I have set myself a little challenge. I want to learn how to use all of the major coffee brewers by the end of 2020. I have a list in my mind of those I want to learn. I started the year learning the Kalita Wave, then I moved onto the V60. My next choice to try out was the Chemex, the world-famous coffee maker designed by Dr. Peter Schlumbaum, a German inventor who moved to the U.S. due to their favourable patent laws. The Chemex is known for its iconic and clever design, so much so that the device is stored in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
My fascination with the Chemex is two-fold. First, I wanted to taste the cup profile from this brewer. The Chemex uses a filter paper that is much larger than any other filter, which means that the filter can keep more sediment and oils out of the final cup. Thus, the brewer has a reputation for producing a very "clean" cup. I also enjoy the aesthetics of the brewer. The Chemex looks amazing and even better when coffee is brewing inside, as I later found out.
My Chemex arrived this morning along with a box of filter papers. The box of filter papers was taller and almost as wide as the box that my V60 came in a few weeks ago. Chemex filters are big. The Chemex itself came in a tall box, and I could hardly wait to open it up. Upon opening the box and inspecting the device, I realised I would need to give it a quick clean before the first use (which I have done with every brewing device thus far).
You should not clean the Chemex with the wooden collar still on so I had to remove the collar. This was not easy. I had to untie two knots in the strap and then take the wooden pieces off without letting them fall onto the counter. Washing the device was easy enough. Then I realised I'd have to tie the knots again. This took a few minutes. I did not drop any of the wooden pieces but I was scared that I would in both cases. The strap is fidgety and difficult to use.
After cleaning, the Chemex was ready to go. I waited a bit after getting the device and then I brewed my first cup. My first observation when brewing was that the filter papers, when unfolded, are much larger than I expected. I knew the filters were big but in the Chemex they look even bigger, presumably because they are unfolded. I followed the instructions and lay the side of the filter with three layers of paper over the spout to prevent blockages. Like the V60, I had to rinse the paper to make sure it stuck to the brewing device.
I preheated my mug with some water—which I had already used today—and then poured that water back into the gooseneck to rinse the Chemex. I should have rinsed the Chemex first and then heated my mug because the mug had a little drop of coffee so the water was a bit discoloured. Nonetheless, the water rinsed the paper and I discarded it before I started brewing with the device.
I used my now-standard continuous pour V60 recipe to brew on the Chemex. I bloomed the coffee for 30 seconds, stirred, and then poured in the rest of the water in one single pour. Well, I tried to pour the water in one pour. I am used to pouring close to the top of the brewer, which is easy on the V60 and the Kalita because the filter paper is a lot smaller. I had to pour from quite a height in my Chemex which meant I was pouring a lot faster than I usually would. I tried to slow down but often the stream of water broke, which I have read is not desirable in continuous pouring techniques.
Despite the pouring troubles, I managed to pour in around the right amount of water (with a bit extra, by accident). I was happy I did not go over my target more than I did because I was focusing more on pouring than looking at my scale. I was in a different position than I usually am when brewing with a pour-over so that I could see the entire bed of coffee, unobstructed by the filter. I may adjust this technique after I have made a few more coffees.
Before I got the Chemex, I had heard that the brew times were much longer. This turned out to be true. My brew time was around four minutes, much longer than the two minutes or so that it takes my V60 to brew, or the three minutes or so it takes for me to brew a Kalita Wave. With that said, my coffee was not over-extracted: the final cup tasted delicious. I did not mind the longer brew time because it was a pleasure to watch the coffee brew. The sun was shining outside which meant a lot of natural light was present in the room, which felt great.
My V60 recipe worked well on my first cup. I will need to try out the Chemex a few more times to say whether or not the recipe produces a consistently good cup. But, the early signs are good. My recipe works well presumably because the Chemex is a cone-shaped pour-over brewer, just like the V60. The design is quite different—the Chemex does not have ridges inside the funnel, like the V60—so the brewers are not exactly the same. In terms of cup quality, I felt like my coffee tasted sweeter somehow. Again, I will need to try a few more cups from the Chemex. The cup was very clean and one of the best I have made in my home brewing career, even though it was my first cup from the Chemex.
The image at the top of this article shows me holding up my Chemex to the sun from my window, showing in full detail how wonderful coffee can look in a Chemex. I agree wholeheartedly with James Hoffmann's emphasis on the look of coffee from the Chemex, which he mentioned in his video on the brewer.
I am pleased thus far with the Chemex. The coffee maker is beautifully designed and produced an excellent cup of coffee. Removing the collar to clean the device was a pain and it does take longer to brew a coffee with a Chemex than it does to use, say, a V60. The extended time was not a problem for me. I was happy to watch the coffee brew for a minute or two longer than usual. I shall report back on the Chemex once I've spent more time using the device.