Fantastic coffee for the confirmed tinkerers among us
Positive Product Points
Fun to watch and you really can't beat the quality of the coffee.
Negative Product Points
Only moderately durable. A model with fewer plastic parts might be better in the long run.
I bought my first Yama about three years ago. I bought another about a year later as a wedding present for a friend (and then found out her new husband doesn't like coffee... so, not a good wedding present). So I kept the second one in reserve, and as it happened, I ended up using it for parts. The first thing to go on my original unit was the gasket. I just noticed it was taking longer and longer for the water to get to the top chamber and the vacuum seal didn't seem as strong. I examined the plastic gasket that forms the vacuum seal and found a rip. So I cannibalized the part from the reserve unit and all was well for a while.
I've noticed people describing "stuck pots" for other vacuum brewers. I hadn't experienced that on my Yama until a week or so ago. At first I was concerned that the vacuum seal was going again, and that the lower chamber vacuum wasn't strong enough to pull the coffee from the top into the bottom chamber. Since I had trouble removing the top chamber, though, I reasoned the seal was probably not the problem. Changing the filter has fixed the issue for now. (I guess I had allowed this one to get a little darker than usual before changing it.)
So you may have to fiddle with it from time to time. But the reasonable price means you can actually buy that extra unit for backup parts and still be out less than $100. Long term, I guess I've got my eye on a Cona, and if/when this second gasket goes, I may go in that direction. But for now the Yama is still doing the trick.
A few thoughts for those who are new to vacuum brewing: --Yes, the coffee is amazing. Adjusting the grind will help you adjust the strength/intensity of flavor, but it will always be a nice, clean cup with no sludge in the bottom, and very clearly delineated and fully developed palate of flavors. You will _really_ notice the difference when you've got freshly roasted beans, and you'll enjoy buying different varieties of coffee because the different array of flavors will really be evident.
--The process with a stovetop model like this one without automatic shutoff/timers is not set-it-and-forget-it. You need to be able to keep an eye on it while it's brewing.
--You don't really have much choice about how much coffee to make. Making less than the full capacity will yield inferior results because the small amount of water that doesn't rise to the top chamber will start to represent a proportionately larger share of the final pot the less you make. So be sure you get the right size. The Yama makes about 2 big morning-sized mugs full, or 3-4 after-dinner cups (large demitasse or small coffee cup). But you can always do cafe au lait and stretch it a bit.
Bought one from Sweet Maria's and one from (I think) the Coffee Barn. Both were great.