Ah the Chemex, what can I say? I just love the thing. I love the design, the coffee, and I love having one in my kitchen. It suits me down to the ground (insert coffee pun here).
Chemex is one of the best manual drippers on the market. Chemex’ supporters are passionate and they love their favorite coffee maker unconditionally.
Is it perfect though? In its own way, it is perfect. There are some minuses, but to be honest, there is no way around it. You’ll see why in a minute.
Chemex has a simple design, gives you full control of the brewing process, but it’s not good for making single cups. Read our Chemex review to learn more...
The Chemex has been around for years. It was invented in 1941. It’s no surprise that it was invented by a German chemist come inventor called Peter Schlumbohm. I say this because I have heard it said many times that the Chemex looks like it belongs in a chemistry lab.
It is this clinical and scientific approach that makes the Chemex the best coffee dripper. Peter Schlumbohm’s invention is still an industry standard. It is also part of MoMA’s permanent design collection. Damn it I’ve failed; I’m already getting emotional!
Emotion aside though, the classic Chemex has remained virtually unchanged since its invention. This fact must say something about its timelessness. The iconic brewer is still one of the most popular pour over makers today.
The classic Chemex is made of Borosilicate glass, is shaped like an hourglass and has a heatproof collar made of wood and cork. The collar is kept in place by a leather tie and it comes off easily for cleaning. The classic Chemex is machine made, and the glass it is slightly thinner than the hand-blown version, but it’s budget friendly.
In the recent years, the Chemex Corporation have brought out the Chemex Handblown range. This unit is also made of Borosilicate glass. The hand blown series has a thicker glass than the classic. I own one of these, but to be honest, if I needed to buy one now, I’d choose the Clasic version. No doubt, if you have the budget, the hand-crafted unit is better, but you have to pay a hefty price for it.
Your budget and personal taste will govern your buying decision.
Chemex is Versatile
Chemex is more versatile than most drippers. It is an excellent brewer for both lighter, typically African, coffee beans as well as bolder, darker and typically South American coffee beans. This is due to the bright but rich flavor profile the Chemex produces.
Generally, the grind should be on the coarser side to counteract the filter’s thickness. But this is something that you can experiment with, and tweak the brew for your taste. You can adjust the grind size to an extent, depending on the coffee beans you are using.
If you are a fan of the darker notes therefore, the Chemex is a great pour-over option. George Howell’s recipe is one of the best for dark, chocolatey notes.
When we use an African bean, and we want to accentuate the acidity, we should use a 1:16.5 coffee to water ratio.
A Note on African Beans
Although you can brew African coffees with a Chemex, it’s not the perfect choice. If you prefer brighter coffee, the Hario V60 or the Kalita Wave might be a better direction to go for your pour-over.
Many pour over aficionados swear by Chemex for Africans, though. As I always say, coffee taste is subjective.
The filters are a major feature of the Chemex. They play a critical role in the extraction process. They are designed to work with the brewer, and they will produce great coffee with the Chemex. On the other hand, they perform underwhelming if you try to use them with other drippers. You also cannot use third party filters with our Chemex, and here is why.
The upper part of the brewer, that holds the coffee bed, has a very large opening and doesn’t provide any obstruction to the water flow at all.
With regular filters, the water would drip right through the coffee bed, producing a weak and sour coffee.
To circumvent this Chemex makes their filter thicker to slow down the speed of the extraction. The filters are made of double bonded paper.
You can buy various types of Chemex filter these days - the natural double bonded, the cleansed white filters (not bleached), and the reusable cloth filter.
All Chemex filters are one size fits all for every size of Chemex but again they are not suitable for other pour over brewers.
If you already own a Chemex, and you need some filters, you can buy them online from Amazon here.
Kone Permanent Filters
We wrote a piece about the permanent metal filters Able Kone. They are a great alternative if you want more oils in your coffee, or you want to protect the environment. Know that the Kone is a brewer on its own, almost. With a little improvisation you can use it on its own and make coffee. The flavor profile when brewing with a Kone is different from a traditional Chemex though.
The Chemex produces beautiful coffee and it is a versatile coffee brewer compared to its pour-over competitors. I will explain what I mean by this in a second.
The Chemex is known for producing a rich, full, bright and clean cup of coffee. I know, that sounds too good to be true, but let me explain!
The thick filters play two roles. They slow down the extraction process and they stop any thicker matter from passing through.
This means that:
- The water is in contact with the beans for longer and can absorb more flavor
- The filter retains more of the coffee oils and fines
Practicality, Portability, and another P word
Not everybody loves Chemex. There are some small inconveniences that turn away pour over aficionados. Let's make it clear: These are not design flaws; they are what makes the Chemex a great brewer.
The Chemex is typically big, cumbersome and made of glass, which makes it fragile. It is therefore difficult to transport.
The Chemex is also not dishwasher friendly. Having said that, it is easy to clean and generally just needs a rinse with hot water after brewing.
If you are always in a hurry in the mornings, the Chemex might not be for you. Because of the thick filters, Chemex is one of the slower manual coffee brewers. This is a problem for some people. However, the slow brewing is what gives the Chemex its unique flavor. The extra 30 seconds add an extra dimension to the flavor.
The third “P” word. The Chemex is not a cheap pour-over. The smallest Chemex is just around $40. While this isn’t going to break your budget, other drippers are half the price. Borosilicate glass is an expensive material and that reflects in the final price.
The brewing takes a bit of getting used to and there is some technique required. However, nothing that you can’t learn in a few days.
Finally, the Chemex is not designed to making just one cup of coffee. You can circumvent this by grinding finer, but you will have to do a few tests until you get your cup right.
As you see, the inconveniences range from taste, to the timely brewing process. And some people just prefer coffee made with a V60 or a Kalita Wave. But that’s just that – a preference. For Chemex alternatives, see our comparison article between the big three pour over coffee makers here: Hario V60 vs Chemex vs Kalita Wave - the best pour over coffee makers.
More Chemex Reviews and Opinions
If you are still on the fence about the Chemex, you can read more opinions and reviews. The best two sources of genuine opinions and reviews are Amazon and Reddit.
The reddit threads are more technical, and if you want to know other technical opinions than mine, these two discussions are great:
For some more down to earth, practical discussions, you can check the Amazon users' reviews, which will give you a different perspective:
Chemex Ottomatic - Automatic Pour Over
Okay; an automatic pour over device... Sounds like an oxymoron. A device to automate manual brewing.
Anyway, for those inclined to let a machine control all aspects of the brewing, the Ottomatic does that very well. It simulates barista's pour by pulsing water over the coffee bed.
The device is absolutely beautiful, it heats the water to a perfect temperature, and pulses the water at the perfect rate for you. It is the perfect device for novice baristas that don't want to learn the trade, but want to enjoy a great cup at home. It's also a perfect device for the office where anybody can brew a cup by following the instructions.
I personally cannot justify the expense, you'll see why when you check the price. But it makes a great gift for someone you love very much, or a great device for making coffee at work.
So there you go…
Now it’s time to decide whether the beautiful coffee and design of the Chemex outweigh some of the quirks of the brewer that are a deal breaker for some people. I am willing to bet though, that if you buy a Chemex and give it half a chance, in no time you too will be a Chemex convert. Have you any opinions on the Chemex? Let us know!