The Chemex: Iconic multi-cup coffee brewer…or glorified flower vase?
There is no other coffee brewer that I feel is more polarizing in the specialty coffee community than the Chemex. I cannot even remember how many conversations I have had with friends who fall into one camp or the other.
Say what you will, but the Chemex doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it’s already been immortalized in culture with its place in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. And it has been a fixture of my brew bar at home for almost a decade. In fact it was the very first “specialty coffee” brewer that I ever purchased when my old french press fell off my counter and shattered on the floor. A moment that seemed terrible at the time, but in fact became a seminal moment in my coffee brewing journey.
The Chemex traces its origins back to the early 1940’s where it was invented by German Chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm in 1941. This eccentric inventor had filed for over 300 patents in his time. Schlumbohm set out to not just make a simple-to-use coffee brewer, but also something that would be visually appealing. What is truly remarkable is that it has remained essentially unchanged for just shy of 80 years! It a culture where trends come and go sometimes in weeks if not days…the Chemex continues to be found in homes and specialty coffee shops across the globe. The next time you find yourself binge-watching your favourite show or a watching a film you’ll likely see a Chemex on the kitchen counter…it has that “look” that continues to be appealing to absolutely everybody. It’s been featured on F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the Mary Tyler Moore show and even 007 James Bond has brewed coffee with it.
The Chemex corporation is a family owned company with their headquarters located in Chicopee, Massachusetts (I had to google where that was!) It is there that they manufacture the Chemex Coffeemaker, filters, Chemex Chettle, and many other accessories.
All Chemex coffee makers were originally entirely hand-blown pieces, whereas now many are moulded-glass designs. You can still purchase hand-blown versions but they will cost more than their moulded-glass counterparts. Whichever one you choose, what is unique about the Chemex is that it is your brewer & server all-in-one…all contained within the gorgeous borosilicate hourglass uni-body shape. A pouring spout is molded into the top half to accurately channel your freshly brewed coffee into your cup. Each traditional Chemex is finished with a wood collar along with a leather tie and wood bead. The wood collar acts like an insulated handle to ensure your hands stay cool as you pour your freshly brewed coffee. An updated version of the Chemex is available with a glass handle along the side of the body. While perhaps a bit more functional, I feel it lacks that iconic look again of the Chemex.
Chemex Coffee makers come in a variety of sizes, most commonly in three, six, eight and ten cup options…but go as high as 13 cups (plenty to share with friends!) One of the most confusing things I have to clarify with people is “cups” when they seek to purchase a Chemex.
On their website they say “Coffeemakers are measured using 5 oz. as 1 cup.” If you do the math 5oz only equals .625 of a US cup. Normal volume would dictate that 8oz is one US cup. So when you purchase say an 8cup Chemex like I own that’s actually only going to yield you roughly 40oz of coffee where you might assume that 8 “cups” would equal 64oz of coffee. Not a big deal, but something to be aware of. #themoreyouknow
The only other item you need with a Chemex is a filter. Chemex filters are also quite unique in their own right. The first thing you’ll notice with these filters is that the paper is quite thick. These bonded-paper filters are specifically designed to remove greater amounts of sediment and to give you a smooth cup with greater clarity.
Another option when it comes to filters with the Chemex are reusable metal filters called Kone, made by a company out of Portland, OR called Able Brewing. These are a great way to reduce paper-waste if that is something you are looking to do. I have owned one of these for a number of years and thoroughly enjoy using it.
In as much as the Chemex company has stayed true to its origins when it comes to the design of their iconic coffee maker, that doesn’t mean that they’re not continually innovating. A few recent products that have hit the market are their Chemex Chettle (pronounced Kettle) as well as the Ottomatic 2.0 which takes care of all the brewing like a normal automatic coffee maker would, but continues to use the Chemex as the vessel to brew the coffee in. One of their newest creations is the FUNNEX. This single cup pour-over brewer uses the 3-cup filters and allows you to brew into your favourite vessel.
Chemex has also come up with some great accessories to go with your coffee maker. I have one of their Chemex shaped mugs that are harder to come by now. But check out their Double Wall Chemex Mug!
When it comes to brewing on a Chemex I tend to use a 16:1 ratio, but the beauty of brewing coffee is that in the end, do what tastes good to you. A general rule of thumb thought is to stick to the 1:15 to 1:17 range. So if I were brewing a 16:1 ratio in a Chemex for every 1 gram of coffee I would add 16 grams of water.
When I do brew on my 8 cup Chemex I am typically brewing a larger amount of coffee to share with friends (or just for myself) since sometimes that’s whats necessary for survival! So in this instance I would brew using 40g of coffee which would yield 640g of total volume. Now the best thing with a larger Chemex is that you can brew less coffee too. You could brew using 30g, 25g etc…which is one of the advantages of not purchasing a smaller sized brewer. But that’s totally up to you. Make sure to pre-wet your filter prior to brewing to remove any of the papery taste. Grind your coffee, add it into the filter, and brew away! There are tons of great brew-recipes online if you’re just getting started.
If you want a great one to begin with I’d suggest checking out this one done by the great team over at SPRUDGE.
What many find with the Chemex is that it is quite a forgiving coffee brewer. Whereas some brewers require greater attention to the many variables that go into brewing coffee, the Chemex allows the person brewing to achieve results they can be happy with without feeling overwhelmed in the process. It’s one of the first brewers I actually recommend to people who are just beginning their specialty coffee journey.
Like I said at the beginning, the Chemex coffee brewer is loved by many, and yet for others seems to be reserved for holding flowers instead of brewing coffee. I love my Chemex. And I am fairly sure that you will too.
If you really want to take your Chemex to the next level you should check out what my buddy Jerney Geier is doing in creating custom matte-black Chemex collars! These things are absolutely gorgeous and will definitely cause your Chemex to stand out in the crowd. Contact him through his website or DM him on his Instagram. Huge thanks to Jerney for letting me use one of his images in the featured image for this blog and for my social posts.
So do you own a Chemex? What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback below. If you want to chat more about how I brew on the Chemex or anything else related to this great brewer feel free to contact me or you can always DM me on my Instagram.
Buy some Chemex products!
If you want to get yourself some great Chemex gear make sure to check out check out Eight Ounce Coffee who carry much of their great stuff.
If you didn’t know…the Chemex team also likes to have some fun. On their website they’ve made a retro-style video game called BREW PERFECT that you can play!
And make sure to visit the official Chemex website to learn a lot more about this amazing company and their amazing products.