Bodum Santos 3004 - Electric Vacuum Brewer (5 cup 750ml model)
The Santos survived the courier trip without a scratch. Opening the well illustrated box, you will find a large funnel and lid ( the upper chamber), the carafe, the base/power switch, nylon filter, instruction video and manual. Bodum thoughtfully included a package of descaling powder.
Yes, this brewer is plastic - polycarbonate and you have your choice of some funky colours - orange, blue, teal green and clear. The design is striking and has won design awards. The stainless steel heating element is integral with the base of the carafe and is inclined at a fairly steep angle. The Santos claims to brew at an ideal temperature of 201F. The carafe has a very nice rubberised handle that made for a firm non-slip grip. The electrical cord is not attached to the carafe, but is attached to a circular plastic base. The base has a ON/OFF rocker switch. When placed on the base, the carafe is energised through a unique round key and socket type of electric connection. The model we tested did not have the optional delayed start timer. Keep in mind that this model is a 5 or 6 cup model using very small cup sizes of just over 4 ounces. This 25oz model is good for 3 good sized (North American) cups of coffee.
Putting the pieces together is pretty straightforward and intuitive. The manual has step-by-step illustrated instructions. Before launching into your first brewing session right away, take a moment to assemble the unit and see how the pieces fit together. It is very easy. Place the carafe on the base. Insert the filter into the funnel - it looks like a pacifier. CAUTION: this filter looks quite delicate. it is a very fine nylon mesh. Make sure you don't poke a hole in it. The filter will snap in with a very audible snap. Once the filter is in, insert the funnel into the carafe making sure the large "dent" on the side of the funnel is directly facing the handle. Oh yes, the one thing that did give me a bit of trouble at first was removing the lid from the funnel. The trick is to grasp the edge of lid on the side of the funnel with the small dent and lift straight up.
Next, you insert the funnel into the carafe at a slight angle. The tip of the funnel will point to the deepest part of the carafe. Refer to the picture in the manual. I would push the funnel down until it is "bottomed" and sealed. Note that there is a large black rubber seal wrapped around the base of the funnel. The manual suggests wetting the seal with water in order to make insertion easier.
That's it for assembly. The manufacturer suggests to break in the unit by brewing a pot of plain water in order to clean out the machine. Do so and watch the entire process carefully.
The first run is just with plain water - no coffee. Fill the carafe with water to the maximum line - about 750ml. Flip the carafe lid out of the way and insert the funnel(with filter) into the carafe. Make sure everything is sealed. Don't forget to put back the lid on the funnel. Turn on the switch and observe closely. You will note that the water heats up very quickly. You've got a 1200 watt element heating up at most, 25 oz or 750 ml of water. The water will be forced up into the neck of the funnel through the filter from the bottom up. Here, things get interesting and this is where I find a small fault in the step-by-step instructions. The instructions don't really tell you that the carafe pretty much boils dry before a thermostat automatically kicks off the heat. I got concerned enough that I switched the unit off manually. As soon as I did so, the water came whooshing down. Aha! - the famous vacuum!
One trial run was sufficient to see the entire process. Now we brew for real. Bodum has included a 7 gram coffee scoop for which they recommend one scoop per cup of coffee. I put in about 5 scoops of Sara's Honduras coffee for my willing office colleagues, switched on the unit and watched the process.
The water heats up fairly quickly and the water slowly rises up the funnel and starts to saturate the coffee grounds. For a second or two, you start to wonder if the water is mixing well enough with the coffee grounds in the upper chamber. While you are considering whether or not to reach for a chopstick and try your hand at stirring the grounds, the brewer suddenly launches into action and soon you will see a lot of turbulence and foaming going on. This happens when the water in the bottom carafe drops below the bottom of the funnel and the steam really starts to churn things nicely.
This time I let the brewer run through its cycle without any intervention. Just about when most of the water boils dry from the lower carafe, the thermostat automatically kicks off - shutting off the heat. Because a slight vacuum is formed in the lower carafe, the coffee is now sucked slowly downward though the filter into the bottom carafe. A few minutes later, the coffee is ready. Remove the funnel, flip down the lid on the carafe and you are ready to pour. There's a neat swing out holder that's built in the base. Use it to hold the funnel carrying the spent grounds.
For the donut shop/carry out coffee crowd, most thought that 5 scoops resulted in too strong a cup. About 4 to 4 1/2 scoops was about right. Adjust to taste.
I would describe the taste as clean rather than thin with far less sediment and mud than french press. Coffee is hot and pleasant.
Tips and Techniques
Unlike a french press, you can use quite a fine grind in this machine. I would recommend you start using a filter brewing grind and try experimenting with finer grinds.
When you are emptying the spent grounds, be careful not to poke a hole in the filter.
If you are in a hurry, you can speed things up by heating up the water while you are assembling the filter and funnel and pouring in the grounds. I would do this before the water gets to a full boil.
Remember to put the lid on the funnel or the coffee will boil over.
DO NOT IMMERSE either the base unit or the carafe in water. Read below for cleaning instructions.
The Bodum Santos is perhaps slightly messier to clean than a french press. You will get your hands dirty. I usually remove as many of the spent grounds from the funnel as I can with my fingers. You may want to to do this over the garbage/trash can. Keep those fingers away from that delicate filter while you are swiping the sides of the funnel. Remove the filter and rinse out the remaining grounds with soapy water.
Make sure that you tell your company in advance about your new brewer lest you find it at the bottom of the sink full of water. Don't forget, the heating elements, wiring and electronics are in the base of the carafe. It is not waterproof. DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER!
In order to clean your carafe, fill it with warm soapy water and swish it around with a dish cloth wrapped around a wooden spoon. Improvise. You can probably find something suitable in the housewares department.
Like most plastics, I would avoid drying the unit using paper towels as paper is quite abrasive. Use a soft 100% cotton drying towel.
This particular model is HOT. At least a minimum of 204F brewing temperature was measured in the funnel.
Occasionally, when brewing a full pot of coffee, the unit will splash/overflow slightly through the vent holes in the top lid. Not much of a mess, but there were a few drops of coffee thrown here and there. A combination of fresh roasted coffee and the resulting "bloom" coupled with the maximum amount of water in the unit may have contributed to the problem. You might want to use slightly less water in the brewer.
The infusion time is thermostatically controlled. You can not change it. As a work-around, extraction factors can be increased if you use a finer grind at the cost of slightly more sediment in the cup.
The inner lip of the carafe is a little difficult to clean.
Depending on the model, the filter life is said to be 1-3 months. At $5.00 US each, that expense is not insignificant.
Minor criticisms aside, the Bodum Santos electric vacuum brewer is a unique way of preparing a very clean cup of coffee. For someone who is currently using an electric department store coffee machine, the quality of your coffee will take a quantum leap forward with one of these automatic vacuum brewers.
For the french press fans who wish to explore vacuum brewing without worrying about delicate glass components, you may want to give the electric Bodum Santos a look.
The crew will be testing these units long term and will file an update. We'll let you know how the filters stand up and if there are any long term performance and/or reliability issues. We would like to thank Sara Spector(above right) of EveryDay Gourmet Coffee for supplying us with these test units.
Price: $139-189 CDN
Glenn S. is a senior financial consultant with a successful firm in Southern Ontario. He works and lives in Waterloo and is the most prolific member of CoffeeCrew.Com.