The Ultimate Chemex Review

Written by:
Kenny Gould
Lead Image:
John Paradiso

Around 2008, Intelligentsia Coffee shocked caffeine lovers by announcing a switch to pour over coffee. As opposed to a traditional drip coffee maker, which mechanically boils water and disperses it over coffee grounds, the pour over method requires a human to manually add the heated water, typically through a gooseneck kettle. Both methods have their proponents, but we’re not here to argue their relative merits. Rather, I want to dig deep into one of the most popular types of pourover — the Chemex — to provide the ultimate Chemex review.

For those not in the know, the Chemex is a simple glass device used to make pour over coffee. Created by a German inventor in 1941, the Chemex has acquired a cult following around the world, largely due to its aesthetically pleasing design and the smoothness of coffee produced within its glass walls.

But does the design deserve the hype? And exactly how does a Chemex work? Let’s look a little deeper in the ultimate Chemex review.

What Is A Chemex?

Pouring coffee for the ultimate Chemex review

A Chemex is a type of glass pour over coffee maker created by German inventor Dr. Peter Schlumbohm in 1941. Family owned since 1980, the Chemex Corporation currently produces Chemex coffee makers in Western Massachusetts.

Other than the hourglass-shaped Chemex coffee maker, the key differentiator between Chemex and other types of manual pour-over are the specially-bonded Chemex paper filters.

Think about razors. Most razor handles are awfully similar. And with a couple minor exceptions, a razor handle doesn’t really affect the quality of a shave. So how do razor companies separate themselves from their competition? With the blades, of course.

The Chemex filters are equivalent to the razor blades — i.e., the piece of the process that truly sets Chemex apart from its competitors.

What Are The Advantages Of Chemex Coffee?

Pouring water into a Chemex for the ultimate Chemex review

Because the Chemex is a type of pour over coffee maker, Chemex coffee has all the advantages of any pour over. Mainly, you get to experiment with each part of the coffee-making process, giving you more control over the quality of your cup.

One of the most advantageous parts of any pour over method is the ability to control flow rate. When the water moves more slowly, it pulls more compounds from the beans, resulting in a bolder, richer flavor.

But what about the Chemex, specifically? First off, the hourglass-shaped glass design looks like it belongs in a museum — and indeed, the Chemex is the only coffeemaker in permanent collection at MOMA New York and the Corning Museum of Glass.

But perhaps more importantly, the Chemex uses specially bonded Chemex paper filters. On average, Chemex filters are twenty to thirty percent thicker than papers like the Japanese Hario V60 filter or the Melitta Oxygen Bleached filters. As a result, Chemex papers filter more sediment than other coffee filters, resulting in a cleaner, smoother cup.

What Equipment Do I Need To Make Chemex Coffee?

A glass Chemex and coffee mug for the ultimate Chemex review

As the name suggests, you need a Chemex coffeemaker to make Chemex coffee. Crafted from non-porous borosilicate glass with a wood collar and tie (this allows you to pick up the glass without burning your hands), the Chemex coffeemaker comes in several sizes: three-cup, six-cup, eight-cup, or — for those who truly need a caffeine boost — the massive ten-cup. Recently, Chemex also started making a FUNNEX, which is a smaller, more portable device.

In addition to the Chemex coffee maker, you need Chemex filters. The filters not only come in two different sizes (pint / FUNNEX and everything else), but they’re also available as folded or unfolded, and as circle, square, or half moon. And then you can get bleached or natural.

You also need a device to heat your water. Because of its ease-of-use (just fill it with water, set your temperature, and press the “on” button), as well as its precision with regards to both temperature and the pourover process, we recommend the reasonably priced $70 Cosori Gooseneck Kettle, which comes with five variable temperature presets. If you want a step up, go with the $150 Chemex-branded Chettle, or the $200 Bluetooth-enabled Fellow Stagg Kettle.

Finally — unless you buy pre-ground beans, which we don’t recommend — you need a way to weigh your beans, and a way to grind them. Luckily, kitchen scales are both sleek and inexpensive: the Etekcity food scale will work just fine, and will only set you back $14. For a budget grinder, try this $20 Bodum grinder, though we recommend opting for the $145 Baratza Encore. Although a couple Amazon reviews talk about problems with the Encore, ours has worked perfectly since we got it about two years ago.

All in, it costs between $150 and $300 for the full Chemex setup.

Which Chemex Filter Should I Buy?

A Chemex filter for the Ultimate Chemex Review

If you’re moving forward with the Chemex, you need Chemex filters.

First, make sure you get the correct size. There’s nothing more disappointing than spending $20 on coffee filters only to realize they’re too small or too big for your device. So read carefully and make sure you’re getting the correct size — I learned this lesson the hard way!

After that, you have a few decisions to make. Assuming you have the correct size, you now need to decide whether you want natural filters — also known as unbleached filters — or bleached filters.

Honestly, there’s not much of a difference. Supposedly, unbleached filters are a little better for the environment but sometimes have a papery taste. On the other hand, the bleached filters use a process called oxygen bleaching to whiten the paper and remove the paper taste. According to some, this puts a greater strain on the environment.

However, we’re going to go ahead and say that the toll of bleaching on the environment is negligible. At the same time, you can remove the paper taste from natural filters by giving them a good rinse before your brew (more on that later). So with this decision, it really comes down to preference.

More important is whether or not you want your papers pre-folded. Admittedly, it’s nice to stumble into your kitchen and have a nicely folded filter ready to go, but there’s also something meditative about preparing your own filter. If you’re a hands-on, DIY kind of person, go with the unfolded. Otherwise, pre-folded will work just fine.

Then there’s the shape, though as Chemex says on its FAQ page, the difference between shapes “is a matter of aesthetics.” However, we’ve found a substantive difference — while the circular filters sit flush, the square papers have “points” that make it easier to remove the filter after the brew. But we like folding the half-moon papers best, so that’s our choice every time.

How To Fold A Chemex Filter

Some people don’t like folding Chemex filters. But to us, it’s an integral and enjoyable part of the Chemex process. And conveniently, the Circle and Square filters get folded in the exact same way!

How To Fold A Chemex Circle Filter

Step 1: Fold the Chemex filter in half. Fold in half again.
Step 2: Separate the third and fourth layers of the filter. If you’ve done this correctly, the filter should now look like a cone.
Step 3: Set the cone into your Chemex device with the first three layers facing the groove and the fourth layer facing the back of the device. Coffee grounds will go into the funnel between the third and fourth layers.

How to Fold A Chemex Half Moon Filter

Step 1: Fold the Chemex filter in half.
Step 2: If you’ve done this correctly, you should have a little nub in the shape of a quarter circle sticking from the filter. Fold this nub up into the filter and then fold the filter in half again.
Step 3: Separate the third and fourth layers of the filter. If you’ve done this correctly, the filter should now look like a cone.
Step 4: Set the cone into your Chemex device with the first three layers facing the groove and the fourth layer facing the back of the device. Coffee grounds will go into the funnel between the third and fourth layers.

How To Fold A Chemex Square Filter

Step 1: Fold the Chemex filter in half. Fold in half again.
Step 2: Separate the third and fourth layers of the filter. If you’ve done this correctly, the filter should now look like a cone.
Step 3: Set the cone into your Chemex device with the first three layers facing the groove and the fourth layer facing the back of the device. Coffee grounds will go into the funnel between the third and fourth layers.

How To Make The Best Chemex Coffee

Now that you’ve properly folded your filter, it’s time to learn how to use the Chemex.

Step 1: Measure Your Water And Beans

Brewing coffee is all about ratios, specifically the ratio of grounds to water. For Chemex, I typically brew a 1:15 — that’s one gram of coffee to every fifteen grams of water. When I’m brewing a cup for myself, I use 35g of coffee and 525g of water (1:15), which usually results in about two mugs.

Step 2: Heat The Water
Some high-end kettles offer temperature controls, but a rule of thumb is you want water just below boiling (around 200°F). So heat your kettle on your stovetop, let it boil, and take it off the heat for a few seconds.

Step 3: Grind The Beans
If you have whole bean coffee (which we prefer for maximum freshness), you’ll need to grind ’em up to about sea salt levels of coarseness. On a Baratza Encore, I wouldn’t grind below 20 or above 30. (I like 22 most days.)

Step 4: Rinse Your Filter
This is a key step. The benefit of the bonded paper Chemex filter is that it removes excessive bitterness, but sometimes the filter can have a papery taste. So, pour hot water over the filter for a couple of seconds, fully rinsing it. Pour out the excess water.

Step 5: Bloom The Coffee
Put the grounds into the filter and fully saturate the coffee. Wait for the coffee to expand, or “bloom,” which removes carbon dioxide from between the grounds and allows for even saturation. The bigger the bloom, the fresher the coffee! Let the coffee sit until the bloom settles.

Step 6: Pour The Water
After the bloom settles, start pouring again in a circular, steady motion, making sure not to linger too long on any specific area. Try to avoid pouring directly on the filter. If the filter fills with water, stop pouring and wait for the water to drain. Then start pouring again. Repeat until you’ve poured out the desired amount of water.

Step 7: Remove The Filter
This one is easy. Take out the filter and throw it away. For bonus points, put the grounds in the compost bin.

Step 8: Drink And Enjoy
Enough said!

What Does Chemex Coffee Taste Like?

Coffee beans, a Chemex, and coffee mug as part of the ultimate Chemex review

If you do your work correctly, the Chemex filters will do the rest, catching bitter oils and sediments before they hit your cup. The result? One of the smoothest cups of coffee available, for only a little effort.

Perhaps it’s obvious by now, but we’re huge fans of the Chemex for this very reason. For a fairly low investment in both dollars and time, you can greatly increase the quality of your coffee. Thanks to the extra-thick Chemex filters, the Chemex delivers tantalizing and nuanced flavor.

To get the most out of your Chemex, use whole bean coffee from a reputable roaster. If you need some direction, try Portland, Maine’s Tandem Coffee Roasters or Ruby Coffee Roasters in Wisconsin. We’re also fans of Bolt Coffee Roasters in Providence, Rhode Island. Alternatively, you could sign up for a coffee subscription service (may we recommend the Hop Culture Coffee Club?) which delivers freshly roasted, whole bean coffee straight to your door.

Compared to mechanical methods like drip coffee machines — and even compared to other pour over methods — the Chemex offers a bright cup of coffee every time, truly allowing the unique aspects of high quality Arabica coffee beans to shine through.

The Bottom Line on the Ultimate Chemex Review

So, how does this ultimate Chemex review end? With a score — 9/10 — and a resounding endorsement from yours truly.

If you want one of the cleanest cups of coffees you’ll ever taste and you don’t want to break the bank, the Chemex is an easy buy.

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