Ah, the Chemex.
Anyone who has witnessed one sitting proudly on the coffee table- gracefully filtering sunlight through its ruby-red, gently-steaming, ultra-fragrant contents- knows that practicality can exist hand-in-hand with beauty.
Lemme just wipe these tears of joy away for a second.
The Chemex has been a timeless coffee maker since its inception in the 1940’s. The widely-loved wooden collar, leather tie and hourglass shape has found its way into kitchens across the world, and even a design museum or two.
I’m going to do a bit of a deep dive on the Chemex here, but absolutely feel free to scroll down and get right to business.
Is the Chemex a perfect coffee maker? Well, first off, I’m not convinced such a thing exists. All coffee makers have pros and cons, and the Chemex isn’t free of cons (we’ll get into that). It comes down to which boxes you’re looking to check. Here’s what the Chemex really nails:
Its thick paper filters yield the cleanest cup of coffee imaginable, and can correct for the human error that occurs in hand-poured coffee. It pours beautifully and provides a real consistency of flavour. It comes in a variety of sizes that makes it a good choice for folks looking to occasionally make enough for a pal. Folks have also been known to sit the Chemex on a low-temperature glass stovetop to keep things warmer longer. (I keep mine on a radiator during the cold winter months but this is exactly as sketchy as it sounds and I am not endorsing this move whatsoever. Looks cute though.) Of course, it’s always best to just drink the coffee rather than risk scorching it. Putting a small plate over the top is the better move, always. The Chemex can also be used to make a tasty batch of ice coffee as well. Maybe we’ll do a tutorial on that down the road. And, lastly, it just looks so good!
There is so much to love. BUT…here are the hang-ups.
1. It’s tricky to clean thoroughly. Peep the video for how I get around this.
2.Thick paper filters slow everything down. This means the brew time can end up being close to five minutes or longer, which means you’re losing heat rapidly, and the grounds are sitting in water for a long time. Coarsening the coffee will speed the process up, but it means you’re going to be pulling less flavour. Ultimately, you just have to roll with what the Chemex provides you: a long brew time.
3. I also wouldn’t characterize the Chemex as the most ‘discerning’ brewer. If you’re chasing down mathematical precision and extraction, something smaller may be a better choice.
But, for everyday, easy-going, smooth coffee, it doesn’t get better.
Let's get a brewin’.
- Chemex filters are big circular pieces of paper. Fold in half, and in half again. If your Chemex filter collapses into the spout it will create an air lock and halt the brewing process. You want to position the filter so that three folds are against the spout of the Chemex. This will provide a bit more rigidity - and keep that from happening. But keep an eye on it.
- Wet the filter with boiled water, both to pre-heat the Chemex, and to rinse out any ‘paper flavour’. Pour water back out, check that the filter is sealed, but not in the spout.
- We brew typically with a 1:16 ratio. So for two people, I use 44g of dry mass to 700g of water. Grind to a medium coarseness. Burr grinder only!!
- A quick note on water. It should be as hot, just off a boil. If you are pouring straight from a boiling kettle, then only a moment is needed to let bubbling subside. If you are using a pouring kettle, heat it up first.
- Add coffee to the Chemex, shake to even it out, and if you’d like, try creating a small divot to let water further down into the conical shape of the filter.
- Pour twice the amount of water (a bit more is fine, but no less) into the dry coffee bed. I.E 88g of water. Swirl the Chemex to integrate the water and ground coffee to create a slurry. Set aside for 30-45 seconds. This is called a bloom. The idea is to let the water fully permeate any pockets of dry coffee remaining, and allow C02 to escape the coffee. When bubbling ceases, time to pour.
- Pouring in concentric circles and aiming to break up pieces of the coffee bed that float to the surface, aim to add roughly half the amount of the total water weight: 350g. For future consistencies sake, note how high you are pouring from, and how fast. You are looking to agitate, but not make a mess.
- Pause and let things settle while the draw down begins.
- Continue to add your water, aiming mostly for the centre of the Chemex. Avoid pouring directly onto the filter wall itself. You are still looking to agitate the coffee, but less so. You don’t want to be pouring so forcefully that you are creating troughs or divots for the water to pass through faster than other areas.
- When 700g of water has been added, agitate lightly by either swirling (this can be a bit tricky with a full Chemex) and/or stirring (much safer). The goal is to create a draw down that is even, and a coffee bed that is flat when everything has filter through. If the coffee bed is uneven, your final agitation might need a bit more gusto.
That’s it! Toss that filter in the compost and experience the simple pleasure of pouring a Chemex. Oh, also the coffee inside of it is delicious. Experience that too.
Photos by Sierra Pries