Coffee Break : Chemex
Updated: Mar 17
Ahh, the Chemex. Function. Beauty. And definitely more than a little experience. The Chemex was invented by one Mr. Peter Schlumbohm back in 1941. Up until that point, most households were brewing their coffee using a percolator. But, then came along Schlumbohm and his Chemex which offered a pour-over style of coffee that produced a cleaner taste and milder finish. With its simple and yet visually appealing design, the Chemex would go on to be declared “one of the best-designed products of modern times”.
In fact, the Chemex was ultimately considered a work of art. It is included in a collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Visual appeal aside, the thing could make a good cup of coffee! Don't let it be said that the Chemex is style over substance! Whether you're an aspiring barista, or just a home brewing fanatic, let Sippy give you the low down on the Chemex. You might just decide you can't live without one.
That Appealing Design We've already established that the Chemex coffeemaker is a work of art. But, it's also kind of a celebrity. It's made appearances in classic movies like Breakfast at Tiffany's, and even TV shows like Friends and Mad Men. Once you've seen one, it's pretty much instantly recognizable. A Chemex is made primarily of glass. It features an hourglass shaped flask that's “cinched” about the neck by a heat proof wooden collar. The neck is shaped in a conical/funnel type way to allow for the proprietary filters it uses.
All in all, there's something both modern and homey about the coffeemaker that makes it something you won't mind looking at, or leaving out on your kitchen counter. All that glass means you are getting a very clean tasting cup of coffee. Nothing in this maker is going to add any alien flavors to your brew, provided you rinse your filters first of course.
So, What's It Like?
Well, a Chemex is first and foremost a pour-over style coffeemaker. It's also considered pretty friendly to both novices and experts alike. Overall, using a Chemex is going to leave you with a very clear and bright, light-bodied cup of coffee. Think pretty much the exact antithesis of a French press. When you use a Chemex, you're using an infusion method. The result is more akin to using a drip method of brewing. It is naturally far and away superior to, and provides a much richer cup, than an auto-drip style machine. By using a Chemex, you're going to get plenty of nuance, and be able to detect many of the more subtle notes your coffee has.
How Does A Chemex Stack Up Against Other Pour-Over Makers/Methods
Generally speaking, a Chemex has a lot in common with other pour-over methods. You'll need a gooseneck kettle, and a grinder, and a scale if you want to be precise. But, where a Chemex diverges is mostly in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee, and the filters. The entire process of making yourself a delightful cup of coffee with a Chemex will take at least 4-5 minutes. This is a couple minutes longer than other pour-over gadgets like a V60 would take. The reason for this is the Chemex's special filters. These filters are dense. We're talking 20-30% more dense than other filters used for pour-over methods. The Chemex filters means that the rate of extraction is slower, as the water is moving more slowly through the beans and the filter. Yes, this may equate to more time. But, that also means that the flavors will be better
developed, and the tasting notes will be much more obvious. See, good things do come to those who wait.
Back to The Grind
Since the filters used with a Chemex are so thick, you're going to want to adjust your grind. If you go too fine with the slow drip, you risk your coffee actually becoming over-extracted. Generally speaking, you'll want to use a medium to medium-coarse grind. Look for your grounds to be about the size of sea salt grains. This may take a bit of experimentation, however. Overall, time will be your litmus test. If your extraction takes longer than the standard 4-5 minutes, that means your grind needs to be more coarse. The amount of cups you are brewing can also be a factor. The more servings you intend to make in a single go, the coarser you will want to grind your beans. Also, all experts agree: a burr grinder is an absolute must with a Chemex.
So, have we piqued your interest when it comes to a Chemex coffee maker? We're certain you won't be disappointed if you decide to give it a whirl. Check out our handy how to below to get started.
Heat up your water. You're looking to reach a temperature of anywhere between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius. You'll want enough water to prepare your coffee, as well as extra to rinse your filter.
While you're waiting for your water to reach temperature, prepare your Chemex filter. You'll want to separate the side with 3 folds, from the side with only one. Once that is done, go ahead and settle it into your Chemex, with the three 3 folded side against the spout.
Wet/rinse your filter with some of the hot water. Swirl what drips down into the bottom around the carafe to heat the glass and better prepare it for the impending coffee goodness. Before you discard the water, pour it into your coffee cup and allow it to warm it as well. Now you can dump the water.
Use your burr grinder to grind up your beans. Be mindful to adjust your coarseness according to amount of coffee being made. As far as ratios go, you'll want to plan on 1 gram of coffee to 15 grams of water for a single cup.
Add your grounds to the filter. Cover with only enough water to wet them. Do not over-soak. Allow about 30 seconds to a full minute of wait time for your coffee to have a chance to bloom. (Expect some bubbling and rising of the grounds as the gases escape.)
Time to pour the water. Bring to a boil and then let sit for approximately 30 seconds. Pour water in a circular/spiral motion to saturate your ground beans. The key here is slow and even. You'll want to keep the water level just above your grounds, and at least an inch away from the top of the Chemex. Keep pouring until you've used the desired amount of water for the amount of coffee you're preparing.
Once your coffee has stopped flowing, toss the filter and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Congrats!
You're now on your way to becoming a Chemex master!