Chemex – Better Than a Pour-Over Dripper? How an Old Invention Is Gaining New Respect

Let's be honest: We millennial coffee hipsters tend to act like we invented pour-over filtered coffee. Modern coffee culture is often accused of being made up of elitist snobs who co-opt long-established inventions by dressing them up in hip, yet superfluous, new clothing.

Chemex

Let’s be honest: We millennial coffee hipsters tend to act like we invented pour-over filtered coffee. Modern coffee culture is often accused of being made up of elitist snobs who co-opt long-established inventions by dressing them up in hip, yet superfluous, new clothing.

I can’t entirely reject that accusation either. The success of companies’ products like Hario or Chemex are partially built on inventions that our parents and even grandparents were familiar with – and they managed to use them without copping a hipster attitude.

Peter Schlumbohm invented the Chemex coffee maker way back in 1941. With its simple design and a minimalist look, in 1958 it was declared one of the best-designed modern products and eventually even found its way into the Museum of Modern Art.

Chemex without coffee

Chemex with coffee

Why, then, did it take so long for this beautiful manual coffee maker to become popular again? Well, it never really went away, but the Chemex now gets better publicity – and it also happens to be a perfect product for the age of Instagram (Chemex’s Instagram account is here, by the way).

How does Chemex coffee taste? How should you fold those special Chemex filters, and what are some secret tips for making coffee using the Chemex? This article will have answers to all those questions. It will also issue a verdict on an ongoing debate: Does the Hario V60 or Chemex make better coffee?


How Does a Chemex Coffee Maker Work?


If you check out a Chemex coffee maker on Amazon or the Chemex website, right away you will notice the Chemex’s simple, unpretentious design. That is, unless you think that little leather bowtie thingy around the wooden handle looks pretentious – but you still have to admit that it’s all very simple.

How the heck is something so basic supposed to make coffee? Well, you can’t make coffee yet – not until you also buy a stack of Chemex filters, which aren’t cheap, unfortunately.

The filters are made from a heavy pulp that theoretically does a better job of filtering than generic paper alternatives. They are also pre-cleansed with oxygen so that you don’t need to worry about ingesting chemicals.

You can buy two kinds of pre-folded Chemex filters, either circular or square-shaped. You can only get the original filters from Chemex, not third party resellers.

Wait. Circles? Squares? Is this coffee or origami? Actually, your folding technique can play an important role in how your Chemex coffee turns out. We will get more into that later.

First, let’s get back to the Chemex itself. It is made of fireproof Borosilicate glass. This is the same type of glass that I’ve mentioned when talking about other coffee preparation methods and gadgets, such as French presses or milk frothers.

Two Chemex size options

The tapered “neck” with the collar is there so that the filter papers don’t slide into the coffee below, while the wooden collar gives you something to hold onto while pouring the coffee or carrying the whole thing around.

You can see how well this whole concept works when you look at the large Chemex, which makes eight cups of coffee. It doesn’t slosh around, you don’t have to worry about burning your fingers, and you don’t need a second carafe or pot – it’s simply great.

Of course, a great idea like that is bound to have imitators. Nowadays, manufacturers like Bodum and Hario have come out with their own Chemex copies.

The Hario Woodneck comes with a cloth filter, but otherwise it’s the same idea. You can also check prices on Amazon.

A Guide to Folding a Chemex Filter


I admit, I fibbed: You don’t actually need to worry too much about folding Chemex filters. There’s a reason that they come pre-folded.

I like the square-shaped filters better. In my experience, they work better when pouring, plus they give your Chemex that rustic look. It really is just a matter of personal preference.

To put in the filter, place the Chemex in front of you with the spout facing you. Place the filter into the Chemex so that it makes a cone. The folded side of the cone with three layers should be on the same side as the spout. Check out the pictures below to see it all in action.

Round Chemex Filter

Folded Filter

Chemex filter folding and putting in

Yes, those pictures do contain a subliminal advertisement for my friends at Quijote Kaffee.

What Kind of Coffee Should I Use with a Chemex?

The main factors that come into play when using a manual coffee maker (or any coffee preparation method) are the coffee beans, the grind coarseness, the water temperature and the amount of coffee you use. For the eight-cup Chemex, I recommend:

  • Use water at a temperature around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (95 degrees Celsius). If you don’t want to mess with a thermometer, simply heat water in an electric kettle, then turn it off and let it sit for about a minute after it starts to boil. You can find more information in my complete review of electric water kettles (currently available only in German).
  • Around 6 ounces (100 milliliters) of water per cup.
  • Between 8 and 10 tablespoons of coffee (you can adjust this according to your personal taste).
  • Medium-ground coarseness (on a scale of 10, grind at five or six).


Using paper filters will give you a nice, strong extraction, which means that your finished coffee will have a full body with plenty of good oils. This also means that subtle, floral roasts can really come into their own.

When choosing your coffee beans, don’t necessarily grab the strongest varieties because they might overwhelm your palate. Then again, if you like to experiment, have at it!

Chemex Coffee: A How-To Guide


Making coffee with a Chemex is similar to using a Hario or Melitta pour-over.

  • First, moisten the filter completely with water. This will wash out any paper residue or dust from the filter. Rinsing the filter while it is in the Chemex also warms up the glass and helps the filter settle into the perfect position. Just pour out the remaining water through the spout.

Rinsing with water

Swirling

Pouring out water

  • Pour your precisely measured and freshly ground coffee into the filter. Give it a slight shake to make the surface more uniform.
  • Pour the water over the coffee using the following steps:
  1. Start by pouring the water in the middle of the coffee, then move outwards in a spiral, eventually covering all the grounds. Stop when you have poured about two times as much water as there is ground coffee. This is called “blooming” because it evenly wets the coffee, making the grounds swell up like a blooming flower. Then wait about 45 seconds.
  2. Pour about twice as much water as you used in the first step, once again moving in a spiral. Try not to pour the water straight down onto the filter. Take your time. Stop pouring, then wait until the coffee grounds sink downward by themselves and the “puddle” shrinks a bit.
  3. Repeat the second step up to two more times, depending on the size of the Chemex.
  4. Wait until the water has completely moved through the filter, then remove the filter paper and coffee grounds.

For these kinds of delicate tasks, I recommend using something like the Hario Buono Drip Kettle. Its goose-neck spout helps you pour very precisely, although I have also heard from many of you that there are plenty of other alternatives that you like.

The important thing is to use something that lets you pour slowly and accurately!

Preinfusion

Blooming

Brewing the coffee

Pouring

Removing filter

Cleaning the Chemex Coffee Maker<


Obviously you don’t need to worry about cleaning the filter, but the Chemex itself may appear more difficult to clean because of its shape. However, you can actually just remove the collar and put the whole thing into the dishwasher. Otherwise, simply use a glass brush – it couldn’t be easier.

Don’t worry: The glass is really robust and stronger than what you would get with something like the Hario Woodneck. Still, I would not use my Chemex for juggling practice, and I would also try to keep it away from other dishes while in the dishwasher.

Chemex or Hario V60 Pour-Over: Which Makes Better Coffee?


Now it’s time to settle this duel. Will the Hario V60 or the Chemex come out on top? Let’s take a closer look at the blow-by-blow report:

  1. PRICE: Around $20 for the porcelain V60 ✓ vs. $37 for the Chemex (for eight cups)
  2. DESIGN: Drab porcelain look vs. MoMA-worthy design ✓
  3. EASE OF USE: Convenient coffee dripper ✓ vs. carafe
  4. SERVING COFFEE: Separate carafe vs. all-in-one device ✓
  5. ACCESSORIES: More third-party filter sellers ✓ vs. custom filters
  6. COFFEE: Ultra delicious ✓ vs. ultra delicious ✓

Drinking coffee from a Chemex

Simply enjoy it

In other words, the Chemex coffee maker is simply a wonderful device that makes superb coffee. There’s a reason it has so many copycats. However, it does take a bit of getting used to, and it’s not terribly cheap.

In terms of social media love and hype, though, the Chemex coffee pot stands alone. You can make of that what you will.

How about you? Are you itching to buy your own Chemex? Do you have more questions? Either way, feel free to leave a comment below!

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