What Is the Chemex Coffee Maker? History and Brew Guide

what is chemex coffee maker?

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If you’re a coffee lover like me, you’ve probably heard about the Chemex coffee maker. This hourglass-shaped manual pour-over brewer has been around since the 1940s and actually has quite a cult following.

I first discovered the Chemex when browsing in a high-end kitchen store well over 20 years ago. I was immediately drawn to its elegant and simple design and had to bring one home.

As I learned more and experimented with the brewer, I realized it offers a pure, clean coffee experience that’s hard to replicate with other methods – it’s truly a unique experience

Have I piqued your interest? Want to know more?

In this post, I’ll share a brief history of how the Chemex came to be, provide tips on how to brew the perfect cup, and explain why it makes coffee taste so unique.

By the end, I think you’ll see why Chemex has survived trends and continues to be a top choice of coffee connoisseurs over 70 years later.

The History of The Chemex

In the 1940s, a German chemist named Peter Schlumbohm invented the Chemex coffee maker.

It’s easy to understand how Schlumbohm’s background played a significant role in developing this unique coffee maker.

He applied his knowledge of laboratory apparatus to create a coffee maker that would produce the perfect cup of coffee.

The Chemex Design Philosophy

As a product of its time, the Chemex reflects the design philosophy of the era. Its hourglass-shaped form is made of non-porous Borosilicate glass, which is not only visually appealing but also contributes to a cleaner and tastier cup of coffee.

inventor Peter Schlumbohm chemex museum of modern art

The Chemex coffee brewer also utilizes a wooden collar, often accompanied by a leather tie; this feature helps protect users from the heat of the glass.

It’s this simple yet functional design that sets the Chemex apart from other manual coffee makers.

Through the use of a specialized paper filter, the Chemex produces coffee with a taste and quality that I find exceptional. The filter process of the Chemex removes quite a bit of the coffee oils and sediment, which ends in a coffee that is a lot smoother and clear.

Also, it is worth noting that the Chemex’s timeless design has led to its inclusion in various museum exhibits.

Most notably, it is a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in New York City. The Chemex has also been featured in exhibitions related to the history of design, showcasing its influence and impact on various design movements.

The Chemex is a result of the marriage between science and art. Its design not only makes it an aesthetic masterpiece but also a functional coffee maker that produces a smooth and delicious cup of coffee.

Personally, I really appreciate the history and design of this piece of coffee-making equipment, and once you delve deeper into the history, it’s easy to understand why it has gained such popularity and recognition over the years.

A Closer Look at The Chemex

chemex cup classic series coffeemaker

Components and Materials

what is Chemex coffee maker? When looking at a Chemex, you’ll notice that it’s primarily composed of a few distinct materials. 

First and foremost, it’s a glass coffeemaker. The glass used for Chemex is non-porous, which means it doesn’t absorb any odors or chemical residues from coffee. This makes it an excellent choice for those who want to enjoy the purest coffee possible.

In addition to the glass, there’s a wooden collar around the neck of the Chemex.

This collar is made of beautiful wood and serves a dual purpose: it gives the Chemex a timeless appearance and allows me to handle it easily when pouring hot coffee.

Tied around the wooden collar, you’ll find a leather strap, which secures the collar in place and adds a touch of elegance to the overall design.

Unique Chemex Features

While its design and materials make the Chemex visually unique, its true standout quality is the brewing process. The spout is essential in this process, promoting smooth pouring and preventing any unwanted spillage. 

Plus, the Chemex is designed for use with special Chemex filters, which are typically thicker than your typical paper coffee filters.

The thickness of these filters helps brew a brighter, cleaner, and more flavorful coffee, as they remove excess oils and sediment, often found in other methods.

How to Use a Chemex

chemex erlenmeyer cannot pass through the filter

Start by Choosing the Right Coffee

When preparing a delicious brew with the Chemex, the first step is selecting the right coffee beans. High-quality, freshly roasted beans are essential.

Personally, I prefer to choose single-origin beans, as they tend to provide a better-tasting and more distinctive brew.

I find that Arabica beans are an excellent option for the Chemex since they tend to have a more nuanced and complex flavor profile compared to Robusta coffee beans.

Also, it’s important to keep in mind the roast level of the beans. Light to medium roasts will bring out the bright, fruity notes of the coffee, while darker roasts emphasize a bold, robust flavor.

I suggest you experiment with different roasts to find the ideal taste for your preference.

The Best Coffee Grind Size for The Chemex

The grind of the coffee is crucial for a balanced cup, not with just the Chemex but any coffee brew method. When it comes to the Chemex, I recommend using a medium-coarse grind.

medium-coarse grind

This coffee grind size helps to prevent over or under-extraction, which can lead to bitter or sour notes in the brew.

Using a burr grinder is the best way to achieve a consistent grind size. This style of coffee grinder provides a more uniform grind compared to blade grinders, which often produce uneven particles.

If you don’t already own one, it is an investment you should definitely consider if you’re serious about preparing great-tasting coffee at home. 

Here are some of the bestselling budget burr grinders that come with our seal of approval.

From my experimentation, these are some of the best grind settings for various grinders:

Grinder TypeGrind Setting
Baratza Encore20
Hario Skerton9 clicks
Capresso InfinityCoarse
Rancilio Rocky25

However, don’t be tied to these, and feel free to experiment with your grinder’s settings to find the perfect grind for your taste.

How to Use the Chemex Filters

Regarding filters for the Chemex, I recommend using Chemex’s proprietary bonded paper filters, as they are specifically designed for use with the Chemex brewer and provide optimal results.

Folding the Chemex filters can be a bit tricky – to prepare the paper filter, follow these simple steps:

  1. Unfold the Chemex filter into a cone shape, ensuring one side has three layers and the other side has one layer.
  2. Place the filter in the Chemex with the side containing three layers facing the pouring spout. This helps to prevent the filter from collapsing when you pour water.
  3. Pre-wet the filter with hot water to remove any papery taste, and preheat the Chemex. Discard the water before adding the coffee grounds.

With this setup, you’re all set to start with your Chemex. Just remember attention to detail at each step, from choosing the right coffee beans to preparing the filter.

Brewing Coffee With The Chemex

Now you have a better idea of how to set up your Chemex, let’s shift our focus on the brew ratios, time and water temp, and other techniques needed to nail the perfect cup.

The Pouring Technique

In my experience, one of the essential aspects of preparing Chemex coffee is the pouring technique.

To achieve a consistent extraction, I start by slowly pouring hot water in a circular motion or a figure of eight over the coffee grounds. This allows the grounds to saturate evenly.

chemex coffee pouring technique

After the initial pour, I allow the coffee to bloom for about 30-45 seconds.

Blooming is the process of allowing the coffee grounds to release built-up gases, which can improve the overall flavor of the cup. Check out this article: What Is A Coffee Bloom? For more information and tips. 

As the grounds absorb the water, it’s crucial to maintain a slow and steady pour, ensuring the water level never gets too high. I continue this method for several rounds until I reach the desired coffee-to-water ratio.

So, what is the best Chemex coffee-to-water ratio? Let’s take a look.

Determining the Correct Coffee-to-Water Ratio

Another crucial factor in making Chemex coffee is determining the ideal coffee-to-water ratio. This may vary slightly depending on personal taste, but I generally recommend following these guidelines:

Coffee (grams)Water (grams)
25400
30480
35560

For a balanced cup, you can start with a 1:16 coffee-to-water ratio. For example, I’ll often use 25 grams of ground coffee with 400 grams of water.

Making adjustments is simple; if the result is too strong or bitter, I increase the water amount, and if it’s too weak, I reduce it. Just remember that consistency is crucial for achieving desired results.

Chemex Brewing Time and Temperature

When it comes to brew time and temperature, achieving the optimal balance can influence the taste and quality of the Chemex coffee. From my experience, the ideal coffee brewing temperature is between 195°F and 205°F (90°C-96°C).

I find that this range helps extract the most flavor without burning the grounds or causing unpleasant bitterness.

As for brew time, a total time of approximately 3-4 minutes is a good starting point.

This includes the 30-45 seconds for the initial bloom. If your brew time is shorter, it’s likely to result in an under-extracted coffee, which may taste sour. On the other hand, a longer brew time can cause over-extraction, which can lead to bitterness.

I can consistently make a delicious and well-balanced coffee by carefully monitoring the temperature and time and adjusting as needed.

Taste and Aroma

Compared to other coffee brewing methods, I find that the Chemex’s design and setup help enhance both the flavor and aroma of coffee. Plus, Its specially designed, thicker paper filters effectively remove unwanted oils from the coffee, leaving a cleaner and more refined taste.

The unique process also helps preserve the beans’ delicate aroma, making the coffee experience much more enjoyable.

So, how does the Chemex compare to other popular coffee brew methods? Let’s take a look. 

Chemex Coffee Maker Compared to Other Methods

The Chemex is often compared to other methods for its unique characteristics and the quality of the brewed coffee.

In this section, I will compare it to the French Press, AeroPress, and the Drip Brew to give you a better idea of the advantages and disadvantages.

Chemex vs. French Press

The Chemex brew method utilizes a paper filter, which, as I’ve mentioned, is responsible for its clearer, smoother taste, compared to the French Press, which uses a metal mesh filter plunger combo. 

Also, because Chemex removes more coffee oils and cafestol (a compound known to raise cholesterol), it results in a healthier and cleaner cup of coffee.

Below is a brief comparison of the two methods:

ComparingChemexFrench Press
FiltrationPaper FilterMetal Mesh Filter
Coffee OilsRemoved (Cleaner Taste)Retained (Richer Taste)
CafestolLower levels (Healthier)Higher levels (Less healthy)
CaffeineSimilar levelsSimilar levels

Chemex vs. AeroPress

Compared to the AeroPress, the Chemex method creates a larger batch of coffee with brighter flavors and more clarity.

On the other hand, the AeroPress produces a concentrated and stronger cup of coffee with some retained coffee oils – you could say the brewed coffee is somewhat comparable to espresso

Here is a comparison of the two methods:

ComparingChemexAeroPress
FiltrationPaper FilterPaper or Metal Disk Filter
Coffee OilsRemoved (Cleaner Taste)Partially Retained
CaffeineSimilar levelsHigher levels (depends on brew time)
Brewing Time3-4 Minutes1-2 Minutes

Chemex vs. Drip Filtered Coffee

Drip-filtered coffee is popular due to its convenience and automated brewing process.

However, it often lacks the control that the Chemex method offers, resulting in a less complex flavor profile.

A quick comparison of the two is shown below:

ComparingChemexDrip Brew
FiltrationPaper FilterPaper or Metal Mesh Filter
Coffee OilsRemoved (Cleaner Taste)Varies by the filter used
CaffeineSimilar levelsSimilar levels
Brewing Time3-4 MinutesAutomated (5-10 minutes)

Chemex Accessories and Maintenance

brew coffee with a chemex

Choosing the Right Grinder

If you’re a coffee enthusiast, I strongly recommend investing in a high-quality coffee grinder. The Baratza Encore Grinder is an excellent choice that the Chemex Corporation themselves recommends.

This conical burr grinder offers 40 grind settings suitable for various brew methods, including the Chemex coffeemaker. It’s reasonably priced and won’t break the bank. Check it out > Baratza Encore Grinder.

When grinding beans for the Chemex, choosing a relatively coarse grind (similar to kosher salt) is essential.

This will ensure a proper flow rate and prevent over-extraction that may result in bitterness. The coarser grind also helps with adequate filtration through the Chemex filters.

Apart from the grinder, I also find it helpful to have a gooseneck kettle, which allows for precise water pouring.

How About Cleaning the Chemex

Maintaining the cleanliness of your Chemex coffeemaker is crucial for a consistently great-tasting cup of coffee. Here are my tips on keeping the Chemex in pristine tip-top condition:

Daily Rinse: After each use, rinse the Chemex with warm water to remove any residual coffee grounds or oils. Avoid using soap as it may leave a residue and impact the taste.

Deep Cleaning: For thorough cleaning, submerge the Chemex in a mixture of warm water and a mild, fragrance-free detergent, or use a dedicated coffee equipment cleaner. Use a long-handled brush to clean the inside, especially the narrow neck of the Chemex. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and air dry.

Cleaning Glass Handle: If your Chemex has a glass handle, use a pipe cleaner to reach the inside and remove any build-up.

Remember to be gentle when cleaning the Chemex, as the glass can be delicate and prone to cracks or breaks if mishandled.

Ok, I’m Sold. Where Can You Buy a Chemex?

When it comes to purchasing a Chemex, there are a few options. However, my personal go-to option would be Amazon, mainly due to the wide selection available and the opportunity to read reviews from other customers – plus, they deliver directly to your front door. 

The cost of purchasing a Chemex can vary, depending on the specific model and size.

However, to help you out, I’ve done some of the legwork for you to help you decide. Check out the price comparison table below:

Chemex Size & ModelAverage Price Range (USD)
3-Cup Classic$40 – $45
6-Cup Classic$45 – $50
8-Cup Classic$50 – $60
10-Cup Classic$55 – $65
6-Cup Handblown$65 – $75
8-Cup Handblown$75 – $85
13-Cup Handblown$90 – $100

In addition to the Chemex itself, there are other accessories you might want to consider for your setup:

Filters: Chemex paper filters are thicker than regular coffee filters and are specifically designed for the Chemex. They are generally sold in packs of 100, with prices ranging from $9 – $15, depending on the filter type (square, circle, or pre-folded).

Wooden Collar & Tie: For those who want to replace an aged or damaged collar, a wooden collar and leather or rawhide tie replacement set typically costs around $10.

Cleaning Brush: A Chemex cleaning brush helps keep my coffee maker looking pristine and particle-free. A branded brush can set me back around $15.

Conclusion

And there you have it – a comprehensive guide to the iconic Chemex coffee maker! From its ingenious design inception in the 1940s to my expert tips on achieving the perfect pour-over cup, I hope I’ve shown you why the Chemex remains a top choice for discerning coffee aficionados.

Its simple yet elegant glass and wood construction not only looks beautiful on your kitchen counter but also contributes to a purer, cleaner-tasting brew. By carefully controlling variables like grind size, water temperature, and brew time, you can master the art of Chemex brewing.

While it requires some technique, the reward is a smooth, balanced cup that showcases all the subtle flavors and aromas of your favorite coffee beans.

So, if you’re looking to upgrade your coffee routine, I highly recommend giving the classic Chemex a try. 

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