The strange world of the Coffee Syphon

At the risk of exaggeration, there are almost as many ways to make coffee as there are different blends of the stuff. From the French Press and the humble filter, to the Espresso Machine and the innovative Aeropress. But for sheer theatrics, nothing beats the weird-as-all-get-out Coffee Syphon.

It’s certainly not the most convenient method to make your cup of joe, best approached on a quiet Sunday afternoon, but it does produce an amazingly clean and balanced brew with little to no leftover grit.

Invented in Germany in the 1830s, the Coffee Syphon, also known as the vacuum pot, is one of the older methods of producing coffee. It was actually quite popular in most households up until the 1960s, when more convenient coffee machines and instant coffee appeared on the market. They normally consist of two parts made from heat-resistant glass – a lower flask and an upper chamber with a long glass tube and a rubber seal. When placed together, a seal is created allowing a vacuum to be formed. A filter made from metal or cloth is placed between the upper and lower chambers.

The principle of the device is pretty straightforward. Heat some water in the flask, the water expands up the glass tube into the upper chamber where the coffee grounds reside, allow the brew to steep for a minute or two and remove the heat. The liquid then contracts as it cools and moves back down to the lower chamber, getting filtered on the way.

The setup

The particular syphon that I have is a TCA-5 made by Hario of Japan, where these things still seem to be reasonably popular. There are many different possible heat sources, stove-top models also exist, but this particular syphon comes supplied with an alcohol burner that sits below the flask. It consist of a cotton wick and alcohol container, the wick is immersed in the alcohol a few minutes before use. Clean-burning alcohol such as methylated spirits should be used, which can be obtained from most chemists.

The alcohol burner.

The TCA-5 comes with a cotton filter secured to a metal disk. The disk also has a spring-loaded chain that you attach to the bottom of the glass tube of the upper chamber. It’s important not to let the cotton filter dry out after use, otherwise stale coffee flavours will stick around, so I keep it stored in a small lunch box filled with water.

Cotton filter stored in water.

A small clip holds the spring loaded chain to the glass tube. I always try to center the filter in the upper chamber as much as possible, this ensures that no grinds can bypass the filter.

Attaching the filter.

The best grind size for the syphon seems to be something between filter and espresso. Not too fine but not overly coarse either.

Adding the coffe grinds.

I always boil up some water beforehand, you can use the burner to do this but I’d imagine it would take a very long time. The burner is then lit and the upper chamber is placed onto the flask.

Lighting the burner

Once the flame looks clean (more blue than orange), it’s placed under the flask and the whole apparatus is sealed by pressing the upper chamber and the flask together.

Soon after, the water will quickly shoot up into the upper chamber, creating bubbles and a nice coffee aroma.

Bubbling coffee.

Once most of the water is gone from the flask, a very small amount will be left in the bottom, allow the coffee to steep in the upper chamber for a minute and stir it. Then the heat is removed and the vacuum takes over.

Heat removed.




Pouring out the coffee.

There’s very little left in the bottom of the cup once the coffee is drunk, especially if you compare this to what’s left after a cup of french press coffee.


Phoenix: Past, Present and Future

Original Phoenix covers

Over the past while, I’ve been watching (and re-reading) Phoenix, a sprawling epic by that towering figure of anime and manga, Osamu Tezuka.

I’d read most of the manga a while ago, but I’d not seen any of the anime based on it. Phoenix concerns itself with some pretty lofty themes; birth, death, the meaning of life, mankind’s place in the universe and the quest for immortality. That last one crops up quite a bit.

The titular Phoenix is the classic fire bird that is reborn from the ashes, common to many mythologies both western and eastern – it’s called Hi-no-Tori (bird of fire) in Japanese. Throughout the chronology of Phoenix, which spans eons, the bird appears many times. Oftentimes to advise people, influence the development of life, observe or comment on man’s folly. It is also an object of desire for people throughout time, as it is said that drinking it’s blood will give one immortality. As it turns out, those that do achieve this suffer the most of all.

It’s hard to pin down what the Phoenix represents, it refers to itself many times as a galactic spirit, other times as one aspect of the life force of the universe. In any case, it is instrumental at key points throughout history.

Tezuka began work on Phoenix in the mid 60s and continued to write it up until his death in 1989. He had intended to tie all aspects of the story, past, present and future, in the final chapter – unfortunately it remained unfinished. Phoenix contained a lot of experimental artwork and themes that were very advanced for the time, so it was initially published in Tezuka’s “out there” magazine, COM. The manga has been released in english by viz and is collected into 12 volumes. I’ve managed to get 11 of these, however volume 4 seems to have fallen off the face of the planet and is extremely difficult to find.

In terms of adaptations, the first was actually a live action version, from 1978, of the Dawn chapter (volume 1 in the viz release). This is a *really* odd film, it appears very much like it was made by students and was obviously done on the cheap – locations range from some kind of rural cottage, grass huts and what appears to be an abandoned gravel quarry. It also mixes live action with anime in parts – Astro Boy even makes an appearance at one point!. Despite it’s strangeness, it’s very faithful to the source material. As an aside, the subtitles on the copy that I have are hilariously bad in parts.

Phoenix live action: Bad subs!

The first anime adaption came along in 1980, Phoenix 2772: Ai no CosmoZone, released in english as Space Firebird (very imaginative translation there guys). I’ve not seen this in it’s entirety, but from the few clips I have seen it looks extremely impressive, especially for the time.

Phoenix 2772

The english dub is also amusing, it was one of those cheapo dubs that were oh so common in the 80s, done with British actors that didn’t bother to disguise their regional accents.

Phoenix: Yamato

In the late 80s, 3 OVAs were produced, based on the Karma, Yamato and Space chapters. Directed by Rintarou, I think these convey very strongly the essence of Phoenix with high quality animation and an extremely atmospheric electronic score. If you only watched one Phoenix series, I would suggest this.

Phoenix 2004

Finally, in 2004, a 13 episode series was released. This was directed by Ryousuke Takahashi (he of Votoms, Dougram and Gasaraki fame) and covers the Dawn, Resurrection, Strange Beings, Sun and Future chapters. Whilst this was a very impressive series for the most part, I felt that they took too many liberties with certain chapters – in some cases totally changing the setting and cutting out massive chunks of the story in order to fit things in. For this reason I was left with the impression that the latter half of the series was somewhat rushed, it would have worked better if they’d covered a smaller number of chapters in the same amount of episodes.

Phoenix statue: Tezuka museum

All in all, this is a monumental series from one of the greats of anime and manga – Tezuka called it his “life’s work”. If you are up for something that will fascinate, amuse, surprise, shock and promote some interesting debate on the nature of existence, Phoenix is really worth a look. signed (again)

For real this time :)

My previous attempts at signing fell into disrepair and the zone expired soon afterwards, since I was doing everything manually. However, the whole lot is automatically managed by OpenDNSSEC now, apart from the KSK rollover of course. But there are some clever things you can do to fix that, with the DelegationSignerSubmitCommand.

So here’s the current trust anchor for in DNSKEY format, and in
DS format.

Unfortunately, joker (my registrar) don’t appear to be accepting DS records at this point. So neither of the above are in the wider DNS even though .net is now signed. However, I did register with godaddy, who are currently accepting DS records through their somewhat clunky interface.

Stub/local zones and DNSSEC in Unbound

I have a couple of local DNS zones on my home network that are served from a BIND running on the same machine as my Unbound resolver. It listens on a different address, so Unbound, being the default resolver for the network, is configured to forward all requests for that particular zone to BIND.

This has worked fine, until I enabled the signed root in Unbound. Suddenly, the entire local zone was being treated as bogus, since, obviously, it appears nowhere in the root. This was manifested as SERVFAIL responses and general badness on the network – including my NAS losing it’s DHCP address whilst I was watching an episode of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood….not good.

After scanning down through the sample unbound.conf, a simple solution presented itself:

 domain-insecure: "localdomain"

This tells unbound to put up with the fact that a particular domain may be bogus/insecure, and life goes on. It could be argued that it’s not a good idea to let some domains be treated differently than others when it comes to DNSSEC, but I think it’s good that the developers of Unbound had the presence of mind to include a solution to this particular corner-case.