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Yama Vacuum Brewers - Donald Varona's Review
Posted: June 28, 2007, 11:00am
review rating: 9.0
feedback: (1) comments | read | write
Yama Vacuum Brewers
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More About This Product
Arrow The Yama Vacuum Brewers has 30 Reviews
Arrow The Yama Vacuum Brewers has been rated 8.67 overall by our member reviewers
Arrow This product has been in our review database since November 30, 2001.
Arrow Yama Vacuum Brewers reviews have been viewed 186,659 times (updated hourly).

Quality Reviews
These are some of the best-written reviews for this product, as judged by our members.
Name Ranking
Dave Borton 9.60
Anthony C 9.00
Donald Varona 9.00
Jerry T 8.71
Jeremy Maclennan 8.42

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Ratings and Stats Overall Rating: 7.2
Product Reviewed: SY-8
Manufacturer: Yama Quality: 5
Average Price: Varies Usability: 8
Price Paid: $45.00 Cost vs. Value 7
Where Bought: Sweet Maria's Aesthetics 9
Owned for: 2 weeks Overall 7
Writer's Expertise: I love coffee Would Buy Again: Yes
Similar Items Owned:
Bottom Line: A good way to make an excellent cup, but you need to be patient to learn how to use it and get used to its quirks.
Positive Product Points

Great tasting coffee with a smooth clean cup and low bitterness.  Somewhat theatrical process, good for showing off.  Well thought-out design.  Sturdy glass, unlike what I've heard for Bodum products.

Negative Product Points

Flimsy handle.  Hard to store parts as separate pieces.  No lid for the carafe.  Lots of bloom from a fresh roast can threaten brew overflow with a full pot.  

General vacuum brewing issues:  Annoyingly messy and somewhat difficult cleanup.  More involved and detailed brewing process.  Best brew from a full (32oz) pot only.

Detailed Commentary

This is the new 8-cup model that Sweet Maria's recently started selling.  The apparatus-- what else could you call it?  It's not a "machine"-- comes packed with two cloth filters only.  You also get a wire diffuser for use on an electric stove top.

There are two main parts:  an upper glass bowl, with a long descending tube, and a glass carafe.  The upper bowl has a stopper around the neck between the bowl and tube.  When assembled, the tube doesn't go all the way down to the bottom of the carafe, and leaves about 3/8" of space.  You need some space to keep enough water for steam pressure, and also to keep the hook off the glass, but my (inexperienced) preference would be for the tube to go lower.  A higher tube means more water remains below, and is not available to contribute to the infusion.

The carafe has a narrow neck and a rather flimsy band that the handle is attached to.  The band is some kind of metallic reinforced band; it's not going to fall off with normal use, but the band has some give in it that I'm sure I could snap off if I wanted to.  I am concerned that this might wear out over time.  They could have made the band sturdier, or widened the handle where it attaches to the glass so that there is less give, but alas no.  Also, the narrow neck makes it difficult to clean (more on this below).

The filter assembly comes out of the box with one of the filters is attached.  The filter is made of cloth, and is not just a simple disk; it has a drawstring embedded in it that allows you to pull it tight once it is wrapped around the filter disk.  Perhaps someone with good sewing skills could make another with the appropriate materials.  Attached to the bottom of the disk is a spring, a straight piece with a hook on the end, and a ball chain.  You drop the filter in the top bowl with the chain hanging through the tube, pull the ball chain down so that the spring pulls the filter tight against the bowl, and hook the straight piece against the bottom of the tube.  This keeps the filter snug against the glass, and keeps the grounds from falling into the carafe.  Since the upper bowl and tube are all glass, there is nothing for the filter to attach to unless you use the assembly as designed.

The pot also comes with a lid for the top bowl, similar to the 5-cup model; this also doubles as a stand for the upper bowl.  The lid has a cylinder attached where the tube from the bowl is inserted so that it stands upright.  A clever touch, I think.  

Normal operation follows these steps:

  • Boil the water, either in the carafe or in a separate boiler
  • Assemble the filter in the bowl and put it in the stand
  • Grind the coffee; you can use slightly finer than drip but if it's too fine you plug the filter
  • Put the water in the carafe, if boiling separately.  If boiling in the carafe, remove from the heat.
  • Put the grounds in the bowl, and put the bowl on top to seal
  • Put the assembly on very low heat; steam pressure and the seal force the water up into the bowl.  
  • Stir the grounds, and be careful that bloom doesn't cause an overflow.  Wait for all the water to travel up; you'll know this is done when you see vapor bubbles appearing in the top.
  • Important point:  wait another minute or two.  This infusion time is important.  A small amount of water will wait in the carafe, maintaining steam pressure.
  • Remove the carafe from the heat.  Within 30 seconds, the brewed coffee starts to gets sucked by the increasing vacuum through the filter back down into the carafe.  Bubbles appearing in the bottom are the sign that the kick-down is completed.
  • Remove the filter bowl and place in the inverted lid; pour and enjoy.

Some points to note:

  • You have to wait for the water to boil; usually this takes the longest unless you have a fast boiler handy.  Plan your other actions (grinding, filter assembly, etc.) around this.
  • Be sure to use very low heat after the parts are assembled.  Higher heat doesn't help, and also causes the vapor to bubble more vigorously through the filter unnecessarily.
  • Take time to wait for the infusion.  Automatic vac pots such as the Bodum Electric Santos don't wait at all, and this results in a weak cup.  Do some test runs and figure out what tastes best to you; the finer the grind, the less you need to wait.  For me:  a 10-grind on my Virutoso and a 2-minute wait produce a good cup, but I'm still experimenting.
  • Once the brew kick-down is complete, you take the bowl off... but it's pretty hot from the near-boiling water.  You need a cloth or potholder to do this.  In addition, the bowl is smooth and round without a handle, so the next best thing is to grip the top across the bowl opening-- but don't squeeze too hard.  Maybe you could break it if you did.  I do have to say that, with care, I haven't had any problem removing the bowl; it just has that "I need to be careful here" feel, like handling a knife from the blade side.
  • The grind requirements are less forgiving here (although not apparently as bad as the Bodum vac pot) than for other brewing methods.  You can tell if the grind is too fine by timing how long the kickdown into the carafe takes.  Mine takes about 45 seconds.  If it stops ("stalls"), grind coarser.  If it goes lickety-split, grind finer.
  • You'll also need a consistent grind; a whirly-blade grinder probably won't cut it as it always produces some powder and this is as bad as a consistently fine grind.  I have a Baratza Virtuoso, and this works fine.
  • The filters are supposed to last for 3 to 6 months of daily use.  I haven't had it that long, and I'm certainly not using it every day.  I will provide a report of filter durability in my follow-up in a couple of months.
  • Sweet Maria's also says you can use a Cona drainer rod.  I did purchase one of these, but I haven't tried to use it yet.  The benefit is, you don't have to worry about maintainting the filter.  Sweet Maria's does sell the filters, $6 for a package of 5, but I like the idea of having an alternate filter method in the Cona rod, and this was my main reason for choosing the Yama over the Bodum (though I had others).  I think the main differences between using the drainer rod and the cloth filter would be two things:  1) the grind range might be more restricted, possibly changing the infusion time, and 2) don't knock the filter rod while stirring during infusion!!
  • There is no lid for the carafe; why not I have no idea.  Should have been simple to do.  This means that, if you don't consume it all immediately, you'll want to pour the brew into a thermal container.  You could keep it on low heat, but our snobbery will sneer at you, even if only privately.
  • The tube on the bowl makes it hard to store the Yama disassembled, unless you invert the bowl.  Even so you'll have a long thin tube exposed in your cabinet, waiting to get whacked off by some errant bowl retrieval.  It is probably best to store assembled.

Clean-up is just annoying, although this is a general vac-pot issue and not specific to the Yama.  There's no filter to hold all the grinds, just the bowl, and they don't shake out.  You can't bang the glass against anything to get them out either unless you want to risk breaking it.  Releasing the filter doesn't help much.  And you have to wait some time for the bowl to cool before you can clean it easily.  The neck on the carafe is narrow, a necessity because of the way the process works, and you certainly can't get your hand in there.  

The best way I've found is to wash the grinds down the drain, and use a hook cleaning brush, also from Sweet Maria's; check out http://www.sweetmarias.com/prod.coffeecleaner.shtml and search down the page for "10.5 inch hook"; $6.  This brush is perfect as it fits into the small neck of the carafe, and also works well with the bowl.  The curved shape gets up to the glass nicely in both cases.

The filter must be rinsed thoroughly, though I haven't tried disassembling the cloth from the disk.  The filter that is already attached in the box seems to be knotted on, although you might think the drawstring would allow for easy attachment and removal.  I usually wash with soap, rinse with lots of water, and store in the fridge in a container of water with baking soda added.  (I found that suggestion here somewhere, but I haven't tried without it.)  Before use I again rinse thoroughly before assembly.

All in all, it takes more effort than AeroPress, moka pot, or auto-drip in order to make a pot.  However, the reward is a very fine, clean cup, and you have much more control over the process so that you can make it more the way you like it.  It's good when you more than just a small amount of coffee.

Buying Experience

Sweet Maria's was as stellar as always.  Zero problems.

Three Month Followup

My main fear about this product is coming true:  they skimped on quality, and I'm starting to see problems.  A whole 'nother dollar put into the product could easily have fixed both of these issues.  I'm lowering the Quality rating to a 5 for this.

  1.  The band around the neck of the carafe slips so that the handle moves with little difficulty around the carafe away from the pour side.  It still feels flimsy, and it may come apart some day.
  2.  The filter chain (which is a ball-type chain) corroded enough so that it broke when I last tried to use it.  Fortunately I have a Cona glass rod, which works perfectly in place of the cloth filter assembly.  I may have been at fault here because I let the filter assembly sit in an oxygen bleaching solution, and didn't always clean the brewing top in a timely manner.

It still makes great coffee however, and the glass parts and rubber seal are well designed so that at least they will last for a long time.  I haven't noticed any oxidation or embrittling (is that a word?) of the rubber at all.  And using the glass rod does make the cleanup somewhat easier.  Too bad the rod is a $25 piece of glass... I've heard that if you can find other brands of glass filter rod, they work well, and don't cost $25.  (Cory, Silex, etc.)

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Posted: June 28, 2007, 11:00am
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