Chemex Coffee

A Chemex CM-1C coffee maker which looks like a glass beaker

For the past three years, I’ve made my daily cup of coffee with this cheapo Vietnamese drip filter. It’s slightly non-standard, lacking the usual screw-down filters, and makes a strong, rough-and-ready brew. I like it–a simple design, completely indestructable, and wonderfully portable.

It’s not as beautiful as a Chemex, though. Just look at that. A shining example of what nobody calls ‘mid-Century medical’ design. Glass, wood, leather; that’s all. I don’t mind admitting that I mostly bought the thing because it’s so pretty, but the fact that coffee nerds rate it highly sealed the deal.

Here are a few Chemex tips I’ve gleaned from the web and a week’s use:

  1. Wash your filter. This really does make a difference, even to my Benson & Hedges-blunted taste buds. Just pour a load of hot water through the filter, and pour it all out again–you don’t even need to remove the filter to do this, thanks to the Chemex’ pouring groove. As a side-benefit, this warms the pot, tea-style.

  2. Mind your ratios. You’ll need a lot more coffee than you think if you’re used to a cafetière or Vietdripper. I’ve seen videos online where folk place their Chemex on a digital scale, adding milligram-precise amounts of coffee and water, while precisely timing each step of the brewing process. More power to them, but I say: experiment. My first cup was too weak, my second too strong, every one since has been spot on–for me and my dinky Chemex model, that’s about three healthy scoops of coffee to make a mugful.

  3. Go easy on the water. First you need to dribble a small amount of water onto your grounds, and wait a bit for them to ‘bloom’. Then drizzle on some more, all over the grounds, until the water level is almost at the top. Then wait until the coffee is not-quite-dry, and top it up again, pouring into the centre. Sounds fiddly, I know, but it’s only three pours from the kettle.

That’s it. In three or four minutes, you’ve got a zingy and fresh-tasting mug of coffee. Yum. A cup brewed with the Chemex isn’t superior to coffee brewed with a cafetière, or with my one-cup filter thingy, but it is very different. The clarity of the brew is the first thing I noticed, along with a complete lack of bitterness. And–at the risk of sounding like a gold-plated-interconnects audiophile–I really can detect a wider variety of flavours and aromas, resulting in a more complex flavour, in a Chemex-brewed cup.

This must be down to the quality of the Chemex paper filters (or the jump from holes punched in metal to ‘unbleached, oxygen cleaned’ paper), so I plan to trim one down to fit my Vietnamese job and fashion a cheap-poncey hybrid brewer. You knever know, it might be a coffee revelation.

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