Invention And History
The Chemex, invented in 1941, was arguably the first coffeemaker to emphasize form alongside function. Created by chemist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, it was intended to be a work of art as well as an effective tool. (He referred to them as “Beautilities.”) Schlumbohm wanted to reimagine the perfect cup of coffee—to strip this basic act down to its very essentials and reshape it from the ground up—and this began with design. In choosing to construct what became the Chemex’s famous hourglass shape, he ended up not only creating a device that brewed coffee without a hint of bitterness, but also a product whose elegance reflected the new, streamlined aesthetic of Mid-Century Modernism. Schlumbohm, who patented some 300 inventions during the course of his career, succeeded admirably: one can regularly find his enduring legacy, the Chemex, exhibited in the permanent collections of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art (NY), Brooklyn Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass, and as a part of temporary collections in museums around the world.
In 1941, sixty-four percent of all household coffee was made using a percolator. While the Chemex “never challenged the percolator,” writes Mark Pendergrast in his book Uncommon Grounds, it was mostly embraced by the purists of the café culture—those who had the time and the wealth to embrace an artisanal approach to making coffee. America during wartime was a comparatively thrifty nation—savings rates soared as high as 25%—and the Chemex, while perhaps too beautiful and effective to fail completely, nonetheless mostly limped along commercially until the nation could afford to give it its due praise.
The Chemex Brewer Today
Like many items once considered too luxurious to indulge in, the Chemex has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last decade. Coffee connoisseurs have come to prize its consistency, beauty and integrity, while those without much disposable income rejoice at a chance to experience fantastic brewed coffee using a product that, despite all its finery, can be had for less than $50. The only real costs—which many coffee lovers are only too happy to pay—are time, patience and a willingness to learn the finer points of a different approach to brewing coffee.
How To Use A Chemex
Follow the steps below and, with practice—you’ll be brewing your way to a delicious cup of coffee.
- Chemex 6-cup brewer
- Square Chemex filter
- 36 grams (5-7 tbsp) beans
- 600 mL water, plus additional for rinsing
- Pouring Kettle (gooseneck preferred)
- Coffee Mug
- Burr grinder (recommended)
- Scale (recommended)
- Heat water to 205 degrees by bringing it to a boil and letting it sit for 30 seconds.
- Unfold the Chemex filter and insert in the top of the brewer, making sure the 3-layered side of the filter is lined up with the pouring spout.
- Pour hot water around the inside of the filter for about 5 seconds. Keeping the filter in place, discard the rinsing water.
- If using pre-ground coffee skip to Step 5. Otherwise, weigh your whole bean coffee and grind it on a setting slightly coarser than medium.
- Pour your ground coffee into the filter and gently shake the brewer back and forth to settle the grounds.
- (Time: 0:00-0:45) Start your timer and slowly pour just enough water over the grounds to wet them evenly (about 70 grams). Let it sit until your timer reads 45 seconds. This step is called the bloom, when hot water forces the coffee to release trapped gases.
- (Time: 0:45-2:45) Begin pouring continuously in a spiraling pattern. Try to avoid pouring directly in the center or around the edges of the filter. If the water level nears the rim of the Chemex, pause for a moment to let it drain before continuing. Stop pouring once your timer reads 2:45 or your scale reads 600 grams.
- (Time: 2:45-3:30) Allow all the water to drain through the filter. Remove the filter from the dripper and discard the grounds. If your final time was longer than 4:00, your grind was probably too fine. If your final time was shorter than 3:00, your grind was probably too coarse. Make a small adjustment to the grind next time you brew. Enjoy!