Brewing Coffee Manually

Better coffee. One cup at a time.

The Chemex Brew Guide and Informational

Ah the Chemex, where to begin; an iconic manual brewer invented in the 1940’s by Peter Schlumbohm? A third-wave coffee stronghold? One part pour-over, one part carafe and one part science-i-ness?

The truth is, I haven’t owned my Chemex for even a year yet but I adored it from the first time I used it. I love the classic vintage design, the amazing thick filters and it’s unmatched potential for brewing large batches of good coffee to share with the world.

It’s forgiving. It’s photogenic. It brews a pretty great cup of coffee.

Because it is one of my newer additions to my manual brewing arsenal, I have been dragging my feet on posting a brew guide. This is not because I lack confidence. I just wanted explore and answer some of my questions I had about the device.

Just because I haven’t owned the Chemex for a decade, doesn’t mean I haven’t spend time using it, I’m halfway through my third box of filters, which means roughly 250 brews.

After spending a solid month of concentrated Chemex brewing, including brewing for large family gatherings, work colleagues and even a few less than stellar Periscope performances. I’m ready to talk. Here is a my Chemex brew guide and some other relevant information.

What is a Chemex? (And why is it popular?)

The Chemex is a manual pour-over brewer and serving carafe all-in-one device. It is made of glass with either a wood and leather collar or a glass handle for serving. Invented in the 1940’s by Peter Schlumbohm, the book Uncommon Grounds states that “It never challenged the percolator, except among highbrows and purists”

Eighty plus years later, the Chemex company is owned and run by a Massachusetts family. The percolator has fallen out of grace with mainstream coffee and been replaced with the Keurig K-cup machine. The Chemex has become one of the third-wave coffee’s most recognizable icons, lauded over by the coffee ‘highbrows and purists.’

The Chemex can be seen in the pilot episode of the tv show “Friends” and has been spotted in the “Mad Men” as well as in the movie “Interstellar” where it is used as a water pitcher.

The Chemex is perfect for brewing larger batches. At this point, there really is no other serious contender for the over 500 mL batch size pour-over crown. It isn’t just for big batches though, it can brew a great single cup of coffee as well.

The Chemex company also manufactures their own filters. They are thicker than most of the other paper filters currently being sold. This means that more of the coffee sediments, fats and oils are absorbed by the filter. This will often result in a smoother more clean cup of coffee with less highs and less lows.

Other Useful Chemex Information

Here are a few other tidbits of helpful Chemex information that I have taken from their website:

  • They consider 5 ounces to be a cup
  • The sizes range from the Three Cup Classic all the way up to the Thirteen Cup Handblown Chemex
  • Chemex recommends brewing with 180-200 degree water temperature
  • On all but pint size, the button indicates the halfway point and the bottom of the collar is the full line (and the Thirteen Cup Chemex has two buttons…)

Chemex Care and Maintenance

If you have a Classic or Handblown Chemex, remove the wooden collar before cleaning. Even hand washing with the collar attached will eventually result in water getting trapped between the collar and the glass. This will discolor the wood.

You can always replace the wooden collar and tie when they inevitably become discolored and worn (or leave it, it doesn’t change how the Chemex brews coffee).

The Chemex is dishwasher safe, however, I find it to by a little bit of an awkward piece to load into my dishwasher. The Chemex company sells a brush for cleaning but any long-handled dish brush will do.

Whether by hand or in the dishwasher, when you do wash your Chemex make sure it is rinsed thoroughly. You do not want a film or soap residue to taint you next brewing session.

Chemex Brew Guide (Brewing Coffee for Two- 500mL)

There are lots of brewing tutorials, recipes and different ideas about the best way to brew with the Chemex (it has been around for 80 years after all). I’m not brave enough (or foolhardy) to claim my recipe as “The One.” I would recommend it simply as a starting point.

As with all my brew guides and recipes, you will want to tweak it and change things until you find something that brews a cup of coffee that you enjoy.

A note on dosage: Because of the way a Chemex brews and the thickness of the filter, a lot of people use more coffee per cup than other pour-over methods. I stick with a 1:16 coffee to water ratio for the most part and make adjustments based on the particular characteristics of the coffee I am brewing with.

  1. Start with 31 grams of coffee ground medium coarse. I have heard people use kosher salt as a comparison and I think that it is a good one. This grind will be finer than a French Press grind but coarser that most other brewing methods.
  2. The filter is a square (or circle) folded in half twice. Separate three of layers on one side and leave one on the other side. This should form a complete paper seal around the coffee when you put it in. (Notice if you do two on each side, it would not be able to hold any coffee).

    This illustrates how to use a Chemex filter (from the side of a Chemex filter box).

    This illustrates how to use a Chemex filter (from the side of a Chemex filter box).

  3. Place the filter in the Chemex brewer with the three-ply side over the pouring spout. This helps to keep the filter from collapsing over the sprout and allows air to escape from the base.
  4. Rinse the Chemex filter with hot water. This will preheat the brewer as well as (hopefully) get rid of any stray paper fibers. There are two separate types of Chemex brands filters: natural and white. The current climate seems to be drifting towards choosing the white filters if you have an option. (I hope to run an addendum talking specifically about the filter issue later next week).
  5. Don’t forget to decant the rinse water from the bottom of the Chemex. Leave the filter in place and carefully pour the rinse water through the spout. This step takes some practice and I must admit, if I am in a hurry I will take the filter out and dump the water because it is quicker.
  6. Place your ground coffee in the filter and add 50-60 grams of near boiling water (around 200 degrees fahrenheit for the measuring type) for the bloom and wait 30 seconds.
  7. Slowly add the rest of the water in 75-100 gram increments (pulse pour). I like to keep the water level pretty low for a 500mL brew. I typically aim for a 3:30-4:00 brew time (including the 30 second bloom).
    Decant, enjoy and as always, tweak the recipe to suit what you like.

If you don’t want to buy a Chemex just yet…

Are you are curious about the Chemex but don’t want to splurge for the brewer?

Even though the Chemex is a very aesthetically appealing brewer, most of the magic that makes the coffee the way it is in the filters. The Chemex filters are compatible with the V60 and any manual brewer that uses V60 filters. This means, if you have a V60 you can take the Chemex for a test ride before committing. All you need to do is buy a box of Chemex filters.

A note on filter selection and brewing large batches

There are two Chemex topics that I think deserve their own post: Filter Selection (Natural or White) and Brewing Large Batches.

There are some very strong opinions about filter selection and I wanted to run a few tests and report back on what I think about the two types. Regarding brewing large batches, I feel like there isn’t a lot of information out there on the subject and it is something I have struggled with myself.

If you are interested in either of these topics stay tuned (subscribe) because they should be coming out later next week.

What is your go-to Chemex recipe? Do you have an opinion on brewing large batches or want to take a stand on the filters? Join the discussion below.

4 Comments

  1. I love Chemex for brewing large (and relatively quick) quantities for our mobile set-up. I have two of the 8-cup brewers that I can get going and keep the coffee flowing in 1000g increments.

    I didn’t know that (or probably skipped when reading) about removing the wood handle before cleaning. I have tried two different cleaning methods, one was to fill the carafe with ice, then a couple tablespoons salt, add water and a dash of liquid detergent and swirl for at least a minute. However, I’m now using Cafiza because it’s faster and the results are better if that makes sense. It gets those things CLEAN. Rinse like crazy.

    I also tried a cotton reusable filter specifically for Chemex and didn’t care for it after about 5 brews. Not really because of the taste difference but because it was more difficult to keep it from burping at me on the side (even when pre-rinsing filter).

    For folks who maybe don’t understand the difference between bleached and unbleached filters…they don’t actually use bleach. One is not really environmentally better than the other as far as I can tell. I used the bleached ones and compost them the same as all the other things I compost. No issues.

    • Sharon,

      Thanks for sharing your experience and information. I will have to get both of your cleaning methods a shot. (Definitely rinse rinse rinse)

      It sounds like it might be a good idea to try the AltoAir in conjunction with the cloth filter. That would minimize (or eliminate) the burping.

      Good point about the filters, I think most of the discussions about the filters are about the flavor impact they have on the coffee.

      Thanks again,
      John

  2. I love the Chemex. I have a 6 cup & 3 cup. I’m trying to figure out a big batch recipe for when I go over my family’s houses for Christmas. I typically make around a 30g coffee to a 450-480g water. I want to try to push my chemex to the limit with max amount of brewed coffee. But I think that would also involve playing with my grind setting so my brew time isn’t to long. Do you set you grind more course when you brew a bigger batch?

    • Dustin,
      That is a good question and one that I’ve struggled with.The 6 cup Chemex can hold around 900 – 1000 mL of coffee which is around double the size of your current recipe. From my experience, you will probably have to adjust the grind. As long as your brew is done around the 5 – 5:30 minute mark you are on the right track.

      One of the things I will be discussing in the “big batch” post is that the larger the batch the harder it is to be consistent. Brew a few test batches and figure out what works best for your tastes. On Christmas, stick to your recipe but hold everything loosely, I always feel that something “goes wrong” when brewing in a setting like that. Regardless, the coffee is going to be good and you will be able to share some tasty brews. Good luck and Merry Christmas.

      John

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