Vacuum Brewing with the Cona

the finished product

Vacuum brewed coffee. It’s all the rage on the greater coffee loving scene of late. Mark Prince has been into them for years, they’ve made numerous appearances in barista competitions, St Ali in Melbourne invited a Japanese syphon coffee champion to give a demonstration of the art, and snobs and geeks across the country seem to be getting in on the action in greater numbers.

My first dabbling with vacuum brewed coffee happened after I casually dropped by Fiori Coffee to pay Kam a visit and make a nuisance of myself (as I am prone to doing). Noticing a familiar looking device sitting in a box on the floor I soon found out it was a Cona Vacuum Brewer. Kam, being the gentleman he is, kindly offered to let me try it out, and I’ve been experimenting ever since.

The basic principle behind vacuum brewed coffee is that you have two chambers. Water in the bottom chamber is heated, gives off water vapour, and eventually the vapour expands so much that it pushes the rest of the water up the spout into the top chamber. The ground coffee in the top then brews until you take away the heat source, at which point the water vapour cools and the brewed coffee is drawn back down in the bottom chamber.

I am by no means any kind of expert when it comes to this kind of thing. I’ve been picking up as many tips from other people as I can. So this post is more of just a pictorial guide to one way you could do it, rather than any kind of how to.

The Cona is a very beautiful piece of equipment on it’s own. Shannon Bennett fell in love with it so much that he makes a table side bouillabaisse by infusing fish stock and shell fish using it. The process of brewing coffee in it to me seems more like a science experiment than making coffee, but that’s probably why I like it.

My process is as follows:

Filter some water and fill the bottom chamber up. This is a ‘D’ series Cona, which holds at most a litre or so in the bottom. I fill it with about 750 ml of water, and put it onto a gas burner to heat up. This isn’t strictly necessary, but the Cona’s standard heat source is a little spirit burner, which takes forever to heat this amount of water.

Once some vapours are coming out of the top of the pot, and before it starts to boil, take it off the gas, and lock the top chamber in place on top. Light the spirit burner underneath and add the coffee to the top.

I used a measurement of 8 grams of coffee per 150ml of water (I fudged that from the SCAA standard brew ratio recommendations). Which means 40 grams of ground coffee for the amount of water in this example. The coffee is ground at roughly the same level as French press coffee, though I have been varying it lately to see the effects. Obviously you should be using some nice fresh coffee for good results.

Now you basically let the Cona work it’s magic.

The water will gradually rise up into the top chamber and begin to infuse. When it’s all mostly up in the top, I give it a stir to make sure all the coffee is adequately soaked, which brings out the “bloom” some more. Then when all the water has risen to the top (there will always be some water that doesn’t come up) remove the heat source. The coffee will then slowly start to be sucked back down into the bottom chamber, and the spent grounds stay up the top.

Some people wait til the water had all risen to the top chamber before adding the coffee, namely because it infusion all happens at a similar temperature, but I can’t say I’ve tried enough to tell the difference.

Here is my pictoral view of the process:

Cona - Size DCona - pre brewmeasuringground PNG coffeeSpeeding up the processSome assembly requirednearly readyreally nearly readystarting the brewinvisible flameon the boilcoffee slowly infusingInfusingCoffee risingrise my prettyCritical massThe last dropsthe bloomreversethe vacuum working its magicspent coffeeso elegantthe finished product


– This is great way to brew coffee, it’s an interesting process and the results can be amazing

– The Cona has a glass filter rod. I’m not sure how it works exactly, but the cups I’ve had are generally very clean and without grounds. I like that it doesn’t need changing and is easy to clean, but not sure how it compares to cloth filters in brewers like the Hario.

– It works best with interesting single origins that are roasted much lighter than espresso to keep their inherent terroir characteristics.

– Measuring the coffee in the top chamber through the brew process showed I was getting temperatures around 90 – 95C, which is not boiling obviously, so should be ok. A more specific approach to temperature management would give more reproducible results.

– My experiments have yet to yield any outstanding experiences, but I think that’s due to roast level
of the coffee, and mastering the technique some more.

– There are lots of other ways to do it, here’s a list of other resources I’ve been using:

Sweet Marias
Coffee Kid
Coffee Snobs
Coffee Geek

Also, enjoy the giant photos :)

Masterchef Confessions

I’m watching with great interest the number of people visiting my site lately after Master Chef Australia information. There’s been searches for masterchef auditions, what to cook for masterchef auditions, masterchef judges, masterchef and spam, spam masterchef and spam, spam spam spam masterchef and… oh wait, this isn’t monty python.

Apparently a lot of people want to know about Masterchef, and I am definitely one of them. So i’ve taken it upon myself to collate a little information from all the various visitors to my site in regards to the audition process, their impression of the fairness or otherwise of how the selections are happening, and any other little tid bits of information I can gather.

The score so far:

Out of the 7000 (or so) people who applied to be on the show, roughly 100 were selected from each state.
From the 100 or so who turned up to the Masterchef auditions, about 20 or so got through to the second day of competing. From those 20 or so people who made it to day 2 in each state, a final 50 were selected overall to go to Sydney for the semi finals.

Those semi finals will be filmed and are due to start on Monday next week the 9th of Feb.

Some stories coming out of the auditions are that a lot of people got through based solely on their stories, and who had little cooking ability. In my personal experience, I’d have to say this isn’t true. The people I met at the Perth auditions were all great people, who had as much love of food and cooking ability as I do, and I would have been very happy for any of them to go through.

I’ve also been talking to other people who did make it through, and can confirm that they are not all of the model stereotype, and did not resort to tricks or sob stories to make themselves seem more interesting in order to get onto the show. The people I’ve spoken to have also displayed an amazing level of knowledge of food and flavours, and I will be more than happy if they make it onto the show eventually.

The word from the audition floor is that seasoning and cooking things properly were big downfalls for a lot of people. Risotto was a hard sell, as were under seasoned dishes. Word on the judges is that George was very tough, Gary a bit dull, and Matt quite friendly. But then aren’t all Matt’s :)

Of course, there’s no denying that reality TV brings out the worst in a lot of people. The grand standing, the gregarious personalities, the over the top fakeness and willingness to do or say pretty much anything to get yourself recognised is all to tempting for some. I’ve heard plenty of interesting stories in the comments of the last post for that.

My two cents is that yes, this is reality TV, it’s going to happen. With Big Brother not airing this year, there will be a lot of disappointed teenagers and voyeuristic housewives looking for their reality fix. Masterchef needs to be the thing that fills that void. The producers are thus compelled to find personalities that fit whatever mould they think is needed to make the show entertaining. How interesting would it be if there were a bunch of food geeks sitting around a room discussing how to best sous vide a fillet of salmon ? (Ok, actually that would be quite interesting…but that probably just means I’m a food geek).

I’m still going to be watching the show of course. I’ve been through enough of the process now to be very interested in how it all turns out. And if a certain mystery person wants to send me a secret wink when they do get on the show, they may just make my day.

A Filipino BBQ

Lechon Kawali : The finished product

I’m lucky to have some good friends. Friends who love food as much as I do, and who come from many diverse backgrounds and cultures. One of those friends is Jen, and for as long as I can recall she’s been telling me about how great Filipino food is, and how I need to try it. “Back in the Philippines” is her favourite catch phrase, and yet somehow I always seem to be conveniently absent when all of these amazing dishes were being served up, aside from a scorching batch of Bicol Express she’d made at a curry night that now seems like eons ago.

So enough teasing… It was time to put up or shut up. The word was put out and the date set, the great Filipino bbq was finally going to happen. House boy Ben busily got the patio ready with furniture and umbrellas for shade, and both Ben and Jen starting to acquire all the things they’d need to make a Filipino feast.

Now I started to realise why it had taken such a long time for this to all come together. Filipinos do not do things by halves. The list of dishes Jen had taken it upon herself to make was a tour de force of all things good and traditional, and it took the better part of a few days for her to prep it all up.

She had a little help though. Ben, in true male style, ably manned the bbq all day, sister Jasmin did her bit and brought along a dessert dish, and Filipino food appreciator Greg tried his hand at a dish of his own.

In the end the list of dishes sounded a little like this (apologies for misspelling or poor descriptions):

  • Pinakbet : A kind of vegetable stew with pumpkin, string beans, eggplant, okra, shrimp paste
  • (Pancit) Palabok : Noodles covered in an orange coloured sauce (made from fish sauce, corn flour, and a bunch of other things) with prawns and sliced egg and calamansi lime juice
  • Kare Kare: Oxtail stew in peanut sauce, eaten with shrimp paste.
  • Tilapia : A small fish that gets grilled over coals
  • Grilled Liempo : Basically a massive hunk of marinated pork belly grilled on the bbq
  • Lechon Kawali : An awesome way of cooking pork belly by boiling it, cooling it, deep frying it, cooling it again, and then deep frying a second time. This results in beautifully tender pork belly on the inside, with a fantastic crunchy exterior. Greg did an amazing job of this, served in pieces with a dipping sauce, it was fantastic
  • Brazo de Mercedes : A custard / merengue cake rolled into a log and baked. This didn’t turn out quite how Jasmin wanted, so it ended up being a Lasagne de Mercedes. Still tasted great though :)
  • Leche Flan : The ubiquitous Filipino dessert, a decadently rich version of creme caramel.

Kalamansi Caipirinha

I did my best at getting into the spirit by making some fairly potent caipirihnia (national drink of Brazil) using calamansi limes (which are small and intense) and a healthy dose of Tanduay Rum. They weren’t quite to everyones taste, but did make a refreshing change from San Miguel beer in terms of authentic Filipino drinks.

To say this bbq was a feast would be a drastic understatement. Jen had even gone to the trouble to make her own shrimp paste (Bagoong) which was served both as the saltiest condiment I’ve ever tried (something any true Filipino will appreciate), and to flavour many of the dishes.

So maybe there is something to Filipino food after all :)