The barista crushes coffee beans and places them neatly in a flask that resembles a test tube. The light is on, hot water rises up the tube and meets the coffee. After a short while, the solution and the fine powder are separated and turned into reddish brown coffee. Then, finally, through the original vacuum tube, the dark liquid has returned to where it all began. Siphon coffee extraction takes just 30 seconds—the science and beauty in it make the process so brilliant and beautiful.
The history of siphon coffee extraction goes back to the invention of vacuum coffee brewer in 1840 by Scottish marine engineer Robert Napier. It was then widely commercialized by one of the oldest coffee dripper makers in Japan, Kono. Siphon extraction, which produces a neat and sharp taste, in fact, used to be a familiar method for the older generations. Quite recently, it has again attracted the attention of coffee aficionados, in conjunction with the development of specialty coffees. Many have commented that behind the success of Blue Bottle Coffee, which now is one of the top 3 coffee makers in the United States, is the San Francisco Mint Plaza store’s siphon extraction process.
In Korea, Greenmile Coffee located near Gangnam-gu Office Station is in a league of its own. While it offers a wide range of blends and espresso extracts, I recommend trying one of the four kinds of house-signature single-origin siphon extracts. Specialty coffees include El Salvador Pacamara, Colombia Pink Bourbon, Kenya Riakiberu and Costa Rican White Honey—but keep in mind the coffee menu changes little by little.
The most impressive was the Costa Rican White Honey which was one of the finalists in the 2012 Costa Rica COE (Cup of Excellence, the most prestigious competition and award for high-quality coffees). White Honey’s processing maintains about 10% of the pulp in the post-treatment of the coffee and dries it—later in the process, the sugar in the pulp affects the coffee through reverse osmosis.
The price point is another winning factor at Greenmile—while I may sound a little exaggerating, I believe that it truly is a blessing for Korean coffee enthusiasts to be able to enjoy such hearty, high-quality coffee at a price of 6,000 won.
Along with the benefits of a clean flush process, the sugar in the pulp penetrates into the coffee, resulting in a clean, sweet and deep-seated flavor. To me, it seemed that the flavor of the coffee was evenly blended in the cup with the clean and sharp notes of the extract. The unique, acidic flavor of the high-altitude coffee doesn’t overpower—rather, its lingering fragrance left delightful traces in my mouth. It would be a great coffee to wake up to in the morning and also to relax over on a late afternoon. While siphon extraction is usually considered as a more sophisticated method reserved for coffee experts, I'm sure what’s offered at Greenmile will impress anyone who enjoys coffee with its complex combination of flavors as well as all that goes into the making.
* Author JB is a freelance coffee and travel writer as well as a Q-grader credentialed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).