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Chemex Coffeemakers: Elegant Form meets Serious Function

02.29.12 Chemex Coffeemakers: Elegant Form meets Serious Function


If you've ever visited the design collection at The Museum of Modern Art in NYC, chances are that you'd remember the Chemex glass coffeemaker, beautifully lit and displayed, behind locked glass. The museum added the now iconic Chemex to their permanent collection nearly 70 years ago. I've started my own permanent collection on my kitchen counter. My most prized piece: a Chemex. Inspired in spirit by the Bauhaus school of design and in form by the Erlenmeyer flask, the chemex coffeemaker was indeed designed by a chemist, Peter Schlumbohm in 1943. This simple, functional glass coffeepot still holds power over coffee purists and design geeks today. 

I have to admit, I bought my first Chemex (many years ago) because of the shape. I also thought it looked cool and I liked the fact that it didn't need an electrical cord. Since then, I've experimented with several other types of coffeemakers: french press, stove-top espresso maker and an automatic drip. None of these have come close to brewing the superior cup of coffee that drips through a Chemex coffeemaker. And as the "pour-over" coffee culture is all the rage right now, it seems that the coffee brewing time is worth the wait.

I've come around to appreciate beyond the beauty of the hourglass shape. First and foremost, I love that the Chemex is made of minimal parts: glass, wood and leather. And it's made of borosilicate glass, a chemically inert material that does not absorb odors or chemical residues. I also love the brewing process. Just as zen-like as pitting cherries, shucking corn, and squeezing lemons for lemonade, I enjoy the steps of making my coffee in a Chemex. Don't get me wrong, it's not like learning tai chi, but sure, it does require a little more patience than pushing a button. And of course, the end result will keep you going back for more.

What about the filters? The base of the Chemex method is the extraction of only the "desirable parts of the coffee bean." This leaves the coffee fats and bitter elements in the coffee grounds, not in your cup. The natural unbleached filters are cleansed through a four stage process using extremely hot water and the paper itself is 100% cellular fiber and 20-30% heavier (more absorbent) to remove undesirable sediment particles and oils. Chemex filters were scientifically formulated to permit proper infusion time while filtering out sediment, oil, and fats. 

Glass over plastic? I always choose glass over plastic if there is a choice. Plastics age and break down and can potentially leach harmful chemicals into your morning java. It can also made your coffee taste bad. Glass is the only non-porous material available so you can have the pure flavor of coffee without the added toxins brewed in glass.

How to Clean? Easy. Chemex has a sturdy handled brush that does it's job of cleaning off coffee residue from the glass. 

For optimal brewing: 

  1. Place the cone shaped coffee filter in the top of your coffeemaker with the thick portion toward the pouring spout. One side should have 3 layers. (see photo below).
  2. Using regular or automatic grind, use the ratio of 1 rounded TBLS. coffee to every 5 oz. of water.
  3. Boil water. Turn off heat and wait a few seconds until the vigorous boil has stopped. Pour small amount of water over ground coffee, just enough to "wet" the grounds (without floating them). This is an important step as this allows the coffee to "bloom" which releases the full flavor.
  4. After the "blooming", simply fill water (not to the top) until the desired amount of coffee has been brewed.
  5. Prepare to be converted to your new coffee brewing method.

For even more information, watch this fabulous Chemex brewing guide video by Intelligentsia, set to music by Chicago-based punk marching band Mucca Pazza!

Have you tried coffee brewed in a Chemex?

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