The ins and outs of brewing Chemex coffee and how it achieved its cult-like status.
We've been big fans of Chemex coffee for a long time now. This iconic piece of kit has featured in our cafes since 2010 and is still a firm favourite to this day. But it's not just about the way it makes the coffee taste. There's something satisfying about the ritual of Chemex brewing. The functional simplicity of the design and the way it looks all add to the enjoyment of drinking Chemex coffee.
THE HISTORY OF CHEMEX
The Chemex was invented in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm PhD and, like us, is still a family business. Throughout his career Peter Schlumbohm patented over 300 products with a focus on making everyday objects more functional and enjoyable to use. The idea behind the Chemex was not just about the simple, elegant design of the vessel but more so extra filtration of the CHEMEX Bonded™paper filters.
Infuenced by Bauhaus design, the hourglass figure of the Chemex is made from one piece of borosilicate glass. This non porous lab-ware material makes the Chemex a super clean way to make coffee preventing any unwanted flavours being carried into the brew. The original design features a wooden collar with a leather strap but a glass handled version and hand blown edition are also now available.
CHEMEX'S CULTURAL IMPACT
The design of the Chemex has been recognised not only in the scientific community but in the Art and Design community. Since 1943 it has featured in permanent collections at the Brooklyn Museum, Corning Museum of Glass and MOMA, NY (were it first appeared in 1943). It regularly crops up in TV and films like Friends and Mad Men and is famously James Bond's brew method of choice, appearing in From Russian with Love.
The Chemex's reputation as an American design classic has stood the test of time throughout subsequent innovations like instant coffee, filter machines and now domestic espresso and pod machines. It has gained popularity in recent years since the rise of third wave coffee culture and the manual brewing methods that came with it. This has risen again since the Covid 19 lockdown which forced more people to work (and drink coffee) from home.
BREWING WITH CHEMEX
The Chemex has remained practically unchanged in its long history which is testament to how great the design is. There are some design features that affect the way it brews. Here are few things to look out for.
All Chemex coffee makers are designed to be used with their patented CHEMEX® Bonded Filters. These papers are 20%-30% thicker than traditional filter papers. The intention of this is to filter out bitter elements such as fines and oils. In doing so, these papers give Chemex coffee its characteristic silky texture and clean taste. The flip side of this is that it can result in a longer brew time. To counter this you may need to grind slightly coarser than you would for say a V60 coffee of a similar brew volume. However, be carefull not to go too coarse or you will end up with a brew that is too weak. Aim for a brew time of up to 5 minutes and your Chemex coffee will taste great.
It's important to give your Chemex filters an extra good rinsing before you start brewing. This helps clean them of any taints that they might have picked up and also helps heat your vessel which also benefits from being warmed up.
The Chemex Spout
The spout on a Chemex is a very important element in its design. Without this, an airlock would form in the lower chamber since there would be nowhere for the air to escape while brewed liquid starts to drip through. The spout is the solution to this problem. This goes hand in hand with the design of the folded Chemex coffee filter papers. It's important to make sure that the side that is folded with three layers of paper is facing the spout. The rigidity this gives helps prevent the spout closing up with the pressure of the water when it is added during the brewing process.
CHEMEX BREW GUIDE
Brewing with Chemex is pretty straight forward. We recommend brewing the same way you would for a regular V60 or pourover method. Due to the thickness of the paper you won't be able to achieve a fast brew time. But don't worry, just let it do its thing.
Aim for fewer pours (two or three) keeping the slurry (where water is added to the coffee) topped up throughout the brew. This does two things. It helps speed up the extraction time and, due to this larger mass of water, it helps keep the slurry at a higher temperature, also increasing extraction.
Dose – 30g
Grind – 8 – Malkonig EK43 (coarse, similar to Cafetiere)
Time – 4:30-5 minutes
Brew Weight – 500ml
Temperature - 94 degrees
1) Thoroughly rinse your Chemex paper before brewing to clean and preheat the vessel.
2) Add 30g of coarse ground coffee to the Chemex and shake to level out.
3) Pour around 60g of water at 94 degrees making sure to wet all the grounds. Swirl the Chemex to help incorporate the water into the grounds.
3) After 30 seconds pour again up to 250g. Pour quite fast in a circular motion to help agitate the grounds as you go.
4) At 1 minute 30 seconds pour again up to 500g pouring in a circular motion but slower this time.
5) As the level of the slurry starts to fall swirl the Chemex gently. By the end of the extraction you should be able to see a flat bed of coffee.
5) Your total brew time end at around 4:30 - 5 minutes. If it takes longer than this try grinding coarser. If faster than this go finer.
Then just sit back and relax and enjoy your crystal clear, orangey red Chemex coffee!