The perfect cup of coffee is becoming just as hipster as mustaches, chalkboard typography, and asymmetrical tops–even more so if you learn how to make coffee with a Chemex. Yourself. At home. No baristas asking your name or anything. And yet, who needs coffee more than parents? Not hipsters, that’s for sure.
The glass Chemex coffeemaker, if you haven’t yet experienced one, is one magic method of pour-over coffee making; meaning that you pour hot water directly over the grounds and drink the caffeinated nectar that drips through a filter. I’m a big fan, not just because the Chemex looks like modern art, but because it makes up to eight perfect cups of coffee at once, so I don’t bite my husband’s head off before breakfast.
If you ever wanted to know how to use one, here’s everything you need to know.
1. Stock Up On Chemex Supplies
For the full-on coffee geek experience, you will need a Chemex coffeemaker, Chemex cone filters, a digital scale, a ceramic Burr coffee grinder, high quality whole coffee beans, and a kettle, preferably with a gooseneck. Total cost? About $149 if you’re starting from scratch. But more on that in a bit.
The Chemex coffeemaker itself can be pretty affordable, starting under $40 at Prima Coffee, or at your favorite local coffeehouse, though nice ones can go as high as $100+. I started my own coffee geek experience with this Home Brewing Bundle from Prima Coffee and love everything about it. But to save money, you can make do with a Chemex and filter set, pour water from any old kettle, and just measure out freshly ground beans from your local coffeehouse.
2. Buy Good Coffee
You probably won’t find the best of the freshly roasted, whole coffee beans at your grocery store unless your grocery store happens to be Fairway or Whole Foods. I love my Tonx coffee subscription, which we featured among our picks for the best subscription gifts. I also want to try the beans from my local coffeehouse in Atlanta, Land of a Thousand Hills, who also do mail order. Wherever you buy from, look for descriptors like single origin, no artificial flavors, and a mild to medium roast. Don’t go for dark, bold, or espresso here. Trust me — the flavor will be there.
Photo via Tonx on Instagram
3. Add the coffee filter. The right coffee filter.
You’ll find the Chemex filter is thicker than your average coffee filter for good reason, so don’t cheat. Place it in the cone-shaped top of the Chemex so that the triple folded side is toward the spout and the single side is toward the back. If you learn by watching, this Chemex coffee making video from Cartel Coffee Lab is a huge help.
4. Measure and grind the beans
Use a digital scale for accuracy. To make one cup of coffee, I use 20g of beans. Double that for two. (Of course.)
Then, using a ceramic burr grinder of your choice, grind the beans at medium. I love the Hario Skerton hand grinder which starts around $30. If you use a cheap electric grinder or a metal grinder, you’re likely to scorch the beans, which means your coffee will taste burned and all the other steps won’t matter. (Yes, I know that sounds like Schmidt from the New Girl but it’s true.) I use the five minutes of grinding time to meditate on what I want to accomplish that day. Coffee grinding is my yoga. And my arm workout.
Don’t pre-grind the beans or store them in the freezer, by the way. I know it takes longer, but ideally you want to grind them just before you’re ready to pour.
Gooseneck Kettles via Prima Kettle
5. Boil the water
If you want to get really specific, a gooseneck kettle is ideal for boiling water, as it gives you greater pour control. (But of course any kettle is fine, really.) And you’re going to use that kettle twice. The first time is to get the Chemex filter to stick to the glass and warm the Chemex for the real coffee pour over. To do this, boil about two cups of water in the kettle, take it off the heat for 30 seconds, then pour it around the filter until it’s soaked completely and sticking to the Chemex glass. The water will drip through the filter and into the bottom of the Chemex. Now, drain this water. It’s done its job.
Next, time for the real water that you’ll use to make coffee. Add 2.5 cups of good-tasting water to your kettle, and get it boiling. If your tap water tastes fine, use it. If you live near the beach or have old pipes, use filtered or spring water. It makes a difference.
6. Pour the ground coffee into the moistened Chemex filter and shake it to even out the grounds
Once your good water is boiling, take it off the heat for 30 seconds, then pour in just enough water to moisten all the coffee grounds. Give them a light stir, and let them sit for 30 seconds or so. They will then bloom, which means they’ll puff up a little and bubble. They say the better the bloom, the fresher the beans. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a look here; what you can’t see is that the bloom might be one of the best things I’ve ever smelled.
7. Add water to the coffee and let it brew
Now start pouring in the water starting in the middle of the grounds and spiraling outward. Be sure not to pour the water directly against the glass and filter–only over the grounds.
Fill the filter until the water is a quarter-inch from the top. Then keep adding water as the coffee brews until you’ve emptied all the water from your kettle. It should take about three minutes to do this. (Patience!)
8. Taste the glorious bounty of coffee
More power to you if you drink your coffee black. As for me, I heat up some organic half-and-half with a spoonful of sugar and mix that in. I can honestly say it’s the best coffee I’ve ever had — at home, in a coffeeshop, or overseas. This coffee tastes like the promise ground coffee makes but never seems to live up to. Just as a test, I made a few cups of coffee in my old automatic drip coffeemaker and compared it, and it was the equivalent of comparing Spam to the finest prosciutto.
Making coffee with a Chemex might sound complicated the first time, but it really only takes a simple routine to make it a much anticipated part of your day–especially once you taste the result.
My husband liked it so much that he asked me if I needed any further equipment to continue providing him with coffee.I told him he could help grind the beans, since that is time consuming and muscle-building. Instead, he bought me an electric ceramic burr grinder which should arrive soon. Behold, the power of Chemex!
A big h/t to writer Chuck Wendig, whose blog post convinced me to try this method of coffee brewing. His vocabulary is NSFW, but his reasoning is sound.
For a delicious subscription for amazing single-origin whole bean coffee, try Tonx Coffee (this is my invite code if you’d like one). They offer free samples, but you have to give them your credit card information, first. If you just need a Chemex brewer and filters, you can find them both at Prima-Coffee, at our affiliate Amazon or even at William-Sonoma. You can also find home brewing kits and great coffee at La Colombe.
Great article. The Chemex is magic indeed. So magic, we built an app called KoHi for it and other manual brew methods.
PLUG!! Pluggity plug plug! Shameless, man… shameless.
Here’s my plug: I wrote about this awesome coffee maker last year!
Thanks for this detailed step-by-step. We currently do our coffee via French press, which we live. However, I keep hearing the praises of a Chemex and I’m more and more drawn to try it! Plus, Chemex is made right here in my city! Unfortunately, they do not have an eat-in cafe for taste testing. 🙂 We do have the burr grinder, so we’re half way there. You’ve really got me thinking…! Thanks!
This is good. I Chemex almost every day! If you want to see another good video check out Intelligentsia’s Chemex video, too. I didn’t make that..so not a plug. 😉
Is it okay to add sugar while brewing? I always think of that idea but I’m scared that there’s something might happen with my coffee grinder when I clean it.
eds: Do not add sugar while brewing! There’s no reason at all to do it. Warm liquids dissolve sugar easily.
Is the 2.5 cups of water for the 20g or single cup of coffee?
So 40g coffee is 5 cups of water etc?