A silly vacpot brew

I make no apologies for coveting the fancy halogen heaters people are using for their syphon bars around the world.  Frustratingly they all seem to be weird voltages – 110v – and thus useless to me.

Anette had an old 1000W photography lamp around – I’ve used it in the past for high speed espresso droplet shots – and I’ve noticed it gets quite hot.  My inner child suggested I should use it to make a vacpot.  So I did.

It kicked up surprisingly quickly!

There isn’t much temperature control – just on and off.  This was about amusement and not taste so I left it on.  It probably ran a little hot in the top chamber.

I usually like to hover over the vacpot – enjoying the shifting smell and getting info on the brew’s progression.  1,000W of light shining up at you makes this hard to do!

The brightness of the lamp makes the other shots look like they were taken at night, not in a bright sunny roastery.  It didn’t taste great.  At least I could open my eyes properly.

This has left me thinking about how hard it would be to construct a simple halogen heater.  Anyone tried it?  Has to be cheaper than buying one no? Advice, warnings, suggestions for future eye protection and circuit diagrams all welcome in the comments…

19 Comments A silly vacpot brew

  1. The Onocoffee

    Cheaper? Perhaps.

    Easier? Certainly not.

    I’ve been toying around with the idea of building my own halogen heater as well (especially considering the US$20K price tag of the 5 group) but resorted to buying a single group heater for much, much less.

    The important consideration is the wattage of the lamp. The more power, the better. However, you’ve run across one of the problems of halogen lamps: the light. The two heaters I’ve worked with use some sort of filter to reduce/eliminate excessive lamp light while allowing heat to pass through. The multi-group allows more of of a 5600 kelvin quality light to shine through, while the single heaters use a heavy filter that colors the escaping light a strange reddish purple hue.

    Also, the design of the lamp housing reduces light spillage and focuses both the light and heat from the lamp.

    Having worked with halogen lighting for installation in our La Marzocco Lineas, the setup should be pretty straightforward. You’ll need the lamp, the lamp mount, a housing, variable electric controller (dimmer) and power source.

    Halogen lighting (at least the lamps I’ve used) operate using DC current. You’ll need a AC/DC converter power supply, a DC dimmer (or inline AC dimmer) and you should be relatively good to go.

    Warnings? As with most things electrical, the basics are relatively simple. Of course, if you screw it up, you could electrocute and kill yourself. Not much upside there.

    With regards to the single heater units, John Piquet at Cafe D’Bolla in Salt Lake City has a good deal on them. Give him a ring. They’re Japanese models using AC 100v but the converters are readily available and inexpensive. It’s a much easier and elegant solution.

  2. Jaime

    Halogen lamps were developed purely for presentation. It is a superfluous item that adds nothing to the quality of the brew.

  3. Emily

    below is an email I received from a great colleague who is a former electrician turned barista (and great with a syhon!)
    He’s currently experimenting with building a lamp for use in Australia, i.e. 240V. 50hz.

    “Hey Em,

    Yeah, I had already tried sourcing some bits and pieces to build one a while ago. The hardest part is getting the correct lamp. The ones in the Hario Beam heater is a 350w 100V lamp. I was trying to source an equivalent 240V lamp. The only ones I could find are the “Stage lighting” lamps (made by Sylvania/Osram/GE). From memory they’re pretty expeno, and don’t last real long at all compared to the Hario one….. though the Hario lamp is pretty expensive too. I do have some lampholders (the thing the globe goes into) at home here to make one. Then the other thing is the glare. The Hario one has a black tempered glass so it absorbs heaps of the light, and it doesn’t blast a beam of bright light all over the place. The glass has to be tempered to both deal with the heat, plus, to deal with any moisture drops down. If it’s not tempered well, we know what happens if you put cold water on hot glass. It’s kind alike the glass on those black halogen cooktops (on a side, I even tried to source one of those elements to make one). Also the same applies to the lamp itself if there was no glass there in the first place. Like Jim’s one, if a drop of water fell onto the globe, it’d blow up.

    Now I’ve got the Hario one, one of the first things I did was pull it apart. It’s basic as anything on the inside, just a dimmer knob. I could wire that easily. And the actual cone to reflect the light up can be spun by a metal spinner. There’s one in Silverwater I’ve used before. It is doable, but there’s effort involved. The actual enclosure could just be a metal (or even wooden) box, instead of the fancy-schmancy mirrored one of the Hario.

    Put it this way, with enough time I could build one, and it would be cheaper than the Hario one (plus the cost of the transformer). ”

    I’ll keep you posted on his progress.


  4. Yara Tucek

    James, cool pics … a friend of mine lives in Japan and sent me one Hario Beam Heater … he is in contact with the factory and they are willing to make them EU voltage friendly prior to shipping … right now I am using a stepdown transformer and its a bit PITA (very heavy+expensive) … I will be ordering a few soon so let me know if you guys want one, the shipping is uber expensive but those things are worth it:)

  5. coffeecircus

    I was told by a Japanese siphon master that gas lamp is much better because it’s easier to control the temperature. I didn’t get more detail explanation because he ran out of words to explain.

    I was also told (by another siphon master) at UCC booth that the important thing is the temperature of the lower globe. It has to be right so when the string touch the inside of the lower globe, it starts bubbling. That’s the starting point to seal the upper flask. This doesn’t happen with gas lamp in my experience.

    There are at least two schools of thought in every brewing technique I encountered in Japan.

  6. Dan Yee (YeeZa)

    Yeah that’s me :)

    Reading this thread has made me want to attack it properly again and source all the right pieces and make up a proto-type, 240VAC 50Hz version.

  7. Stewart

    I had a chance visit at one of the famouse coffeehouse in San Francisco last week.
    Technical advised by UCC-Ueshima, they have set up a nice looking 5 syphons counter.
    I do now know about a any knowridge about syphon brewing, but druring brewing, staff used
    a stick to mixes coffee powder and hot water.
    Is this a right way?
    This coffeehouse also set up a drip counter, they also used a stick to mixes inside a dripper duering drippin. I just wondering that why they doing…..?

  8. AndyS

    I think the link I previously posted didn’t lead to the right place. Here’s a relevant quote from Wikipedia:

    “For practical applications, the efficiency of the infrared heater depends on matching the emitted wavelength and the absorption spectrum of the material to be heated.

    For example, the absorption spectrum for water has its peak at around 3000 nm. This means that emission from medium-wave or carbon infrared heaters are much better absorbed by water and water-based coatings than NIR or short-wave infrared radiation.”

  9. slide scanner

    This is really cool! I had to make a halogen heater for an electronics project and it worked out quite well. I have managed to get most of the parts I needed for under $10.

  10. mark@barber furniture

    Wow. I can always find out something new from you. I really admire you because you have never tired of trying and doing experiments like this. Tnx for this one.

  11. Coffeehorse


    I know you’ve got a ‘proper’ fancypants one now – but if you want a coffee pig for one, I’ll snag it when it’s completed?


    mental note: ask you about it when you’re back from your travels.

  12. Arnie Schwartz

    If your’e looking for an efficient, inexpensive portable heating unit, you might want to review two units @ http://www.porta-lab.com. The model MF-2001 can be used with the round bottom carafe. The model HP-2003 (Gas Hot Plate), Works great with the flat bottom units(ex: Bodum Santos).

  13. Petr Chutný

    Thanks for this article, experiment and thanks for all commenting people. I’ve made my take on vacuum pot from Chemic glass and of course was thinking about my own IR heater. I’ve found 250W/220V bulbs with integrated IR filter (http://d.pr/QOv6) and inner mirror coating, but I think that’s kinda weak, I’ll give it a try and report here…

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