Many people have likely seen the Chemex at a cafe, on a retail shelf, or maybe in their own kitchen. But few people know the interesting history of the Chemex Coffee Maker and how such a simple glass vessel redefined coffee brewing long before specialty grade coffee and advanced brewing techniques were the norm.
The Chemex coffee maker was invented by German chemist and inventor Dr. Peter Schlumbohm. While being most known for the Chemex, Dr. Schlumbohm had a collection of over 300 patents for various consumer products ranging from refrigeration devices, unburnable gasoline (whatever that means), and even automobiles. The patent for the Chemex was originally referred to as merely a “filtering device” and was filed in 1939. The original intention was not just for coffee brewing, but general laboratory applications as well.
The same year, the Chemex Corporation was founded, with Shlumbohm at the helm. Some changes were made to the original design including removal of the handle and spout and implementation of the pouring groove. The Chemex design was very quickly fortified as what we know it to be today. It has a simplistic, hourglass shape, a recessed pouring groove, and a wooden collar with a leather tie.
The design quickly resonated with consumers during the early 1940s, influenced in part by German Bauhaus design and simplistic and functional lab ware. Being made completely out of glass served as an advantage for the Chemex Corporation as well, as other materials such as chrome and aluminum were reserved solely for the production of weaponry. In 1942, the Chemex was featured on the cover of the Museum of Modern Arts’ bulletin highlighting the most “Useful Objects of Wartime”. The Chemex can be found in countless other museum collections and academic journals where it is praised for being one of the best designed products of all time.
And while the design is simple, it is incredibly purposeful. The angle of the top portion of the carafe is designed in a way that directs the flow of water through the brewer at a desirable speed. Pair that with the proprietary double bonded filters and the Chemex is able to extract many of the complex and enticing flavors of a coffee that many brewers cannot.
But how do you use a Chemex? Here is how we like to operate:
We use a 1:16 ratio of coffee to water. A standard recipe for two cups of coffee uses 40 grams of coffee and 640 grams of water.
- Grind coffee to a medium-coarse grind
- Rinse and preheat your filter and brewer
- Discard rinse water
- Add your ground coffee to the filter and tare your scale
- Start your timer and add in 80 grams of water and allow coffee to bloom for 45 seconds.
- After 45 seconds begin slowly adding your remaining water using one steady consistent stream
- Use your gooseneck kettle to make steady concentric circles starting from the center and working your way out
- You should have poured the remaining 560 grams of water in about 2 minutes. Bringing total brew time to 2 minutes and 45 seconds.
- After the coffee has finished dripping, remove the filter and give the Chemex a swirl before serving
Fun Fact: 1 gram of water is equal to one milliliter water. A useful tip for those without a coffee scale.