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Chemex – in-depth review

By 10/26/2016Coffeecademy

The Chemex is one of the most beloved manual pour-overs. It’s a stylish pour-over that gives the user complete control over every aspect of brewing. In the hands of a knowledgeable barista or coffee enthusiast, the Chemex produces a delicious, clean cup of coffee.

Who are We at Driftaway Coffee?

We at Driftaway Coffee are coffee lovers. Everyone on the team, and especially co-founders Anu and Suyog, is passionate about every aspect of making great coffee. We take pride in selecting the finest coffee beans available, masterfully roasting them and delivering them fresh to people’s front doors. We also love sharing our expertise, helping people enjoy the best coffee possible.

As coffee enthusiasts, we’ve tried most brew methods. Previously, we published a guide on the Aeropress. Here’s our take on the Chemex, including who it’s suited for, how to brew with it and whether it makes good coffee. (Yes, it does.)

What is the Chemex?

The Chemex is a manual pour-over that was invented in 1941 and is still widely popular today. Its fame is due not only to the extremely good coffee that it brews, but also to its elegant appearance. The glass pour-over has an hourglass shape, with a bowl-like bottom and funneled top. The classic design features a classy wooden handle around the midsection. A more recent design has a glass handle. The Chemex is one of the few, if not the only, coffee maker to be displayed in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art.

Who Should Consider the Chemex?

The Chemex is well-suited for coffee aficionados who understand that coffee is an art and are interested in learning about all aspects of the brewing process. As is the case with all manual pour-overs, brewing coffee with the Chemex takes a few minutes. Thus, it’s not an ideal choice for coffee drinkers who are in a hurry. For people who don’t mind spending some time making coffee, though, the Chemex lets the brewer adjust any part of the brewing process.

The brewing style of the Chemex and its special paper filters produce clean, crisp brews. While any good coffee brewed in the Chemex will produce a decent cup, the coffee maker is especially suited for light and light-medium roasts.

The Chemex is available in several different sizes, ranging from three to thirteen cups. Thus, there is an appropriate-sized model whether making coffee for one or a whole party.

What is the Chemex Made Of?

The Chemex is made of glass, which gives the coffee maker its distinctive appearance. The Classic Series and Handblown Series have a wooden collar around the middle and a rawhide thong, which can come in a number of colors. The Glass Handle Series has a glass handle instead of a wooden collar and rawhide thong.

The Chemex uses special filters, which are made from bonded paper. There are natural and bleached ones available.

What Does the Chemex Come With?

The Chemex often comes with just the coffee maker (including wooden collar and leather thong if purchasing a Classic or Hand Blown Series model). Filters may be included in a kit, or they may need to be purchased separately.

What Other Accessories Should You Get?

To brew great coffee with the Chemex, you’ll need a few accessories:

  • freshly roasted coffee, which will produce livelier brews than old coffee
  • a scale for weighing, so you can achieve an accurate coffee-to-water ratio
  • a burr grinder, so you can grind your coffee right before brewing
  • a gooseneck kettle, so you’ll have complete control when pouring water
  • Chemex’s bonded filters, which are specially designed for the coffee maker

You may also want a thermometer and time, if your gooseneck kettle doesn’t have them and you don’t want to use a clock. These will help ensure you’re using precise brewing parameters.

Some coffee enthusiasts choose to keep all of these accessories in a brew station, but this isn’t a must-do.

How Do You Make Coffee with the Chemex?

Part of the reason to use a Chemex is to make minute adjustments during the brewing process. There are lots of brew guides that have slightly different parameters. In general, brewing with the Chemex goes as follows:

  1. place the filter in the Chemex
  2. wet the filter with hot water, and then discard the water you used
  3. pour the appropriate amount of medium-coarsely ground coffee in the filter
  4. gently shake the Chemex to even the grounds
  5. starting in the middle and working toward the edge in concentric circles, pour about twice as much water as you have coffee and let the coffee bloom
  6. after the bloom, continue to pour water over the grounds in small doses, always starting in the center and progressing toward the edge in concentric circles
  7. let the brewed coffee drip into the bottom of the Chemex, pour and enjoy

The coarseness of the grind and exact pour rate are two of the main factors that enthusiasts have varying opinions on.

Does the Chemex Make Good Coffee?

The Chemex makes an excellent cup of coffee, one that taste just as good as the coffee maker looks. Of course, brewing great coffee does require some skill and expertise, because the entire process is done by hand.

The Chemex’s bonded filters make the coffee maker a particularly good choice for light and light-medium roasts, such as our #1 Fruity Profile and #2 Classic Profile. The paper filters don’t allow any fines into the cup, creating a bright, clean and crisp brew that showcases the origin characteristics of lighter roasts.

How Do You Clean the Chemex?

The Chemex is easily cleaned. Models with glass handles are dishwasher safe and require nothing more than being run through the dishwasher. Models that have a wooden collar and leather thong must be washed with soap and water by hand. The collar and thong, however, don’t need to be removed.

How Does the Chemex Compare to Other Brew Methods?

Brew Method Cups Brewed Time Required Flavor Body
auto-drip 1 – many a minute to setup and clean; can be programed medium medium
percolator 1 – many 5 – 10 min.; longer for larger models poor heavy
vacuum pot 1 – many 10 – 20 min., including setup and cleanup excellent medium
Aeropress 1 – 2 3 – 5 min., including setup and cleanup excellent light
cold brew 1 – many 12 – 16 hrs. very good medium-heavy
French press 1 – many 5 – 7 min., including setup and cleanup very good medium-heavy
Chemex 3 – 13 (5-oz. cups) 5 – 10 min., including setup and cleanup excellent medium

How Much Does the Chemex Cost?

Models from Chemex’s Classic and Glass Handle Series generally costs between $38 and $48, depending on their size. The Handblown Series run from $71 to $111. Paper filters are priced by Chemex at $8.90 per 100 filters.

What Else is There to Know About the Chemex?

The Chemex continues to be manufactured in Massachusetts, and it’s received many recognitions over the years. It been featured in the Museum of Modern Art and has won design awards. It’s not only designers who are impressed with the coffee maker, though. The Chemex is President Obama’s coffee maker of choice, and he’s converted the White House to serving Chemex-brewed coffee.

Author Scott

Scott is a professional writer for Driftaway Coffee. He worked as a barista for eight years, but today prefers to enjoy his beverages from the other side of the counter. When not drinking Driftaway Coffee, Scott usually has a mug of his own roasted coffee nearby.

More posts by Scott
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