by Jeanette Kierstead
The fabled Chemex Coffee Maker. That’s coffee brewed the chemist’s way, using mainly glass, and purported to have secret benefits.
If you like the idea of brewing coffee that is super smooth and rich, almost like espresso but without all of the added cost that goes along with that brewing method, then you should read this article about Chemex.
Here we talk about how to grind coffee for Chemex, and just a general review of the whole system. Happily, the process is dead simple.
The chemist (or perhaps alchemist would be a better word to describe him) that we have to thank for creating the Chemex was none other than German inventor Peter J. Schlumbhom, PhD.
This is the man who patented the Chemex coffee-making vessel back in 1938, which he made out of heat-resistant glass similar to the glass found in laboratories and used to make beakers.
An example, at this time, of “undecorated, functional simplicity”, this uncomplicated way of making coffee was celebrated and raved about for its ability to utilize pyrex glass (AKA borosilicate glass) whereas other coffee making devices in this wartime period were focused on metal, and hence more expensive.
The Chemex Coffee Maker here even made the cover of the Museum Of Modern Art (see below) as one of the “Useful Objects in Wartime”, so you know this thing was a big deal when it came out.
Many people back in the old days considered this coffee making creation a revolutionary invention, and many still do.
These days, Chemex as a company is still alive and well and their products are still held in high regard in the coffee community for the same reasons as always.
After all these years, people are still loving the Chemex and their name has not fallen into ill-repute with coffee lovers, which is a strong sign of their dedication to quality.
The Chemex Coffee Maker is physically reminiscent of the famed Erlenmeyer Flask, AKA the stereotypical mad scientists’s flask for making wild concoctions you see in the movies.
At this point in history, the Chemex moniker has reached that lofty “household name” status where a product has been named after the company that makes it, distinguishing it from more general terms like a coffee mill, or a blade grinder, for instance.
When it comes to sheer benefits, a Chemex Glass Coffee Maker ultimately gives you complete control of your home brewing at a low cost.
For around $45 (depending where you buy it, of course), we feel the Chemex is essentially the coffee brewing equivalent the grinding experience you get from a really top notch hand crank coffee mill.
This gives you complete control of your coffee bean grinding through a manual process, and is known for its slow, meticulous procedure that goes along with it.
You can even get one with a handle (pictured above left), which looks a little different but is also cool.
For those interested in getting more in tune with the coffee making process, the Chemex Coffee Maker could be for you.
1. More Control Over Brewing
As we mentioned in our overview of the Chemex Glass Coffee Maker, brewing with a Chemex gives you a lot more control almost every aspect of your brewing process, which is a big plus if you actually would prefer to have that control than relinquish it to your electric coffee maker.
The Chemex actually removes a lot of the automated processes that many people enjoy in modern coffee making gear, so we feel this device is more suited to the “hands-on” type of person out there who loves coffee.
2. Are You Geek-tastic Enough For The Chemex?
That’s right, brewing with a Chemex is a more involved process and it requires more time and energy on the part of the brewer, but it also gives back what you put in.
You kind of need to geek out a bit here, and enjoy the coffee-making as a slow, methodical procedure.
By geek, we just mean…ah, you know what we mean, right? We are total geeks, so I guess we just mean sexy people.
But seriously, we just mean you need patience, in order understand that to receive the full benefits of the Chemex, a sense of experimentation and adventure is needed.
3. Unique Filtration
Part of what defines Chemex brewing is the filtration process. In order to brew coffee the Chemex way, you need a very specific type of filter to do the job.
The product on the right, made by Chemex themselves, is a great example of the right type of filter to use as it is around 25% more dense than your average coffee filter.
For one thing, the filter for a Chemex needs to be thick in order to remove the fine sediment particles which could get into your coffee as you filter it.
We’re talking grinds fine enough to be used for espresso won’t make it through this filter, because the point of this filter is distillation.
Also, this filter is strong enough that it can hold the weight of the grinds as they sit there in the filter with the added weight of the water you’re going to be adding.
In addition, when you lift up the wet grounds after you’ve used them, having the filter cave and spill everywhere in isn’t fun, so, again, filter thickness is required.
The right type of paper filter also allows for the ideal infusion time, which is not too fast and not too slow; similar to a steeped tea.
Having the filter be pre-shaped into a cone also helps with the flavor, as the water will filter its way through all of the grounds to the bottom of the cone, where the base of the Chemex vessel then receives the precious coffee.
3a. Re-Usable Filtration Also An Option
Keeping with the topic of filters, another option is to use a re-usable Chemex coffee filter, like the Able Brewing model to our right, which is made from stainless steel and has a food-safe support ring made from plastic.
This model of reusable filter, designed for 6, 8, and 10 cup Chemex Coffee Makers (but not the 3 cup model), is a great option if you’re brewing at home but would like to cut back on waste with the paper filters.
Another great thing about using a Chemex Coffee Maker to brew your home-brewed coffee is that its a simple process.
Freshly ground coffee beans go in the filter, you pour hot water on the grinds, and then you get some of the “cleanest” coffee you’ve ever tasted as the coffee drips into the bottom part of your heat-resistant class Chemex vessel.
While the process overall is simple, we don’t want to oversimplify the process too much because there are a few things you should know when you’re preparing coffee with a Chemex.
Because of the way that the water sits in the filter together with the ground coffee beans, we get the added benefit here of immersion, where the grinds and the hot water mix together to give your coffee that smooth added flavor that you can only get from a Chemex Coffee Maker.
Since the filter is effectively holding the water, and the grinds are submerged for a sufficient length of time, you’re definitely going to taste the difference between a Chemex-brewed cup of coffee and your typical pourover.
6. Cleaning Is A Snap
Something we love about the Chemex is that cleaning it is really easy, since its just a single glass vessel.
Out of all the coffee preparation methods, we think that Chemex has them all beat in terms of maintaining it over time for this reason.
Our method for cleaning it, if you don’t want to jam your fingers in there and risk breakage, is to take a a scrubby, some dish soap, and hot water, and then swirl it all around at the bottom of your Chemex, making sure to grip the Chemex firmly before doing this.
Once you’ve swirled this concoction around a number of times, it will get nice and foamy, and the scrubby being in there will help remove any stubborn coffee stains.
Because you’re not applying any pressure with the scrubby except for that of it lightly rubbing the insides of your Chemex, you can avoid any scratching.
If you’re the kind of person that would rather avoid any risk of scratching altogether, an OXO Good Grips Bottle Brush has a long flexible handle and can get inside of your Chemex to scrub the sides, but has gentler bristles that are meant for glassware.
In order to get that perfect ratio of coffee beans, one thing you might want to look into is an electronic kitchen scale for weighing out your coffee beans.
Our favorite model is the one pictured left, the Ozeri Touch Professional Digital Kitchen Scale, which is one of the best weighing devices for your kitchen you’ll find.
It is at once elegant, thin, and durable, and if you really would like to take every measure possible to make the perfect cup of Chemex coffee, this is a product you might want to find out more about.
It has a multitude of uses far beyond just using it for coffee.
We mentioned earlier that we think of the Chemex Coffee Maker as being very akin to your classic coffee mill in terms of the spirit behind the device, but as far as which coffee grinder we actually like to use to grind for our Chemex, we often go with the Rancilio Rocky, because it is hands down our favorite grinder to grind with for any occasion.
We think it has all the features you’d ever need in a grinder, and its absolutely perfect for Chemex brewing.
If not the Rocky, we have a listing below this article of popular burr and blade grinders that can be used for the Chemex which are at different price points.
After much thought, here is a list of tips we think you will find valuable in the long run when it comes to brewing coffee the Chemex way.
1. Make sure you try and minimize the time between grinding your fresh coffee beans and adding them to the Chemex.
2. Grind for slightly coarser grinds than with a typical pourover, about the consistency of sand.
3. After you boil your water, wet the filter by evenly pouring the hot water into the filter cup, moistening it. Then remote / pour out the water which has collected in the bottom part of the Chemex.
4. A good ratio for water to coffee is 700 ML of water to 400 grams of coffee, which is about a 15:1 ratio.
This is when you can add your grinds to the filter. You can even add a cute little dimple into your coffee so that the water has a way in to begin saturating the grinds.
5. Be gentle. Ideally, a gooseneck kettle is perfect for this job with its long, thin, curvy neck. Our favorite is the Hario V60 kettle. With its smaller spout, you have more control over your pour in terms of direction and water volume.
6. Pour the water slowly and evenly in a circular motion to entice a good bloom from your coffee, wherein gasses are being released and the coffee is expanding and mingling together.
Try to avoid pouring directly into the middle of your coffee grinds (where you might have added that nice dimple), and just go in circles around the edge.
This is the stage where the water is penetrating the coffee and giving us the thorough extraction we want, and it is called the “wetting stage”.
7. The fresher the bean and grind, the better the bloom will be when you add the water. Its quite visible to see the coffee blooming, and it takes all of 30-45 seconds to do so.
8. After the blooming has happened, we can then add more water to fill up our filter, by slowly adding it in a circular pattern so as not to agitate the coffee too much.
Since the hot water has been previously measured out, you can go right ahead and fill your Chemex filter right to the top of the glass.
This takes about 2 minutes, and then you can just wait for the filtration process to take its course.
9. At this point, after the coffee has trickled down through the entirety of your dense filter, you can then remove the paper filter and the Chemex becomes a serving vessel…and voila!
Once you get the hang of this, you’ll be drinking some of the cleanest coffee you’ve ever tried, with no undissolved solids to speak of.
The whole process should take you about 4-5 minutes in total. If not, you might need to slow the whole process down to maximize the blooming time.
Here is an awesome video on how to prepare coffee the Chemex way, featuring Ty Beddingfield, Master Barista over at Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa Florida:
We highly recommend using a Chemex if you are seriously wanting to expand your home brewing repertoire and take your personal coffee-brewing skills to a whole new level.
About Jeanette Kierstead
Jeanette has been testing and reviewing kitchen appliances for over six years now, so she knows her stuff when it comes to finding the best ones. In her spare time, she loves nothing more than baking cakes and cookies – especially if she can do so with one of her favorite stand mixers! When she's not in the kitchen, Jeanette is usually looking after everything homes-related; from garden tools to smart home products.