Chemex: Why this design coffee maker is my favourite

There is no other coffee maker that I love as much as the Chemex! On Instagram #chemexlove is my favorite hashtag and I love scrolling through the hashtag feed. Whether mobile phone snapshots or professional shots, a Chemex simply looks beautiful on every photo! And not only due to its design. In many pictures you can almost feel the declaration of love for the coffee pot, which is reminiscent of the Erlenmeyer flask or an hourglass. But above all, the amazing taste of filter coffee prepared with the Chemex convinces me. Anyone who has ever tried a filter coffee brewed with a Chemex knows what I’m talking about.

In this article you will learn how coffee tastes with the Chemex coffee maker and how to brew the best filter coffee with it. I will also explain the differences to other pour over methods and if you can make other drinks with the Chemex besides coffee. Small spoiler: Yes, you can!

1. Chemex history: a chemist is behind this great invention

Who invented it? The Chemex design was actually developed by a German chemist – Peter Schlumbohm – as early as 1941. He even filed the patent in New York in 1939. At the time, Third Wave coffee culture and the associated pour over methods were unheard of. Not even in the US, where Schlumbohm emigrated to in the 1930s.

Schlumbohm was keen to create a design for his coffee maker that was suitable for everyday use and also looked good. And he succeeded in doing so: With its typical hourglass look, based on the clear lines of the Bauhaus style, the Chemex even made it to the Museum for Modern Art (MoMa) in New York in 1943 as product with the best design! Besides being awarded for its design, the Chemex also brews deliciously tasting filter coffee – thanks to the double-folded paper filter that is still in use today. It is supposed to guarantee perfect extraction of taste and caffeine from the coffee beans during every brewing process. Chemex creator Schluhmbohm and his expertise as a chemist played a key role in this.

In the early 1940s, coffee makers made of aluminium and chrome were in short supply because these materials were melted down in the war industry and used elsewhere. This gave a boost to the Chemex coffee maker, which was and still is known to be made only of wood and glass – the design has remained unchanged to this day. It is even said that more and more coffee drinkers (in the US and all over the world) bought a Chemex for exactly this reason.

2. Chemex in detail: components, types and accessories

The nice thing about the Chemex is that it is available for about 40 euros. So for very little money you get a really good coffee maker made of high-end materials and without a lot of frills that will stay with you for a long time.

Christian explaining the Chemex
Happy Coffee Christian brewing soft and aromatic coffee with the Chemex

Chemex components: wood, glass and leather

The Chemex carafe consists of borosilicate glass, which is mainly used for glassware in laboratories and is therefore resistant to chemicals and temperatures. Hence, it offers perfect conditions for coffee preparation. As coffee drinkers, we want a “clean” cup of coffee as far as possible, without the annoying aromas and smells often associated with aluminium coffee makers. The small bulge of the glass carafe on the upper edge has two functions: Firstly, it allows the water vapour generated during the brewing process to escape and secondly, it enables drip-free coffee pouring.

So that you don’t burn your fingers on the hot glass during coffee preparation, the Chemex carafe is enclosed in a two-piece wooden sleeve. And this in turn is held together by a band of untreated leather.

You can easily clean the Chemex in the dishwasher, by the way. Simply loosen the leather strap and remove the wooden cuff. The real Chemex nerds also use a cleaning brush, which is a bit like a small toilet brush, and give their glass carafe the extra care it deserves.

Chemex types: different sizes, handles and colours

The Chemex is now produced by Chemex Coffee Corporation, based in Massachusetts, and available in all possible forms on their website and in retail outlets: with wooden sleeves or glass handles (see below), classic or mouth-blown – and in various sizes for 3, 6, 8 or 10 cups of filter coffee. Even the leather strap, which holds the two wooden cuff elements together, is available in eight different colours.  

Chemex filters: made of paper, metal or fabric

The most popular Chemex filters are of course the typical, very dense and fine-pored paper filters that are bleached or unbleached. They are available either as pre-folded circles or squares or as crescent-shaped sheets on which you can practice your own folding skills. A folding instruction can be found here.

Permanent metal filters available for the Chemex are a bit more sustainable. However, I’ve been told that in order to use such a filter, for example the Able Cone, you’ll have to adjust the grinding level of your coffee beans to one of the rougher settings, otherwise the fine pores of the permanent filter may clog. In addition, the use of a metal filter also has an influence on the taste: users report that some of the body and aroma of the coffee can be lost.

You can achieve better results with a fabric filter like the coffee sock: It is also reusable and, like its metal counterpart, filters out the fine suspended particles of the coffee grounds, but not the coffee oils. So if you love your fabric filter for the Hario Woodneck, you should try the Coffee Sock for the Chemex as well. What you need to know about such a fabric filter is that it is a little harder to clean than a metal filter. And although it can’t cause an undesirable paper taste in coffee, some experts still think that the classic paper filter leads to a finer aroma of your coffee.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether to use paper, metal or fabric filters for your Chemex.

3. Chemex and other Pour Over coffee makers in comparison

Whenever I have new coffee beans for filter coffee at home, I do a small test arrangement for cupping. In other words, the coffee is tested with everything that my collection of coffee makers has to offer: Kalita Wave, AeroPress, Hario V60, American Press, French Press and of course Chemex. They all get by without electricity. But those are the only similarities.

Full Immersion versus Pour Over Principle: Fundamental Differences

Anyone who knows a little about coffee knows that filter coffee can taste very different depending on how it is prepared. The French Press and American Press, for example, produce quite different results than the Chemex. Both brew according to the full immersion principle, in which the coffee powder floats in the brewing water and is only separated after the brewing time. Both also have metal filters that extract many of the coffee oils and suspended particles in the coffee into the cup. This makes the coffee taste particularly strong and full-bodied.

The Pour Over principle, on the other hand, involves pouring the coffee powder into a filter and infusing it with hot water. This means that it cannot brew so long and intensively, and you get a finer and more floral taste. Especially if filter paper is used: It prevents coffee oils and suspended particles from getting into your cup. However, the composition and shape of the filters of Pour Over coffee makers such as AeroPress, Kalita, Hario V60 and Chemex are very different.

Pour Over coffee maker: Why Chemex is so special

Among the range of Pour Over coffee makers Chemex is the winner for me. My love even goes so far that during my coffee research trip through East and Southeast Asia, in Chiang Mai (Thailand) I had a Chemex carafe including coffee flowers and coffee cherries tattooed on my forearm! My enthusiasm is mainly due to the special properties that make Chemex so unique.

The conically shaped paper filter

Compared to the paper filters of other Pour over coffee makers, the Chemex filter has a conical shape. So it’s like an inverted, pointed paper cap. This allows the brewing water to hit the coffee grounds in a more targeted way: it is collected at the top of the filter and, thanks to its pointed shape, is directed so evenly downwards into the carafe that it catches almost all the coffee particles. The result is a beautifully even extraction.

With the wider paper filters of the AeroPress and Kalita, on the other hand, the brewing water has more contact surface from the start when it hits the coffee powder. The extraction process is therefore faster and more precision is required in order to pour water evenly and to detect under extracted (whitish) areas in the coffee powder. The best way to do this is to use a gooseneck kettle – that’s what coffee connoisseurs call a special water kettle with a curved pouring spout. Of course, it can also be used for making coffee with the Chemex, because the water should be poured slowly here as well. 

Thick paper filters

From time to time critical voices claim that there is no difference between the paper filters of the Hario V60 and the Chemex. Admittedly, the filters and the way they work during brewing are relatively similar. However, the filter paper is different: Compared to the Hario V60, the Chemex paper filters are very thick. They do not allow any disturbing substances to pass through except for the desired coffee aromas and flavors. If you brew filter coffee with the Hario V60 and the Chemex, and compare both variants side by side, you may taste a few and very fine nuances that distinguish one from the other. 

Decant your coffee, like you would do with wine

Visually, the Chemex carafe looks a bit like a decanter. Now one might think that this also has an effect on the aroma development of your coffee. In fact, after brewing, you can swing the carafe back and forth a few times to allow the aromas to fully unfold. Have you forgotten to do so? Then try drinking your filter coffee from a wine glass (red or white wine glass). Just like with wine or craft beer, the wide shape of the drinking vessel gives the coffee even more perceptible nuances. And the glass won’t break if you pour hot coffee into it!

Chemex decanting

The fine and complex taste 

Personally, I will always choose my Chemex. Because in my opinion the filter coffee in your cup will be clearer and more aromatic than with any other pour over or hand filter method! Especially my beloved Naturals, sun-dried coffees such as the ones from East Africa, unfold their wonderfully fruity and characteristic fine notes with the Chemex.

4. Brewing coffee with the Chemex: How it works

I prefer my brewing process to be simple and seldom try out different recipes that exist for all hand filter methods. There are already enough factors that affect the result: The water temperature, the ratio of coffee powder to water quantity, a fine or coarse grinding degree, short or longer extraction times as well as additional gimmicks such as various blooming types – that’s how you call the swelling and outgassing of the moistened coffee powder during brewing. Instead, I stick to my tried and tested brewing recipe and preparation.

My brew recipe for the Chemex

For my morning coffee, I use 300 millilitres of water and 19 grams of freshly ground coffee with a medium grinding level, which corresponds roughly to the consistency of table salt. Compared to the Hario V60, coffee beans used with the Chemex should be ground somewhat coarser. If you want to brew more coffee, for example twice the amount (600 millilitres) for two people, then grind the coffee a little coarser. Otherwise the filter will clog too quickly and the extraction time will be too long. 

Before boiling, I filter my water with a water filter. This makes for a better taste. After boiling I let it cool down for about 30 seconds to one minute and then start my brewing process. Of course, you can also use a thermometer or a kettle with a thermostat to be on the safe side.

With the Chemex the optimal extraction time is 4-5 minutes. If you extract your coffee for less than 3 minutes, not enough substances are dissolved from the coffee grounds. Then it tastes thin and weak or sometimes even acidic, because the acids have been dissolved from the ground coffee, but not the bitter substances. In this case it is called under extraction. The cause can be that you have ground the coffee too coarsely. If the brewing process lasts longer than 5 minutes, over extraction occurs: Too many bitter substances are dissolved and the coffee tastes bitter or even burnt. The reason for this may be that you have ground the coffee too finely.

Instructions for brewing coffee with the Chemex

Insert the folded filter paper into the funnel of the Chemex carafe: The 3-layer filter side is placed at the point where the coffee is poured out. This prevents the paper from slipping into the spout during pouring. Now moisten the filter paper by pouring some hot water through it. In this way, you preheat the Chemex on the one hand and on the other hand remove flavorings from the paper so that they can no longer end up in the coffee. Then remove the water used for the preparation.

Now it’s time for the actual brewing. We recommend using a kitchen scale for optimum extraction or exact measurement. You can use it to measure both the exact number of grams of coffee grounds and the desired amount of water. Place the Chemex on the kitchen scale and add 19 grams of ground coffee to the moistened filter for one person.

19 grams of ground coffee for one person with the Chemex

Then the infusion begins, preferably evenly. Start the brewing process with a pre-infusion to stimulate the coffee grounds to bloom. In this way the gases escape and the coffee can swell. I pour some water and let my coffee bloom for about 30 seconds. Only then do I add more water.

My recommendation: Pour water at intervals of approx. 30 seconds until the 300 millilitres have been used up. In this way it has enough time to pass through the very thick paper filter of the Chemex. And pay attention to the ideal extraction time of approx. 4 to 5 minutes! The longer the coffee powder is moistened, the more aromas it releases.

Dispose of the paper filter after brewing and pour the freshly brewed coffee into cups or glasses. Now it’s time to enjoy your amazing coffee! Should it happen during the brewing process that the water runs through more slowly or not at all during the infusion, you can adjust the grinding level a bit next time and choose a coarser one.

5. One coffee maker- so many different applications!

Basically you can do everything you want with the Chemex. Whether you want to use it as a water carafe, flower vase or for brewing tea… because the Chemex is not only ideal to make coffee! In addition, a small cult has developed around my favourite coffee maker.

Making tea with the Chemex works wonderfully

I accepted the challenge and found an answer to the following question: Is it possible to brew tea with the Chemex? Yes, it is! At home I started a small experiment and brewed green tea – more precisely the roasted Houji-cha – with the same Chemex recipe as for coffee. I left the tea leaves in their natural form and did not grind them.

Usually, the tea-to-water ratio of this tea is about 5 grams per cup. So the taste result with my Chemex recipe was very intense, but still aromatic and by no means bitter. Just try brewing your favourite tea with the Chemex!

Brewing tea in a Chemex

International Chemex Championships

Since the Berlin Coffee Festival in 2017 there are a lot of them, the official championships around my favourite coffee utensil: The Chemex Cup, organized by the company Coffee Circle. Participants have to brew their favourite Chemex recipe with coffee beans from Berlin’s coffee roasters and face the taste buds of a top-class jury.

The Chemex coffee machine

By the way, if you want to save time and have to do other things besides brewing coffee, you can buy one of the automatic Chemex brewing machines. You can also choose one of the ultra-hip machines from Ratio Coffee or the Ottomatic from Chemex Corporation! But of course, nothing beats manual work – and the most beautiful thing for me is the regular Chemex anyway.

Also available in DE (original)

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