Hello, coffee people!
Whether you have a Chemex already or you’re in the market for one, one thing is certain: you’re definitely a coffee person. Or at the very least a budding one. Congrats! I too love my coffee, but it took me a while to learn how to make a perfect Chemex.
It can be daunting to enter the “hardcore coffee snob” corner of the Internet. I know this because I’ve done it once or twice and immediately run the other way. It’s intimidating as hell! Lots of terminology, people thinking their way is the only way, etc. It’s really difficult to figure out what advice and tips are “nice to have” and which are non-negotiable.
I’ve tried it all…
I got started with Chemex coffee myself in my barista days when my manager gave me one for free! One day, I asked if my employee discount applied if I were to buy a Chemex. He grabbed it off the shelf and (in my memory) basically threw it at me and said “Here! Take it!” I was told later that he was concerned I was going to quit. It was a very busy and high stress store. I loved it.
From that day we never looked back! In fact, we loved our Chemex so much that we wrapped it in scarves and socks, put it in a suitcase, and brought it to London with us.
Over the last several years we’ve tried everything. Chemex-brand filters, cloth filters, metal filters. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast. Pre-ground beans and freshly ground beans. We’ve been around the block.
So you’re wondering how to make Chemex coffee, but you’re still getting the hang of things.
No problem, I’ve got you covered. Today we’re gonna talk about equipment and techniques, and dispel some of the exclusivity around the Chemex… which is honestly one of the simplest and most delicious ways to brew coffee at home.
If after reading you realize you need (or want) to get fancy with your own set up, I highly recommend checking out Prima Coffee. They are a coffee equipment marketplace out of Louisville who have literally everything you could possibly need.
Another bonus? They’re not Amazon! I won’t get into it in this post, but there are a bunch of reasons to avoid giving Amazon your money. To put it simply: extremely cheap products usually means extremely compromised ethics. I’ll try to never direct you to Amazon from this blog.
On the other hand, I am more than happy to partner with Prima Coffee and I encourage you to always shop on sites like this because they know what they’re doing and you’re getting what you pay for. I’ve highlighted some of my personal must-haves down below.
Let’s get started!
Wait, what is a Chemex?!
If you don’t already know the Chemex by name, odds are you recognize it. The sleek (chic) glass pour-over container shaped like an old-fashioned hourglass. The chunky pieces of wood lashed together at the skinniest point with a leather string. The Chemex is beautiful.
If the Chemex seems to you like it belongs in a mid-century magazine, you’re right. It does. In fact, the Chemex is an almost 80 year-old design, and it frequently made an appearance in the background of Don and Megan Draper’s chic kitchen on Mad Men.
In the most basic description, you place a filter in the V-shaped top portion of your Chemex, add coffee grounds, and gently pour water over them, letting the coffee slowly drip through to the basin below. But there’s a bit more to it than that.
What equipment do I really need to make Chemex coffee?
Ok, let’s just jump right in. In the best case, most extra scenario you’d have:
Don’t get overwhelmed yet! I can see the dollar signs flashing in your eyes. It’s not all entirely necessary. So let’s chat about which pieces are absolutely essential for brewing a good Chemex and which are more about elevating your coffee-making experience.
I mean, okay. This one is actually non-negotiable. We are learning how to make Chemex coffee here people!
There are several different sizes of Chemex, and the best one for you will depend on your serving size needs. We use a Six Cup Chemex and it fits the perfect amount for the two of us (750-800ml). In fact, you can squeeze a third cup in there if you scale up your coffee grounds, but that’s about it.
Here’s where we start to find our options.
As I mentioned, we’ve pretty much used everything under the sun to filter our coffee. (I’ve even used folded up paper towels in an act of desperation whilst in friends apartments!!) If you can afford it, I do recommend using the Chemex branded filters. They’re made of sturdier paper than regular coffee filters, so they filter out more of the coffee particles and oils, leading to a cleaner cup. You may not notice at first, but if you were try a Chemex cup right next to one made with a regular coffee filter… trust me. You’d be able to tell.
For some reason, these filters come in an oddly diverse variety of options. Bleached and unbleached, square (with corners that poke up) and circular (with flat edges that don’t), folded and unfolded. I can say we’ve tried most of them and truly have no idea why there are so many options. They’re basically all the same, so if you’re not a ~connoisseur~ you definitely won’t notice a difference.
Now, all that said, you’re still gonna have a damn good cup of coffee if you use a regular coffee filter. In fact, you’ll even have a good cup if you use a reusable filter.
A word of warning though: cloth reusable filters do get… gross. At least ours did. To be fair, we used these at a time when we had no laundry in-unit. Having to go to a laundromat meant we almost never washed them in a machine. They might do better that way.
As for metal reusable filters, I do not recommend them. When I say I desperately wanted to love the metal reusable filter I tried last year, I do not exaggerate. Unfortunately, though, its microscopic holes end up getting clogged with the coffee oils and try as I might, I could not find any successful way to clean it effectively.
It’s worth noting that the Chemex branded filters are compostable, so if you compost (which you should if you can!) then you won’t have to feel too guilty about them.
Ok, ok, ok. I know we’re getting into scary territory here.
In terms of grinding your coffee beans, I will be upfront and say that it’s not something we’ve always done and it’s not entirely necessary. In fact, it wasn’t even from a place of deep desire to have freshly ground coffee that we started doing it… a friend brought us whole beans from my old shop back in New York when she visited at Christmas one year and we had literally no way to drink them other than buying a grinder.
What I will say is that once we started, the difference was immediately noticeable. I don’t think we will ever go back to buying pre-ground beans again. There’s something much brighter and more layered about freshly ground beans. Trust me, if you’re looking for the best, you want to grind.
There are several different types of grinders out there—the main ones being blade, burr, and conical burr. Blade grinders are cheapest but aren’t able to grind beans as uniformly, meaning you’ll end up with some super fine grounds and some larger chunks. This isn’t the end of the world, but it also means you won’t be extracting flavor from the grounds in the most consistent way. On the other end of the spectrum, most cafés use a conical burr grinder. Daniel really wanted one because he usually doesn’t know how to not be extra, but we settled on a nice DeLonghi KG79 burr grinder that cost us about £45.
I don’t believe DeLonghi products are available in the US, but here are a couple options at different price points that would work well:
Hario Skerton Plus Hand Grinder
|A hand grinder will be more than enough if you’re just starting out, especially if you’re only making coffee for one. Plus this guy actually has conical burrs!
|Your first investment:
Baratza Encore Conical Burr Grinder
|This guy is mid-range, meaning it’s compact, adjustable in terms of grind coarseness, and powerful.
If you aren’t ready to grind your own beans yet…
That’s perfectly fine! No judgement here. I’ve even put together a couple recommendations how to make your Chemex coffee shine anyway.
First, if you can, get your beans from a local cafe that either sells beans it roasts itself, or beans roasted nearby. In this case, they’ll be able to grind the beans as you’re purchasing them, and you can specify that you’d like them ground for a Chemex.
At least having your beans ground when you buy is better than purchasing them from the grocery store where they may have been ground weeks ago. Remember! The coffee begins losing flavor immediately upon being ground.
This is somewhere that no piece of advice really matters all that much. A kettle is a kettle is a kettle.
Daniel bought a whole Chemex setup for his dad last Christmas and took the opportunity to buy him a fancy goose neck kettle, specifically for coffee making. He insists that he could feel a difference in terms of having more control over the pour… But he also makes coffee every morning without it and never complains.
Let’s put it this way, a goose neck kettle would look super cool on the counter and I would be thrilled if someone gave one to me, but I’m not adding it to my shopping cart anytime soon. Whatever kettle you have will work perfectly.
Look… can you guesstimate? Yes. Will your coffee come out great? Maybe some days! But certainly not all days.
Do yourself a favor and invest in a scale. The cost is minimal and you can use them for everything—especially baking.
I’d say the three pieces of must have equipment for making Chemex coffee are: a Chemex, filters and a kettle of some kind, and a scale.
Ok, so. How do I make Chemex coffee?
Step 1: Boil water & grind beans
This is fairly self explanatory. Head into the kitchen, and get that kettle going!
If you’re doing the grinding thing yourself, you’re going to want fairly coarse grounds, about the consistency of kosher salt (or fine sea salt in the UK).
We aim to grind about 45g of coffee whole coffee beans for two cups, but to be honest the grinder we have isn’t the most accurate and generally spits out between 40g and 50g on any given day. This part isn’t too much of a science—that comes later on when we start actually brewing the stuff! Anyway, around 20-25g of ground coffee would be ideal for a single cup.
We usually have a preference for medium roast beans from Central or South America, but that’s come from a lot of sampling around and trying different roasts from every region you can think of. To be honest, neither of us has the most developed palette for coffee regionality, so it’s really just taken a lot of trial and error over the years to find what we generally gravitate towards.
Step 2: Set up
Place your scale on the counter with Chemex on top. No need to turn it on yet.
Now, put a filter in the Chemex. You’re going to want to leave it folded in fourths, separating just one layer from the other three. The thicker, three-layer portion should rest against the pouring spout of the Chemex, and the single layer opposite the spout. (It sounds confusing but there is a guide on the box, so don’t worry.) This just helps make sure nothing rips once it’s all wet!
Your water probably isn’t boiled yet, so go back to bed and lie there wishing it wasn’t morning.
Step 3: Prepare your filter
The coffee snobs are not wrong about this part! Rinse your filter. It’s a must.
Pour the boiling water straight into the empty Chemex filter until the whole thing is wet. Once all that water has dripped through, pour it out! You can either do this by (carefully) picking up the wet filter or by gently holding it in place while you tip the Chemex over the sink.
I realize that this may sound unnecessary and potentially absurd to some, but I promise it will get rid of a kinda nasty paper taste that you just would rather not have. Trust me.
Step 4: Bean time
Now is when we turn on the scale. Your Chemex should already be sitting on it with the wet filter when you turn it on, so that it reads 0g. But if it doesn’t read 0g, just hit the tare button, which will zero the scale out.
Pour your coffee grounds into the filter and take note of the weight. Multiply this number by 16.
The number you get is the total amount of water you’re pouring in. For example, that’s 720g of water for 45g of grounds, 736g of water for 46g of grounds, 752g of water for 47g of grounds, etc. Once you know how much water to use, zero out the scale again.
If it sounds tedious now, don’t worry too much. Eventually, as you do this more often, you’ll start to sort of remember how much you did yesterday for 46g of coffee, etc. It’s not so bad.
If that ratio is too far off, you’ll start to notice unpleasant notes of bitterness in the finished cup. It’s obviously not the end of the world to only loosely follow these measurements… we are certainly guilty of this sometimes. Just do your best here!
To start you have to bloom the grounds.
Makes sure to tare (zero) the scale again here! Remember, now we’re measuring the grams of water.
Pour slowly in a circular motion to saturate all of the grounds, using only 150g of water. Once the beans have gotten wet you’ll see them starting to kind of move over themselves and there should be a bit of an oily rainbow look happening on the surface. That’s the bloom, your coffee releasing all of its flavorful oils. Stop pouring and let that soak through nicely.
Step 5: Optional steps
You can actually do the entire pouring process timed. That’s how a number of baristas do Chemex and we did it ourselves that way for a while, but ultimately found it wasn’t worth it to us when we’re half asleep and grumpy in the morning.
Basically, you’d want to time the bloom for 45 seconds. After 45 seconds of dripping, you’d add another 300g of water, bringing the total to 450g. Finally, after waiting another 60 seconds, you’d add the remaining amount to bring you to the proper total amount of water.
I do recommend you still do three pours in those quantities of water, but again, timing isn’t so crucial if it’s just your regular morning cup.
There are varied opinions on stirring the beans as you continue to pour water after the bloom. A lot of coffee shops will do this, mostly to ensure that all of the grounds are wet, which guarantees the correct ratio is actually happening. I skip this at home because there’s so little coffee actually in use that the odds of some not getting wet feel very slim to me. I’m also painfully not a morning person. But again, do what works.
Step 6: Drink!
Once you’ve finished your three pours (remember, 150g, 300g, and then the rest)… it’s time to drink up!
Now go and enjoy that Chemex coffee!
A Chemex might seem like it involves a lot of work. And like, yes it is more work than putting a pod in a machine or hitting a button. But it also tastes about 12 trillion times better, and in reality you’ll get these steps down in no time.
There’s something deeply ritualistic about doing this every morning, and it becomes a sort of meditative moment. The hiss of the kettle becomes a reminder to stay awake, and standing in the dim light of the kitchen while waiting for the bloom to settle is a comforting moment of solitude.
If any of this has convinced you to get going with your own Chemex setup, Prima Coffee has put together the perfect starter bundles. The Home Brewing Starter Kit is an awesome deal on all the equipment mentioned in this article, but there are others depending on how fancy you’re looking to get!
I hope this piece has inspired you to go get just extra enough about your own Chemex coffee. I promise, it’ll be worth it.