Mastering The Chemex
In our never-ending quest to get the best from our coffee, no repertoire would be complete without mastery of a pour-over system. There are many different types of pour-over systems, from very cheap plastic cones that will cost you $5 to the Marco SP9 that will run you just over $5,000.
Today we will focus on the very popular Chemex. This method always gives a clean and crisp cup of coffee. I use mine regularly and follow the procedure described below. As always if you have variations, please share in the comments and feel free to experiment.
Although the Chemex’s invention goes back to 1941 and has won accolades like being dubbed “one of the best-designed products of modern times” by the Illinois Institute of Technology and is included in the collection at the Museum of Modern Art, coffee aficionados around the world love its perfect marriage of design and function.
It starts with non-porous glass, which doesn’t allow for the build-up of residual oils and burned on film if cleaned properly. This prevents any additional flavors from being infused into the coffee. Add to that a heat-proof wooden collar that allows for confident pouring. Finally, by using the Chemex brand bonded paper filters, you are using a high-quality filter famed for removing the bitter notes and oils from the coffee.
The result is a crisp, clean, vibrant cup.
The Step by Step
As always, make sure that your basics are locked down:
High-quality filtered water set at 200-205 degrees, a medium-coarse grind (like Kosher Salt), and a 16:1 ratio of water to coffee grounds. In this case, I am making 2 cups of coffee so I will use 640 grams of water to 40 grams of coffee grounds.
1. Make sure your Chemex is clean, rinse and swirl with hot water.
2. Place your Chemex filter in the cone with the 3 folds of the paper facing the spout. Gently rinse the filter with hot water to remove any dust, and then with the filter in place, pour out the water through the spout.
*The airflow through the spout is vital to proper extraction so always be conscious of the filter and do not allow it to create an airlock.*
3. Put in your coffee grounds.
4. Bloom your coffee by simply wetting all of the grounds with just enough water to cover the grounds and let it sit for about 30 seconds.
5. Then, very slowly, in small concentric circles, pour some of the remaining water over the grounds being careful not to hit the sides of the paper filter. After the water drains a bit add the rest, still pouring slowly and deliberately. Very gently, you can stir the liquid with a spoon.
6. Average brew time will be about 4 minutes. If you think the coffee is not draining properly, check the spout and make sure the airflow is good.
7. Fold the tall sides of the filter together and lift it out allowing the last bit of coffee to drain.
8. Finally, in a soft swirling motion, move the coffee around in the carafe.
9. Pour out evenly in cups and enjoy a clean, elegant cup of Coffee.
Are there Any Disadvantages to the Chemex?
As I often tell people, different extraction methods will give you different results and different coffees lend themselves to different brew methods.
Some of the complaints about Chemex are:
a) It is difficult to untie the leather strap that holds the wooden collar should you choose to put it in the dishwasher.
b) The wooden collar does not age particularly well.
d) Design can create potential airlocks
e) The filters are expensive (about $15 for a box of 100)
f) If you enjoy suspended solids in your coffee (as I do) the Chemex can sometimes be too clean.
All in all, the Chemex is a lovely option for a pour-over system, is time tested, and can be bought for under $50.
Wishing you all of the best!
About the Author
Matt Carter is a retired teacher (1989-2018), a part-time musician, farmer, and currently manages Greenwell Farms Tour and Retail Store Operations.