The Chemex is possibly the most elegant looking of all brewing devices and one of my favorite ways to make coffee. It was designed in 1941 by a German chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, who immigrated to the United States in 1935. The modern hourglass shape of the Chemex, hugged in the middle by a wooden collar and leather tie, became a part of MoMA’s permanent collection in 1944—just a few years after its invention.
Apart from its sophisticated design, it makes an equally great cup of coffee when it’s not looking beautiful on your counter or the walls of a modern art museum.
The upper portion of the Chemex cradles a thick, bonded filter (also made by Chemex) that resembles lab parchment more than a typical coffee filter. This filter is what helps create such a clean cup of coffee that really highlights the brightness, clarity and sweetness in certain coffees that I personally enjoy very much.
The design is nearly identical to the original product, except the glass is no longer made by Pyrex. There is an alternate, glass-handled design that is easier to clean and allows a better view of the coffee brewing process—or there’s the handblown versions for three times the cost of the mass produced ones, if you’re a purist with extra money to spend.
Apart from the design itself and the quality of coffee it makes, I also like the Chemex for its ease of use. In regards to pour over devices, I find the Chemex to be one of the easiest for beginners to take up. The thickness of the filter and slower brew time allows for a greater margin of error, while the one-piece design reduces spills and can be less intimidating to handle. Although the larger ones are not ideal for smaller servings, there are several sizes of the Chemex available depending on your needs.
There are many variations on how to use the Chemex, but at its simplest, add a bit of hot water and let bloom for 30–45 seconds, then pour the remaining water in a circular motion, keeping all the grounds wet. I generally stick to a “60g of coffee/1 liter of water” ratio for the Chemex—but as always, adjust to taste. There are a number of tutorials on BrewMethods.com, but this one from Intelligentsia has always been my favorite.