You meant to use the latter.

  16. Dillenger69 says:

    I’ve got one of these. I call it “the super awesome coffee bong”. It’s really more of a pain in the ass than it’s worth. I’ve used it maybe a total of 10 times in 2 years. It’s super delicate and I’m always worried I’m going to break it because it’s top heavy when you have to move it at it’s hottest. You also have to get they grind just right. Too fine and it the vacuum can’t overcome the sludge. Too coarse and it doesn’t taste right. Once you get the grind right, the taste isn’t any better than a French press or Turkish style. It’s not bad if you like high-maintenance mad scientist style coffee, but it’s more trouble than I care to deal with when I’m groggy and need coffee. It’s pretty much reserved to parties for me.

  17. Steven Leckart says:

    @Brandon: yep, I agree. I actually linked to Mat’s post in the “Previously” round-up of links at the end of the post. Cheers, s.

  18. tayknight says:

    Just wait till you’re roasting your own beans and buying 50 year old cory-rods on eBay cause you’re constantly tweaking your vac-pot coffee. The voice of experience speaks.

    And, btw, sells replacement parts. I’ve broken the top or bottom (but never both at the same time) a couple of times.

  19. Roland says:

    I prefer the original from Cona, it comes with a stand and integrated spirit stove. Also the filter is made of glass. It is much more beautiful, but its twice as expensive. Even used ones on the bay are costlier. But on some flea markets you will get them very cheap (also the bodum ones). People get it as a gift, try it once or twice and sell it, witout knwledge, neither of the original price nor the quality of coffee you can get from these. (I got mine for 3 € )

  20. Jarv says:

    Just to mention the existence of the Santos Electric – used to be sold under a Starbucks brand as well. Amazon used to stock it, but doesn’t seem to currently. It’s on sale in Wholefoods supermarkets in the UK currently.

    It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an electric version of the above – made from a strong plastic rather than glass, with a nice base. Its far more steady under operation that the stove-top one seems, the top glove being held very rigidly by the rubber gasket.

    Its very easy to clean (hygienically speaking) as you can simply ‘unplug’ the top globe under a running tap and flush the grounds away very quickly, and the bottom never sees coffee grounds so can be cleaned with a swill of clean water. However, in terms of aesthetics, coffee-coloured limescale builds up in the bottom unit.

    With a slight modification (hacksawing off the lower 5mm of the spout – increases the brew time from the default <1min to ~3min), it brews stunning coffee with very little effort.

    It has been my morning brew for 2yrs and counting, best coffee I’ve ever made at home. Similar taste to french presse but without the sludge and stronger (if you so wish).

    If I remember to do so, I fill it with fresh water the night before so that the Chlorine has a chance to bubble out of the tap water.

  21. notjackobrien says:

    Re: footnote number two.

    In fact, if only there were a video tutorial on using a vac-pot on your own website, you would truly have no excuse…
    (part two)

    sidenote: It made me genuinely gleeful when I found out that my home espresso setup is the exact same as Mark’s. I am a dork.

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