Excellent vac brewer but watch the handle when the burner is not on low; certainly a great value. Stovetop convenience, vac-pot awesome-ness.
Positive Product Points
Inexpensive. Same features as very expensive glass models. Use on stovetop so no need to play with portable burners. Makes great coffee, looks very cool doing it. Easy cleanup.
Negative Product Points
In the 5-cup model ( can't comment on the other model), the black plastic handle curves downwards, and if the burner is on too high a heat, it will burn the bottom of the handle. Also, should come with a glass rod, so you don't need to buy one on your own. The glass rod filters exceptionally well and is a snap to clean.
Without that much work, it makes a great cup of coffee, and looks extremely cool while doing it. There are not that many parts to this, all glass, with a plastic handle, rubber gasket for the funnel to fit into the carafe, and then the filter. It also comes with a plastic cap for the funnel, which doubles as a stand to put the funnel in after you've brewed. I have never used the filter it came with, so keep that in mind when you consider my review. I knew people use glass rod filters in the Cona, so I bought a Cory rod from ebay for $9. Fits perfectly, no hassles, but I've read reviews where people had trouble with the siphoning process. In mine, the water siphons up no problem, mixes, I leave it for a minute up there with the grounds, then I turn off the heat, and it siphons back down in about a minute. This is my new favorite way to make coffee. A very cool feature is that the water/coffee never touches anything but glass. Not that I've ever detected any off tastes in a french press, or in my old Capresso, but still a cool concept. Very old school. No clue why they fell out of favor. Way cooler than a drip maker, and honestly easier to clean.
I do need to get a little test-tube brush to clean out the funnel spout. That part is too narrow to get anything else in there. Other than that, super easy to clean.
The plastic cap for the funnel that doubles as the funnel stand - it seems a bit light and when I put the funnel in it, I check it just to make sure it won't tip over. Now I know it won't but the first few times, it had me a bit nervous.
I really do think this product would be better if it came with its own glass rod filter. I'm using a Cory, and it works great, so why would they futz with the cloth filters and the metal contraption? I also don't know from the instructions how many uses you get out of a filter cloth. Do you wash/let dry between brews? The included instructions were limited, so Sweet Marias has their own advice sheet on using the brewer, and it is very helpful.
No problems. They are a big vendor to the green bean/CG community, so I'm sure most of you are familiar with them.
Three Month Followup
At three months I had discovered an issue with the handle, and having the burner on high heat - it burns. Please read my full comment in the 1 year followup.
One Year Followup
Still a big fan, although I learned some things about using this on a stove-top. The plastic handle curves downwards toward the burner, so if you want to speed things up and have the burner turned up a bit, you will smell the handle burning. [Because of this I downgraded the quality rating to 8, but not any lower] On my stovetop, I can't turn the fire above medium, without having the handle burn. That said, I also discovered that everything seems to work better by keeping the flame on the low side of medium and going slowly. I do not pre-heat my water, I start with cold (because I don't see the flavor advantage, only a time advantage, to pre-heating it inside a kettle) I suppose that takes me a few minutes longer than the pre-heaters, however, I accept this longer heating time as I think it leads to less chance of issue when turning down the heat after the rise. Let me explain - when the water heats up to the point where it has completely risen and filled the upper chamber, I add my ground coffee (7 grams per cup), start a timer (I average 2 minutes), and then I turn down the heat very slightly so that it won't bubble too aggressively. When I heated the water slowly, this worked perfectly and after 2 minutes I take off the heat, about 15 seconds later it starts to vacuum down, and a great cup ensues.
When I was pressed for time and had the heat up high (using a tiny frying pan as a heat-shield to keep the handle from burning), and I trim the heat once I've added the coffee, sometimes the drastic heat drop (which is a larger drop than when I heat the water slowly on lower heat) causes the vacuum to start and the coffee starts getting sucked into the bottom chamber after only a brief period. This is a disaster, and I have salvaged the pot by putting the heat back up, but it's certainly not considered a successful brew.
Therefore my conclusion for temperature, I heat the water in the Yama on the lower end of medium on my stove-top (gas). This sets the conditions for a stable infusion period and a great brew results. I am home-roasting and tend towards city+ roasts for east African bean coffees. Another factor for me is that I exclusively use the Cory glass filter rod, so I've never fussed with the yama filters. I highly recommend the Cory rod, easily obtained on Ebay in new condition. When I finish, I have 3 pieces of glass to clean, and that's it. There is nothing in my brew-system which could impart an off-taste, a key advantage to this technique.
Another thing - I always brew a full pot. A few times I did a 4-cup pot, but in general I find it just easier to do the whole thing. It doesn't make a great deal of coffee, enough for one glutton or two average drinkers. That's a function of the device size, which is what it is. The need to brew the whole pot rather than 2 or 3 cups - that is a disadvantage of the technique moreso than the device, because the amount of water that stays in the lower chamber (the water between the bottom of the glass carafe and the lowest extent of the glass funnel upper chamber) is constant if you are brewing 2 cups or 5 cups. Therefore if you brew 2 cups, you'll have a lower percentage of your overall volume infusing with coffee, than if you brew 5 cups, therefore you get a different infusion dynamic. Not a deal-breaker but worth understanding.
It is safe to say that my brewing system with the Yama/Cory has removed the brew process as a source of error in making excellent coffee. If my coffee is sub-par, it's because of my roast or the beans, but not the brew technique.
I still highly recommend the Yama, as a bargain way to get in to vacuum brewing. If you want to get the fancy Cona and a $400 UV-light burner, be my guest. If I was swimming in cash, I would. Coffee geek to the end.