When I was a child there were no McDonalds when you traveled. (OK! There was one in San Bernadino, California) So if you wanted to stop for food you had to find a roadside diner.
I liked diners because I could watch the waitress make coffee in a siphon carafe. First, she put a glass pot on a burner with water in it and then she sealed another glass pot with ground coffee on top of that. After the water warmed up, it was forced into the top pot and brewed the coffee. When the waitress moved the pot off of the burner, the bottom pot cooled and the vacuum sucked all of the coffee into the lower pot. For a kid it was like watching magic.
Diners and coffee shops quit using siphons when automatic drip machines became available.
Siphons are an excellent way to make coffee. Siphons provide four key elements that drip brewers do not, 1) good water temperature, 2) total immersion of the grounds 3) even extraction and 4) agitation of the grounds during brewing.The disadvantages are 1) clean up, 2) they are easily cracked by heat or broken by carelessness, and 3) some of the heat sources are unreliable or difficult to control.
Now that consumers are buying gourmet coffee and demanding better brewing siphons are coming back.
Siphons make a great brewing method for holiday coffee. French presses are good too but they are usually too small to serve a number of guests. Larger siphons are available which will serve 8 full cups of coffee.
There are a number of manufacturers making siphon brewers some of them are, Hario,Yama, Bodum, Starbucks and Cona.
Until recently, siphons had to be heated on a burner or over an alcohol lamp. However, in the past year, three manufactures have come out with automatic siphons with hot plates: Diguo, Twinbird and KitchenAid. This makes siphons a lot more fool proof and convenient. We have been using the KitchenAid and think it makes a brighter, more flavorful coffee than our automatic drip brewers.
All of the siphons are available at Amazon and specialty coffee supply houses.