Chemex and its resulting coffee seems to be on everyone's lips in the past few years. No wonder, since this is one of the best coffees you'll ever taste, right up there with French press.
But how do you use a Chemex ? As in, a step-by-step guide for complete and total beginners.
No worries, I'll help you out and you'll be drinking rich, delicious Chemex coffee in just 10 minutes (includes grind and measuring time). But first, let's get clear about what this thing is.
What is a Chemex ?
Chemex is the name of a large glass pitcher, looking very much like a large hourglass, and is used to make coffee. You use it with the pour-over method, meaning you control the speed, temperature, flow, and general result of your coffee brewing experience.
The name Chemex comes from the manufacturing corporation that first produced this glass coffeemaker, all the way back in 1941 in Chicopee, Massachusetts.
It uses thicker paper filters than regular drip coffee makers or even other pour-over coffee makers, meaning the resulting coffee will taste slightly different.
Chemex coffee became perfected as time went by, and is not regarded as a pretty much exact art. You need a timer, scale, and a good eye for judging temperature by looking at the thing.
If this all sounds like too much, don't worry, it's actually simple once you try it a couple of times.
How does a Chemex work ?
The Chemex works as any pour-over coffee maker would, at least for the most part. Its flavor is a bit different than others, so there is a definite difference.
So, a Chemex works by letting gravity pull the brewed coffee through the paper filter, into its lower chamber, where it will collect.
On the inner neck of the upper chamber, you place a paper filter, rinse it with water so it sticks to the glass (and removes papery taste), and then add your coffee.
Once your coffee is in the paper filter, you'll need to first bloom the coffee, and then let it settle. Then continue pouring slowly but surely until you run out of water.
Let the water run its course as it naturally would through the coffee and through the filter, and this should all be done by the time your timer reached 4 minutes.
This method lets the coffee steep for less time than a French press, but longer than a regular drip-filter.
How to use a Chemex for coffee
Alright, now you know what a Chemex is, and how it works. Let's get to actually brewing with a Chemex drip filter, an you'll notice that you'll need quite a few pieces of equipment.
I say this because getting the perfect Chemex coffee is a cross between an art and a science. You'll need to be very specific about what you do, but also have an eye for when it looks done.
This all comes with experience, and if you do this regularly you'll get the hang of it very quickly.
1. Get the equipment for brewing with a Chemex
First, you'll need your equipment. Some are optional, some are not. And the optional ones depend on how specific you like to be about your coffee. If a small error isn't a problem, then or example you can skip the kitchen scale, or grinding your own coffee.
Let's go through a list of what you'll need for 2 cups of Chemex coffee:
- Kitchen scale, to measure out the ground coffee and the final brew
- Electric kettle, preferably gooseneck so you have better control over the pour
- The Chemex itself, at least 6 cups volume
- Chemex paper filter, must be thick paper
- Timer, a precise minute:second one
- Whole coffee beans, or you can use pre-ground
- Burr coffee grinder, if you've got whole coffee beans
- 2 coffee mugs
- Hot water, 93-96 Celsius or 199-205 Fahrenheit
If you're missing some of these items, here's a few recommendations:
A kitchen scale is always handy around the house, and in this situation you're going to need it if you plan on making the. best. coffee.
This kitchen scale from Ozeri is pretty standard, can measure in any unit you ask of it, and comes in a variety of colors if you'd like to have a colorful kitchen.
You can check the listing on Amazon here.
Electric kettle w/gooseneck
This electric kettle is a very convenient little guy to have around the kitchen. It's got several presets, aside from the 'boil' setting. It can heat water for green tea, black tea, aeropress, you name it.
And it also has a 'keep warm' function, which is a very nice addition if you ask me.
It can hold up to 1 liter/33.8 oz of water, and is made of stainless steel.
You can check the listing on Amazon here.
Chemex coffee maker
The Chemex itself is going to be important, and the size you use is important as well. This one is a 8 cup Chemex. It might sound like much, but in truth it only brews 40 oz/1180 ml of coffee.
If you're in a 2-3 person household, then this will be enough. The smaller, 3 or 6 cup versions brew 15 and 30 oz of coffee, respectively.
This Chemex is the classic one, with the wooden neck and elegant design that we've all come to know and love.
You can check the listing on Amazon here.
Burr coffee grinder
A good burr grinder will get you the exact grind size you want. And having absolute power to adjust the settings and sizes as you like is going to be very useful when brewing any sort of coffee, not just Chemex.
So this OXO conical burr grinder is going to prove very useful in achieving that medium grind size you need for the Chemex. It'll give you uniformly ground coffee, and you can choose between 15 settings (plus extra)
The hopper can hold 0.75 lbs/340 gr of coffee beans, so you can grind as much as you like with this grinder.
You can find the listing on Amazon here.
Using the proper filter for your Chemex is going to make or break your coffee. So here's a set of 100 pieces for Chemex filters, all of them made with bonded paper which is going to be thicker than regular coffee filters.
These are rounded at the edge, and as such are a bit easier to use than square filters.
You can check the listing on Amazon here.
Good, if you've got all the items on the list checked, let's move onto step 2.
2. Get everything ready, heat water
If you're using whole bean coffee, you'll need to grind it. You should use medium ground coffee, to make sure the water extracts enough from the coffee beans.
Measure out 1.26 oz/36 grams/5-7 tablespoons of coffee, and add it to the grinder. Grind until you reach the right consistency, set grounds aside.
Heat 21 oz/600 ml water to the boiling point, and let it sit for 30 seconds before using it. Almost an ounce of hot water will be used to rinse the paper filter, and help it stick to the Chemex. That water will then be thrown out.
So your total volume of brewed coffee should be 20.3 oz/600 ml, or just under that.
If you've got everything in place, let's move onto the next step.
3. Rinse paper filter, mandatory step
Place the paper filter inside the Chemex, making sure it touches as much of the neck as possible. In its dry state it won't touch everything but it'll be close.
Take the hot water and slowly pour out about an entire oz/33 ml of hot water onto the filter. Just enough to wet it so it sicks to the sides of the Chemex.
This is also because the thick paper filters used for Chemex have more of a papery, woody flavor to them. You need to remove that before brewing the coffee.
A third reason you need to rise the paper filter is because the hot water will at least partially heat the glass container, leading to a better tasting brewed coffee.
Once the water drained from the filter into the bottom chamber, pour it out. You'll notice the Chemex has a sort of spout/beak, and if you keep the filter in place with your hand while you out the water out, the filter will stay in place.
4. Place Chemex on kitchen scale,bloom coffee
Place your Chemex on the kitchen scale, turn the scale on. Add the ground coffee, and it should only register the weight of the grounds (36 gr).
Turn the scale off, with the Chemex still on. It should now read 0. Make sure the ground coffee is at an even level, and there is no mound in the middle. Do not press it down.
Start your timer, and add about 100 ml/3 oz of hot water to the ground coffee (watch the scale). Do this using a circular motion, not too close to the sides of the Chemex.
You'll notice your ground coffee is foaming, and doubling or tripling in volume. This is because the natural gasses trapped inside the coffee beans are extracted at this time, and it's a crucial part of brewing a good cup of coffee.
Making coffee without allowing it to bloom first makes for a sour, acidic-tasting coffee because of the CO2 naturally found in coffee.
Only pour the initial 100 ml/3 oz of hot water, and let the coffee sit until the timer reads 45 seconds. Most of the foam should be gone by now, and you'll see your filter's got a large stain on the sides.
5. Finish brewing at 4.00 minutes
Once your coffee's bloomed, continue pouring hot water over the ground coffee. Use the same circular motion, making sure to not get onto the edge of the Chemex itself.
If you do pour on the edge, you risk spilling over, or moving the filter by mistake.
Try and use a steady pace, but most of the time know that you'll need to stop for a couple of seconds to let the coffee drain when the level gets too high.
Once you've run out of water (as long as you used only those 600 ml provided) you will now need to wait for the timer to reach 4:00 minutes, or the scale to read 600 gr/21 oz or as close to that as possible.
Keep in mind that some of the water will remain within the ground coffee, as that will absorb water. This means your final, drinkable brew will be less than 600 ml/21 oz, but you won't lose more than an ounce/33 ml.
And you're done ! If everything went well, you should have a cup of clean, fresh coffee, without only a very small amount of residual coffee oils and no grit or coffee dust, at all.
Tips on using a Chemex
When you're a complete and utter beginner in using a Chemex, a few tips and tricks will help you make great coffee like you actually know what you're doing.
Most of these will help you better understand your Chemex coffee maker, and really get great coffee.
A word on Chemex cup size
Chemex measures its cups a bit differently than what you might think at first. You'll find several sizes available when purchasing a Chemex coffee maker, and you might be confused as to what size is best for you.
Know that Chemex measures in cups, and one cup is 5 fluid ounces, which is 148 ml of coffee. Most people drink coffee in cups larger than that, and measure their coffee intake by their standard cup.
For example my cup is a 250 ml/8.5 fl oz cup. So I'd need nearly two cups of Chemex coffee to make up for my usual cup size.
Go measure your usual coffee cup (or mug), and see how many fluid ounces/ml it holds. According to that, and how many coffee drinkers are in the house, purchase an appropriately sized Chemex coffee maker.
For example if you're just one person, then the 3 cup model is just enough, and will provide 15 fl oz/443 ml of coffee.
How much coffee should I use in a Chemex ?
The best coffee to water ration I've found is 13 grams/0.45 oz of coffee (whole or ground) to 300 ml/10.5 oz of water. Keep in mind that this is enough for one serving, but the brew time remains the same (4 minutes).
So if you're brewing for a group, you will need to scale up.
What grind should I use for Chemex ?
The best grind size to use for a Chemex coffee makes is medium grind. You can use medium-coarse if you've got particularly thick Chemex filters, but medium should be enough.
If medium doesn't really ring a bell, then think sea salt in terms of size, or granulated sugar. That's the general consistency we're looking for.
The water will be in contact with the coffee for a bit longer, meaning you'll need to provide a grind size larger than for espresso and even drip filters.
If you use a grind too small, the water will extract too much of the coffee and bring you an overly bitter cup of coffee.
If you use a grind too large (like coarse, for French press) you're going to get a sour and underextracted cup of coffee, because the water didn't have enough time to interact with the coffee.
Using the wrong grind size will also change the brewing time of the coffee. Too fine a grind, and the coffee takes longer to brew. Too large a grind, and the coffee is done before it reaches the 4 minute mark.
What filter should I use for Chemex ?
When brewing with your Chemex coffee maker you'll notice that it needs a very specific paper filter. It needs a paper filter, conical, either rounded or squared at the edges.
But the thickness is what you'll need to be looking at. Chemex filters are thicker, about 25% so, than regular paper filters. They're made with bonded paper, meaning it will be better at filtering out any residue from your coffee.
This results in a clean, fresh cup of coffee that has a strong flavor without being too overwhelming in terms of body.
Most of the time you'll see the name Chemex printed on the filter pack, so you'll know they're good to use for Chemex coffee makers.
Making coffee with a Chemex coffee maker sounds like rocket science at first, when you just read it. Maybe it will feel like it too, when you brew your first cup.
But after a couple of tries you'll get the hang of why you need 4 minutes to brew, why you need medium grind, and why it matters what kind of filter you use.
Chemex is easy enough to learn to use, most folks just need a bit of practice and then they're good to go.
If you want to know more about coffee or tea, feel free to check the related articles below. Who knows what else you might find ?