In this article I will explain to you what the Chemex is and how it works. In the Hario V60 article, I took you all the way to Japan for it’s history. For the Chemex we will travel back in time to the United States of America.
Chemex Review: The History of the Chemex
Let’s go back in time, to the year 1931. A German inventor, Peter Schlumbohm (July 10, 1896 – 1962), came to the USA to make a living out of inventing and then selling the patents. Schlumbohm focussed his inventions on the refrigerating techniques since he was sure that there was money to made in that area of technique. In the year 1939 Schlumbohm patented a ‘filtering device’ that later would be the named ‘Chemex’, only this original design had a handle and spout attached to it. It took Schlumbohm 3 more years to finalize it’s design and in the year 1941 the iconic design was there: a chemistry-glass with it’s pouring groove, level button, and vent. It was in that year that Macy’s and Wanamakers took an interest in the Chemex and sales went through the roof. In the next year, 1942, the Chemex was awarded with a potent seal of approval from the design establishment and got on the cover of The Museum of Modern Arts ‘Useful Objects in Wartime’ bulletin.
Due to it’s design, and the fact that it was made out of simple materials, the Chemex became hugely popular in post-war USA. Schlumbohm kept promoting the Chemex by presenting them as gifts to President Truman and Johnson. Years later even the famous character James Bond could be seen brewing coffee in the Chemex (From Russia with Love). Nowadays the Chemex is considered an iconic piece in the history of coffee brewing. Several museums throughout the world have the Chemex on display and there is not a single Barista that doesn’t know about the Chemex.
Chemex Review: What is the Chemex
The Chemex is a coffee brewing device that is made out of a glass container, a two-piece wooden neck-holder (preventing you from burning your hand and fingers while pouring the coffee) tied together by a hide-strap. To use the Chemex, one must insert a filter in the carafe to be able to initiate the brewing. The initial design of the Chemex came with a handle and spout, but it was altered to a glass container without either the handle or spout. The Chemex can be used to brew coffee by using a filter. The filter folding technique is something you will have to practice, but is easy when you get it. The reason why the Chemex is so popular is that the filter will remove coffee-oils from the brew and it is said that it removes the cafestol (which is bad for your cholesterol) from the coffee as well.
What is the difference with a Hario V60?
The Chemex is very different from the Hario V60, although it might not look like it at first. Both are pour-over devices, both use coarse ground coffee and require a specific pouring technique to brew a nice cup of coffee. The Chemex has a longer brewing time that the Hario V60 for starters. The Chemex has only one way for the coffee to exit the filter. Since the filter is also much finer that the Hario V60 filter, the brewing time tends to be longer. This results in less oils, solids and cafestol, but longer extraction time. The result is a much ‘cleaner’ cup of coffee than you get with the Hario V60. Also the body of a Chemex brewed coffee is much lighter and the coffee gets an almost tea-like appearance.
Another reason why it’s so different is because of the design. The Hario V60 has ridges, allowing coffee to easily pass through the filter evenly. The Chemex does not and makes all the water exit through the bottom. The pro for this way of brewing is that there is less chance of ruining a brew. Another difference is that the Chemex can be used to brew coffee for multiple persons instead of just two or three.
Chemex equals great coffee?
The Chemex has a flawless design and is easier to brew with than say the Hario V60 or Aeropress. But that does not imply that just anyone can brew great coffee with the Chemex. To brew a great cup of coffee with the Chemex you will need to have a good burr-grinder for proper ground coffee. You will also need to watch the temperature of the water, have good quality water and know how to fold the filter. If you do not have a burr-grinder (or a manual grinder like El Comandante e.g.) you can ask you local shop to grind the coffee the right size.
Water and temperature
The temperature of the water is very important. If you use water that is too hot, you will burn your coffee, resulting in a bitter taste. If you use water that is too cold, your coffee will lack taste. A rule of thumb, if you don’t have a water-thermometer, is that you must wait between 30 and 60 seconds after the water stops boiling. When you do have a water-thermometer, you can practice with starting temperatures between the 90 and 96 degrees, ending the brewing with temperatures to as low as 80 degrees. There is no exact sweet-spot because each temperature will activate different acids and chemicals in your grind.
The quality of the water is also of great importance. When you take a bucket of sea-water and brew a coffee, your coffee will be salty and horrible to drink. Do you see what I am getting at? When water makes up for 98.5% of your brew, you will want that water to be at it’s best. Use mineral water at all times, unless it’s your mother-in-law that wants a coffee.
How to brew with the Chemex
Chemex filter (properly folded)
In this recipe I will use 25 grams of ground coffee and 700 grams of water. The ground should be a little like sea-salt, the water should be mineral water.
– Begin with folding your filter. Instructions are on the package but here is a short explanation:
– Put the filter in the carafe. Make sure that the triple-fold portion is facing and not obstructing the pour spout.
– Saturate the filter and pre-heat the carafe. Make sure to pour the water out before brewing.
– Pour the ground coffee in the filter and make sure to flatten the bed.
– Put the Chemex on the scale, tare it and set the timer.
– press start on the scale and pour 50 grams of water over the coffee. Make outward circles starting from the middle. Let it bloom for proximately 40 seconds.
– Pour 200 grams of water when the timer hits 40 to 45 seconds. Start in the middle and make your way outward in circles. Do not pour over the filter.
– Wait until the slurry hits one inch from the bottom of the filter and then pour 200 grams of water in again. You may also decide to pour the 200 grams more evenly, maintaining the water level.
– Keep repeating the previous step till you have come to 700 grams of water. The brew should end somewhere between 3.5 and 4.5 minutes. Is it less? make your ground finer, is longer? make your ground coarser.
Obviously this is not the only way to brew your coffee, nor is this the best way to brew. This is just an example. Play a little with brewing times, amounts of coffee ground and temperature of water. Eventually you will hit your ‘sweet-spot’ and have a great cup of Chemex coffee!