What is a Chemex?
If you are looking to brew delicious filter coffee at home, then look no further… A Chemex pour over is the archetypical hand brewed coffee: it doesn’t just create tasty brews; you will also look effortlessly cool doing it.
The Chemex was invented by German-born inventor Peter Schlumbohm in 1941. It quickly became a must-have piece of coffee apparatus in homes across America. It was also dubbed “one of the best-designed products of modern times” by the Illinois Institute of Technology and gained a prestigious place amongst other iconic designs in the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
I must admit, there is nothing quite like brewing with the Chemex from an aesthetic standpoint. The beautiful design just seems to make the coffee look so much more vibrant when prepared well.
A couple of key points to note when starting with the Chemex brewer. The first is that there have been several iterations on the design: I would suggest staying with the Chemex 6 Cup version, and not being tempted by its cute sibling Chemex 3 Cup model. The neck of the brewer is be slightly too steep to give the same easy brewing experience, and despite its elegance it has provided me with too many frustrating moments whilst brewing.
Secondly, and this one's a bit controversial: I would also suggest going with the Chemex 6 Cup with the glass handle and not the wooden collar. Why, I hear you ask? Mainly because the wood collar on every Chemex I have owned has always annoyed me, for the simple reason that it is so damn difficult to remove and replace every time I want to give the brewer a good wash.
I must admit that it does indeed look more pleasing to the eye, but I would much rather go for practicality over aesthetics especially if this is going to be your main daily brewer.
Another thing to mention is the Chemex coffee filter: these are some serious papers, and your regular paper coffee filter isn't going to do the trick. When folded, a Chemex filter creates a 3ply effect on one side. Because this adds extra filtration to your brew, it will also add a little resistance to your overall brew time.
This is no bad thing at all though - in fact, the Chemex is famed for producing very clean and tasty coffee, partly because of the Chemex filters. Don't be surprised when it takes a little longer to brew, I have added some tips on how to handle this below.
Brewing with the Chemex:
First, let’s look at what you will need.
You need to start with great coffee. (you only get out quality if start with great quality)
- Water: Clean, soft water (for best results use filtered water)
- A set of digital scales.
- Try to grind your coffee beans just before brewing (More on this later).
- Use the coffee weight to water ratio of 60g – 1ltr of water.
- Total brew time will be a little longer than your usual manual pourover so don’t worry if your total brew time is somewhere near 5 minutes, this is OK.
Chemex Coffee Brew Guide
To start fill your kettle with filtered water and get this on the boil. Straight off the boil is fine as the hotter the water, the more flavour you will extract. This is great for light to medium roasts, but you could always wait a few minutes for your water to cool a bit if you have a darker roast.
We are going to make a half-litre brew so:
- Weigh out 30g of whole bean coffee
- Grind your coffee. The grind setting will be the same as what you use for a V60 brew, so somewhere just a touch finer than cafetiere. I use a Wilfa Svart coffee grinder, with the red marker on the 'O' of 'AeroPress'.
- Place the 3-ply side of the filter on the pouring side of the brewer. The thinner side of the Chemex Filter paper can sometimes collapse into the pouring spout and create a perfect seal, meaning no air can escape, causing brews to stall. Placing the 3-ply side of the filter this way round should stop this from happening.
- Rinse, rinse, and rinse that paper… it is thick.
- Remove water from the brewer via the spout, and check that the paper isn't stuck to the side.
- Place your coffee into the filter, and flatten the bed of coffee.
- Place brewer onto scales and tare.
- Add 90g of boiling water to start (bloom), and start your timer. Pick up the brewer and swirl making sure all coffee is fully saturated.
- Place back on scales and leave for 45 seconds.
- At 45 seconds, add more water until your scales read 300g. This should be done in a consistent stream, and you should be at around 1 minute 30 seconds when you're done.
- At 1 minute 45 seconds add the remaining 200g of water taking you up to 500g of water. In total this should be added in a consistent pour and be completed around 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- Once the water has drawn down almost halfway, pick the brewer up and give a slight swirl. Wait for the water to fully draw down. This should take between 4:30/5 minutes.
- The grounds bed should be nice and flat, this is an indication you have created a good brew.
- Discard your filter.
After this, the choice is entirely yours, but one thing I would recommend is to find the best light possible and swirl your Chemex coffee brewer like the true barista you are. You could even try the double cup pour (above)! It's not for the faint-hearted, believe me.
But in all seriousness, the Chemex is a must-have in any coffee lover's corner. It's a piece of history, which will give you some of the best filter coffee you can get your hands on. Shop the Chemex here, and some recommended coffees to go with it here.