Chemex Coffeemaker

If one of your new year’s resolutions was to simplify your daily routine, one of my finds this weekend might be exactly what you need to make that resolution come true—if you’re a coffee drinker that this. Tucked in among vases and various glassware at a local thrift store, I found a Chemex three cup coffeemaker for $1.99. I might have overlooked it if I hadn’t already bought the six cup version at a tag sale a few years earlier.

Decanters

Introduced in 1941 by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm PhD and still in production today, the Chemex is a beautifully simple coffeemaker. So beautifully simple, in fact, that it is in the MOMA’s permanent collection and has been lauded as one of the 100 best designed products of modern times. It is equal parts workhorse and work of art. Born in an era dominated by shiny chrome automatic percolators gurgling and scorching coffee to a bitter black sludge, the Chemex not only presented a simpler way to make coffee but also a way to make better tasting coffee. Today we have dozens of options for making coffee at home, but most of those entail expensive, space consuming, hard to clean machines made mostly of plastic. After 73 years, the Chemex still presents a pleasant alternative.

So, just how easy is it to use? Let me show you.

Get Filters

Get Filters

1. Get Filters

There are a few different sizes and styles of carafes; make sure you find the right paper filters for yours. Chemex filters are high quality and relatively economical, although you may have to go to a specialty store to find them or order them from Amazon.

Add Coffee

Add Coffee

2. Add Coffee

Unfold the filter as shown on the package and insert into the carafe. Place the desired amount of your favorite coffee in the filter. It may be helpful to tamp the grounds just slightly with a spoon or coffee tamper if you have one to prevent them from pushing away from the center when you pour the water in.

Let the coffee "bloom"

Let the coffee “bloom”

3. Let the Coffee Bloom

Heat water to just below boiling. Pour a small amount of water into the grounds, just enough to wet them, and allow the coffee to bloom for about 30 seconds. The bloom helps ensure even extraction resulting in better flavor.

Brewing

Brew

4. Brew

Pour the rest of the water slowly in a spiral fashion until the grounds are fully saturated. Allow the coffee to brew fully and then discard the filter and grounds. TIP: A tea kettle is much better for using with pour over coffeemakers because it reduces splashing and spilling. But if you’re lazy like me, a measuring cup of water heated in the microwave will suffice.

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

5. Enjoy!

Your coffee is ready to serve. In my opinion, the Chemex makes a very smooth cup of coffee with little to no bitterness. It also didn’t take much fussing or adjusting to get the flavor how I liked it. I can’t say that my experience with most other home coffee makers has been the same.

PROS

Simplicity. It’s easy to use, easy to clean, doesn’t take up much space and looks sexy the whole time. The brewing process is simple and fast, making it a perfect choice for those with a need for speed on workdays. The vessel is made entirely of glass, meaning it can’t impart any off flavor to the coffee like the plastic or metal found in most other coffeemakers. The borosilicate glass body can also be used directly on a stove burner allowing you to keep your coffee warm (although purists maintain that reheating coffee destroys the flavor). The pickiest of brewers will also enjoy absolute control over brewing temperature. The failure of many coffeemakers is brewing at too high of temperatures. With the Chemex the temperature of the water is all up to you.

CONS

The flavor from the Chemex is very smooth and clean, but it’s not the most robust or complex. If you like a richer cup of coffee, you’ll probably need to experiment with different roasts and grinds before you’re satisfied. While simple rinsing is great for day-to-day cleaning, it can be a little tricky to clean any deposits that form on the glass in the bottom chamber since the opening is too small for a hand to fit inside. I usually have to clean mine with a rag on the end of a wooden spoon handle.

The bottom line, it’s the epitome of great design: beautiful, efficient, simple. If you want an uncomplicated cup of coffee and more space on the kitchen counter, look no further than the Chemex. You can find vintage and used Chemex coffeemakers at thrift stores and garage sales—often people have no idea what they are—but you can also buy new ones and parts directly from Chemex.

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One Comment

  1. Anne
    Posted January 15, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I keep hearing about these, and I’m dying to try one out! A local restaurant serves their coffee brewed in these, freshly made to order. Here’s a tip from a mom of a newborn: you can buy a bottle brush at Target in the baby section for less than $3!

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