Discovering the Chemex

by | Apr 7, 2016 | Barista Favorites, Brewing, Coffee

What is a Chemex? And how exactly does it work with coffee? About a month ago, I had absolutely no idea what this glass teepee-shaped device was nor how it worked, until a fellow co-worker showed me. He was preparing a Chemex demonstration for a local group at our cafe in Rosemary Beach one day. It was so mesmerizing to watch that I, unintentionally, blocked out half the information he was telling me. After his first practice, he then said: “Ok, now it’s your turn to give it a try.” All I remember is, it was a slightly rough start and I was totally lost in the whole process. Luckily, his group had shown up and it was time for his public demonstration, and time for me to get back to work.
From that moment on, I was curious. I was curious what makes this brewing method different; different from a high-end automatic Wilfa machine, different from a standard Mr. Coffee pot and different from an ordinary french-press machine. I then dove head first into the Chemex world.

The Chemex is known as a pour-over method and as an infusion method. The pour-over method requires oneself to pour the boiling hot water onto the coffee, rather than pressing a couple buttons and having coffee automatically dripping into a pot for you. It’s especially different from a French Press, although you do use oneself to plunge the coffee down; fully immersing the coffee in water, the Chemex uses a special paper filter to extract the coffee. The infusion method requires the coffee to steep in water before it drips through the filter. The two methods work together with the Chemex – you need to gradually pour hot water in a circular motion in increments to allow the coffee to continue to steep in the water as it steadily drips through the funnel.

The Chemex design is delicate, yet simple. In 1941, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, a chemist, had designed an hour-glass shape glass with a funnel neck that has a heat resistant wooden collar wrapped around it. Dr. Schlumbohm created the Chemex to experiment the chemistry behind extracting flavor and caffeine from the beans itself. What makes the paper filter for the Chemex especially different from a flat-bottom filter, or a cone-shaped filter, is the fact that this filter is double bonded. It is 20-30% more absorbent than any another paper filter around! Because the filter is so thick, it allows the coffee to steep in water and drip slower.

Dr. Schlumbohm designed this filter to remove unnecessary sediment and oils, resulting in the smooth tasting brew with bright flavor notes. The outline of these filters was designed to specifically enable the accurate infusion time of water to coffee, while extracting the flavor at the same time. To think such a fragile glass coffee maker could have such a unique but specific design to it is literally a work of art. The Chemex has been displayed in several museums throughout the world and was displayed in the Museum of Modern Art as one of the best-designed products in 1943. It remains as part of the permanent collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Glass and the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Now that the Chemex’s form and functions are understood, the brewing process is where the fun begins! All you need in addition to the Chemex is a gooseneck water kettle so you can have complete control in pouring your hot water, a nice kitchen scale, Chemex filters, and a bag of Amavida coffee ground to a medium grind. The grind should resemble coarse salt. You can brew an amazing cup of coffee that’s relatively inexpensive when you compare it to a fancy high-end automatic coffee machine. The huge advantage of this coffee maker is that you have all the control in the brewing process. You can control the flavor of your coffee by either adding more coffee and less water or vice versa. So as a personal fan of the Chemex coffee maker, I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in a new brewing experience. It’s a relaxing and fun way to start your morning, or to demonstrate it in front of friends and wow them with its pure design!

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