Tyler Hagan is the founder of Commonly Coffee and in this expert feature article, originally published on Commonly Coffee (affiliate links included), he offers insights into brewing with the iconic Chemex. Check out Tyler's blog on Commonly Coffee and follow him on Instagram for more stellar coffee content.
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.
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 has 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 almost 80 years! It a culture where trends come and go sometimes in weeks if not years...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 movie 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 family owned with their headquarters located in Chicopee, Massachusetts. It is there that they manufacture the Chemex Coffeemakers, filters, Chemex Chettle, and other accessories.
The Chemex were originally all entirely hand-blown pieces, whereas now many are moulded-glass designs. You can still find 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.
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 they 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 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.
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 8cup Chemex I am typically brewing a larger volume of coffee to share with friends (or all for myself) since sometimes that's what’s 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. You could brew using 25g, 30g etc...which is one of the advantages of not purchasing a smaller vessel. But that's totally up to you.
What many find with the Chemex is that it is a forgiving coffee brewer. Whereas some brewers require more 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.
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.
Thanks to Tyler for sharing his passion and expertise!
Find more coffee reviews, expert advice, and coffee know-how
at CommonlyCoffee.com and be sure to follow Tyler on Instagram.
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Joshua Gillingham is an author, board game designer, and coffee lover from Vancouver Island. He curates the Vancouver Island Coffee Tour. For questions or comments about VICT, map updates, or roaster openings and closures, send him a note via the community contact form.