Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three

Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three
John Gilhooley

Yesterday, we called Jeff Duggan a coffee geek. This, it turns out, was not 100% accurate; he is really more of a coffee mad scientist, the Dr. Emmett Brown of java, except, you know, with better hair. On the Line usually features a recipe from the featured chef on the third day; since this week we are featuring a coffee artisan, it makes sense that there wouldn't be a recipe per se.

Behind the jump, Jeff takes us on a tour of his favorite coffee brewing machine contraption Rube Goldberg apparatus thingy. Meanwhile, if you missed the interview portions of this week's show, they can be found here and here.

The contraption in question looks like a Büchner funnel; it looks like a water bong; it looks like a reject from a steampunk Starbucks. The pictures sort of beggar any concise description, so we'll let Jeff explain in his own words:

The funky looking 20th-century lab piece in the pictures below is referred to as a siphon or vacuum pot. I chose this method for a couple of reasons.  First, there really is no cooler way to brew. Second, this is one of the four specialized techniques we will be showcasing at our new brewhouse in Costa Mesa, Portola Coffee Brewhouse & Roasterie.  Again, it is all about introducing a coffee culture in Orange County, and a large part of that is bringing attention to some of the best ways to brew coffee. A standard commercial coffee brewer and large capacity dispenser is not one of those ways.

OK, back to the vacuum pot.  Based on historical patent records, it appears as though the vacuum pot was created in the 1830s or a short time before in Germany. It basically operates with steam pressure, and the resulting vacuum created as the environment cools and pressure drops. Modern iterations of the siphon pot range from about $40-$100, with the difference in price primarily a function of material cost.

I love vacuum brewing. Although it may seem a bit overcomplicated, you would be surprised how fast and simple of a process it really is after a little practice. What is so special about vacuum brewing you might ask? Other than just looking cool, of course. Coffee brewed in the vacuum pot produces a very clean and crisp cup without the sediment, like what is left when using the French press method. The vacuum tends to produce flavor with brightness and intensity that is unique to this method. Is it for everyone? No. Not everyone will appreciate the nuanced cup profile that I describe as crisp and clean. Those preferring heavy, more pronounced body in the cup may find the vacuum brew a little on the light side.

Although the more pleasantly acidic, lighter bodied coffees are best-suited for the vacuum, this is not to say you can't throw an earthy Sumatra in there and come out with something surprisingly palatable. I just find coffee like Kenyans, Ethiopians, El Salvadorians, Costa Ricans, etc. to be particularly good in a vacuum pot. It is certainly worth trying if you have never experienced it. You too may become the mad scientist coffee geek in your household.

How To Brew Coffee Using A Vacuum Pot
Jeff Duggan, Portola Coffee

1. Fill the lower globe (bowl thingy) with fresh clean water.

2. Measure out desired amount of coffee beans. With Portola coffee I suggest starting with 32 grams of coffee per 16 oz. of water. If you don't have a gram scale, then you can use a tablespoon, but this method may produce some inconsistency. Two level tablespoons of darker roasted coffee is about 8 or 9 grams while the same volume of lighter roasted coffee will be 10 to 11 grams of coffee.

3. Grind coffee to a slightly finer grind than medium to ensure sufficient extraction. This will have to be experimented with until the right fineness is reached for your model grinder.

4. Place ground coffee into the upper brew chamber with the cloth filter disk in place.
Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three
John Gilhooley

5. Apply heat to bottom globe using the supplied wick burner or stove burner if you have a stovetop model. If you figure out this vacuum brewing is for you, you will want to invest in a nice butane burner with a spark igniter. These can be found online where vacuum brewers are sold. 

6. Once the water in the bottom globe comes to a rapid boil, secure the upper brew chamber to the bottom globe.
Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three
John Gilhooley

7. This will create a seal that will increase the steam pressure in the bottom globe and force the water up the stem and into the upper brew chamber where the grounds have been patiently waiting. 

Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three
John Gilhooley

8. Once all of the water is in the upper chamber, stir the water and grounds for about 3-5 seconds to ensure all of the grounds become equally saturated. 

9. Turn the burner flame way down so that a constant level of heat is still applied, keeping the solution in the upper chamber without creating a steam boil.

10. Allow the grounds to steep for 45-60 seconds before cutting the heat source off completely.

11. Stir the grounds once again and wait for the bottom globe to cool and the vacuum to be created.  This will essentially suck the brewed coffee through the filter disk and back down into the bottom globe...a vacuum!

12. Once all the coffee has reached the bottom, carefully remove the upper brew chamber without burning your hands.  Serve coffee and enjoy!
Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three
John Gilhooley

13. Decide whether vacuum brewing is for the enlightened or the insane.

Jeff Duggan of Portola Coffee, Part Three
John Gilhooley

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Related Location

Portola Coffee Roasterie at Layer Cake Bakery

4250 Barranca Parkway
Irvine, CA 92604


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