Chemex Coffee Makers Buyers Guide
A certified icon over in America, it has only recently gained popularity in the UK as part of the third wave coffee movement where people are starting to become more aware of specialty coffee and the variety of different brewing methods and taste profiles that can be brought out by a bit of exploration.
We will be looking at what makes the Chemex an essential bit of equipment for the home barista, what considerations you need to make when purchasing one, and then how to get the most out of it with our Chemex pouring FAQ at the bottom of the page and some alternatives if after you are thinking it's not entirely for you.
The Chemex uses a much thicker paper filter and has a slower brew time than some of the other pour-over coffee brewing equipment available, but what you get in return is a clean taste and aroma as the paper catches all of the natural oils and fine coffee grounds usually give a coffee its thickness and mouthfeel. So if you are looking for a cleaner taste or you have a variety with particularly exotic or fruity flavour note, then a Chemex is a great way to enjoy the coffee in it's purest form.
What is a Chemex?
The Chemex was invented in 1941 in America, by a German inventor called Peter Schlumbohm, and the iconic design has since gained notoriety in film, tv and as well as being nationally recognised as "one of the best designed products of modern times" by the Illinois Institute of Technology, as well as being inducted into the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The form factor of the Chemex is an hourglass shaped, glass carafe that houses a filter in the funnel shaped neck. It's a simple concept that has stood the test of time to the point where it's growing in popularity with the latest new wave of coffee enthusiasts. Probably owing a lot to use of wine carafe's that predate the Chemex by some way, the Chemex does a similar job at bringing out the subtle flavours of a great pour over coffee.
We've selected our favourite Chemex coffee makers available right now.
Chemex 6-Cup Wood Neck
The iconic wooden neck, 6 cup coffee maker is the number one choice of the different variety of Chemex's around, and just outsmarts the similar 6 cup glass handle just for pure aesthetics and icon status. The wood neck protector acts as a heat shield for pouring the Chemex and a handy spout makes the whole process easier. The spout of the Chemex actually doubles up as an air intake so that water can keep flowing.
A 6 cup Chemex is the perfect size to be able to pour all the way from 2 cups to 6 without missing out on flavour or having any other inefficiencies like you can experience with the 8 cup version, and although we are letting vanity get in the way over function by choosing the wooden neck, it just oozes class and sophistication, even if it is a pain to remove for putting in the dishwasher.
Chemex 6-Cup with Glass Handle
Arguably the better designed in terms of pure ergonomics and functionality, the spout is slightly wider allowing for better air flow and the handle makes it much easier for for pouring, its easier and more efficient to clean, as you can just remove the filter and compost the coffee grinds. But functionally it is still the same, it still provides the same level of control with the pour over coffee.
But it's less iconic, people may assume it's a vase or a standard water or wine carafe, so purely from the aesthetics stand point if that's what you are going for, you probably want the wooden neck. But for function over fashion, there's really only one choice to make and considering you are going to spend about 5 minutes pouring and adjusting the coffee, spending another 3 minutes to remove the wooden neck can really add up over time.
How to Use a Chemex
Just like many of the other coffee brewing techniques, there is a procedure to keep to that will ensure you get great tasting consistent coffee from your Chemex, and it's similar to other methods in that you want to start with great quality, whole beans and grind them fresh as you need them, if you need help looking for a grinder we have recommendations for the best grinders to suit your budget. Luckily the Chemex only requires medium course ground which is much easier to achieve with a cheap burr grinder.
Step 1 - Weigh your beans, per serving you will usually use between 15 and 18 grams of whole bean coffee.
Step 2 - Grind you beans on a medium course setting.
Step 3 - Use filtered water and ever use an electric kettle setting between 90 - 95 degrees celsius or if using a household kettle wait 30 seconds after boiling to not scold the coffee.
Step 4 - Fold the filter and position the filter so the double sided section is against the spout
Step 5 - Use your kettle water to wet the filter to remove the papery taste then pour away the water
Step 6 - Add the ground coffee
Step 7 - Place your scales underneath the Chemex and tare the setting so you know how much water you are adding
Step 8 - Add just enough water to get all the coffee grinds wet, this is called the "bloom", around 100 grams should do it and wait a minute
Step 9 - After the bloom, you are looking for around 260 grams of water per serving of coffee, so add the water in a circular pattern around the coffee beans, let that pull through and keep going until you have the required weight on the scales.
Step 10 - Remove the filter and dispose of the grinds (preferably compost if you want to make your coffee more sustainable) and enjoy you delicious coffee.
The Chemex overall is more involved than many of the other methods, and requires active engagement whilst brewing and stirring the coffee within the funnel of the Chemex, which isn't for everyone, but we are the type of people that like to obsess over the details in our coffee, so having that level of control also makes up part of the appeal.
The taste notes is a much lighter coffee without the oils you might find by using a mocha pot, French press or even from an espresso machine, which is why the Chemex is as popular today as it was when it was put into the Museum of Modern Art.
Essential Equipment to get the most out of your Chemex
As mentioned in the steps above, there is some additional equipment that is needed to get the very most out of your Chemex pour-over coffee experience, the official Chemex filters, whilst being the thickest filters available compared to the lightweight Hario filters, these are the best option as they are less likely to get sucked into the spout and thus creating a vacuum where the coffee can't get pulled through. A necessary, if a little wasteful, aspect of the design.
Choosing filters from the Chemex
There are several different filters available for the Chemex, from the official unbleached rounded filters, to the third party reusable filters that allow a lot more of the oils and fines to get through, here is the best selection of different filters available;
Unbleached Chemex Filters 100 Pack
The unbleached filters cost about the same for 100 so it really comes down to preference, sometimes these filters can be a little harder to remove the papery taste and require a bit more soaking with hot water in order to get back to a neutral flavour. But once you are familiar with this, there is very little to differ from the taste. Unbleached Chemex filter are said to have a lower environmental impact, as the discharge from chlorine bleaching (as used for the standard filters) has been determined as the most significant environmental impact of paper mills.
Chemex Bonded Filters 100 Pack
The standard filters are require slightly less rinsing than unbleached, and still provide that clean coffee taste, will not break and very rarely sink into the spout to create a vacuum and slow down the coffee making process. The bleached variety do however have a higher environmental impact as they require more processing and given the option we should always be looking for the option with smaller impact.
Reusable Metal Filter
In the hunt for going green, you may want to try a completely reusable metal filter, these are a quick and convenient way to reduce the amount of waste from your coffee making, but they don't provide the same level of purity as a a paper filter. They will let a lot more fines and oils through and require thorough cleaning in a dishwasher fairly regularly, so not the pure experience of the Chemex as was intended, but the economical and environmental benefits sometimes outweigh the costs. It's a great little tool to have floating around when max purity of a new interesting micro-lot isn't the main priority.
Reusable Coffee Sock
A reusable coffee sock is similarly reusable but suffers from wear and tear at a greater rate than a metal filter. But will be lower overall impact, made from organic cotton and filter the coffee better than a metal filter. You may need to adjust your grind size to account for variations in flow rate, and you may spend more time cleaning it out than a metal filter, but still these options are often worth considering in a bid to become greener.
JBK Variable Temperature Gooseneck Kettle
Whilst not particularly essential, the temperature setting application of the JBK Gooseneck is perfect for setting the temperature to the perfect 95 degrees celsius. The precision pouring spout allows you to evenly distribute the water over the coffee, a very important step to ensure the coffee is bloomed correctly.
A good set of coffee scales for measuring how much water you put into the Chemex is absolutely essential, and you need it to weigh out your coffee beans in the first place so investing in a quality set of scales is an absolute priority for any brewing method.
Drawbacks of the Chemex
The Chemex is internationally renowned for its design, but that doesn't mean it is the brewing method that is perfect for everyone, there are some considerations when looking at the Chemex that will help you decide if it is the one for you or whether other options are more suited to you.
- When it comes to bolder flavours that need the oils in the final drink, the Chemex won't do justice to these. It won't necessarily make them worse, but it's not the best method for getting the most out of your Colombian or Brazilian beans.
- They are notoriously fragile, and most of us have had to buy a second or third after knocking the kettle on it resulting in a chip. So it's not great if you have very little room.
- It is essentially useless if you do not have any filters, which requires you to plan ahead to not run out.
Alternatives to Consider
If you like the idea of pour-over, but find you don't have the room, are nervous about the huge fragile glass flask, or even if you think the wooden collar and necktie are not in keeping with the style of your kitchen, there are other solutions available out there for producing fantastic pour over coffees. Brands like Bodum produce a much smaller pour over alternatives that comes with a metal reusable filter that allows more body of the coffee to permeate the final drink.
Should I buy a Chemex? - Final Thoughts
There's no denying that the Chemex is an impeccably designed, ergonomic masterpiece and absolute icon in the specialty coffee scene. If you want to explore the subtle tastes of single origin coffee, there really is nothing better than a Chemex with a filter and the proper technique. You can experience consistently great coffee each time you use, like most of the advanced coffee brewing techniques, this one takes a little more time and concentration, but if you enjoy the process, you are sure to get lots out of it.