Definitive Chemex Coffee Maker Review and Buyers Guide
The Chemex coffee maker is loved like few other products in the coffee world. Along with the iPhone, Harley Davidson and Pabst Blue Ribbon, choosing a Chemex means joining a tribe with its own customs, values and language. To people outside the tribe, the Chemex coffee pour over is just some glass and a quirky way to make coffee. To bridge the gaps between these groups, the Chemex review and Chemex Brew Guide included below will share everything great and everything terrible about the Chemex coffee maker so you can decide if you should buy one.
Buyers Guide Sections
- Why Do People Love the Chemex pour over coffee maker?
- Everything Wrong with the Chemex Coffee Maker
- The Chemex Ratio & Coarseness
- Chemex Coffee Maker Care and Cleaning
- Is Chemex the best pour over coffee maker the best Pour Over?
- Chemex Ottomatic coffee maker
- Chemex vs French Press
- Chemex Brew Guide
- How to use a Chemex Coffee Maker
- History of the Chemex
Why Do People Love the Chemex pour over coffee maker?
The popularity of the Chemex comes from two things. First, the coffee it makes is pretty distinctive and, for many people, its unique coffee is the best around. Second, the Chemex coffee maker is beautiful. It is a single large, hourglass shaped vessel, with an attractive wooden collar and tie. With a design that is decades old, it remains somehow sensual, elegant and progressive even as it became a classic design. Using a Chemex coffee maker is either a soothing morning ritual or a painstaking and error prone chore, depending on your view (and personality) so read our section on Using a Chemex coffee maker below to understand the steps.
Everything Wrong with the Chemex Coffee Maker
James Hoffman knows a lot about coffee. In this video, he does a great job of demonstrating some of the common complaints about the Chemex coffee maker.
Chemex Coffee Taste
Some people hate the taste of Chemex coffee. A Chemex filter has about three times the paper of a regular coffee filter. Chemex filters also have very small pores so it filters more oils and solid material out of coffee than any other method I can think of.
Some people like this because the coffee is very clear, and they say it makes the coffee taste lighter and cleaner. On the other hand, it clarifies the coffee too much for many people. For many coffee drinkers, the suspended material and oils in coffee is responsible for the distinctive, hearty and earthy flavors they like. Some people also feel like Chemex coffee picks up the taste of paper. Personally, I think this is in their heads but one reason you have to presoak your Chemex filter is to reduce the taste of paper.
Chemex Coffee Makers Are Expensive
While, I wouldn’t call them expensive compared to a machine, a Chemex pour over maker ranges from about $36 to around $47 plus free shipping. You can get a COSOI, Hario V60 or Bodum for less and you.
Also, you need more than just the coffee maker. The Chemex paper filters are not cheap either. The Gooseneck kettle, may not be technically required but really helps a lot. These can range between $20 and $150. A stovetop obviously costs less than an electric model, just make sure it has a thermometer. A decent digital electric gooseneck costs about $50.
Chemex pour over coffee is a long, error-prone process
Some of these things apply to every Chemex and some are a function of you as a coffee brewer. First and foremost, compared to most other options, it takes a really long time to make coffee. Up to 5 minutes that you have to be an active participant in your coffee brewing. You can’t press a button, check your email and come back in 5 minutes. For an outline of how to use a Chemex, check out the Chemex Brew Guide lower on this page.
This becomes a bit of a personality test. A Chemex coffee maker is not for you if you value convenience and speed and are prone to skip steps or rush things when you feel time pressure then choose another way to make pour over coffee. Or better yet, choose a totally different way to make coffee. A French Press takes a similar amount of time to brew coffee as a Chemex, but it is much fewer steps and the process requires less precision. I use a French Press because I put in my water and can-do other things while it brews. With a Chemex pour over, you are standing in front of your Chemex the whole time.
COSORI Gooseneck Kettle
The COSORI Electric Gooseneck Kettle is outstanding and has 5 Variable Presets and great controls.
Chemex Filters & Channel Collapse
Chemex Filters are very different than other coffee filters. Chemex filters are large discs which are double folded and then opened into a cone shaped filer. But you open it so that there is a single layer on one side and the other three folded layers on the other. This is essential because it allows you to face the single ply side away from the spout and the triple ply side against the spout.
The filters are very thick with small pores. So, you can’t just pick a standard, cone shaped filter meant for a drip coffeemaker because the pores are too large on those filters and it won’t extract enough or filter as many solids out. Plus, it will be a messy disaster because the pour channel will collapse.
The other issue with the Chemex coffee maker is channel collapse. The most distinctive thing about the Chemex coffee maker is that it is made from a single piece of glass is pretty unique. So, when the filter is filled with grounds and water the Chemex would be totally airtight except for the small channel leading to the pour lip. If the wet filter pushes against the channel then it gets blocked, air can’t escape, and the coffee brew stalls. People have all sorts of tricks to prevent this including folding the lip of the filter over or putting a straw or similar object down the channel to avoid the channel collapse.
The Chemex Ratio & Coarseness
To get the classic Chemex flavor you need to follow the brew steps precisely. Read our Chemex Brew Guide below for the steps and the classic Chemex recipe. You need to get the coarseness right and follow all the steps precisely or the coffee flavor is altered. For people who feel like the brewer takes too long, the temptation is to try to speed things up and skip steps or pull the filter from the side of the glass to make it drain faster.
People in a rush will sometimes grind the coffee too coarsely to speed it up. Coarser grounds means less resistance and faster brew but with a dramatically reduced extraction time and a very different taste. Also, people will fidget with and lift the sides of the filter, separating it temporarily from the glass to make it drain faster. Because the coffee isn’t as good, these people will use more coffee to make up for it, a classic trick to overcome under extraction. This does increase the Chemex coffee strength, but it still tastes very different than coffee brewed following all the steps precisely.
Chemex Coffee Maker Care and Cleaning
The Chemex collar is attractive, but it is made of wood. You need to remove it before washing your Chemex coffee maker and it isn’t intended to get wet all the time. Many people have noted that a wooden part is an interesting choice for a daily coffee maker. The wooden collar can age and change appearances and Chemex collar rot can happen if you are not careful. Also, some people find it irritating to get the Chemex collar and tie on and off. Chemex offers a glass handled Chemex with no collar, but it lacks the classic cool and stunning looks of the traditional Chemex.
Hand cleaning a coffee maker isn’t the fun part of your daily coffee routine. Although it seems like the actual incidence of people breaking one isn’t especially high, caring for and cleaning a large glass vessel has its challenges.
Is Chemex the best pour over coffee maker the best Pour Over?
There are several contenders to Chemex for the best pour over coffee maker title. To be clear, there are bigger differences in the taste you get from various pour over coffee makers than say, you see among different French Presses. The main three things to consider, and this can be hard without a point of comparison, is the convenience of the coffee maker, the consistency of the brew and, of course, the quality of the coffee.
Chemex is not a convenient or easy way to make coffee. Someone will probably write and say how they have been making in for 20 years and it is super easy. But you can’t really say it is easier than other models or push-button machines. There are lots of great coffee makers out there. Pour over can produce excellent brews but you have very different types with very different outcomes.
Chemex Ottomatic Coffee Maker
The Chemex Ottomatic automatic pour over coffee maker is a brilliant and crazy invention. It intends to eliminate many of the Chemex brewing steps and provide some automation to an intentionally manual process. In some ways it turns your Chemex into an automatic drip coffee maker.
The Chemex Ottomatic also eliminates the need to stand in front of your Chemex coffee maker the whole time. Chemex Ottomatic reviews are mixed, with some people saying it is the perfect solution to some of the criticisms mentioned above and others saying it is a compromise that is the worst of Chemex plus the worst of an automatic drip maker.
The 6-cup Chemex Ottomatic costs $379, more than any of the best bean to cup coffee makers on our annual list. In any case, if you don’t want to go through the hassle of a Chemex then a Chemex Ottomatic may be a sign you should move on to a different type of coffee maker.
Chemex vs French Press
I am not an objective participant in the Chemex vs French Press discussion. My daily, go-to coffee production method is using a glass and aluminum French Press. I really like pour over coffee and do really like Chemex coffee and I love the look of the Chemex coffee maker. I don’t like the process of making coffee with a Chemex (see Everything Wrong with the Chemex Coffee Maker section)
One reason people criticize French Press vs Chemex is they will say that a French Press produces coffee that is too oily, too bitter or has too much material in it. So, let’s take those one at a time.
Over extraction makes coffee bitter. The finer ground your coffee is, this more surface area and the more extraction that takes place. That is why soak and drip coffee brewing methods use coarser coffee grounds. Look at the lightning fast extraction of an espresso maker. All other things being equal, an excessively fine ground will make more bitter coffee. So, if your French Press coffee is bitter then you are probably over extracting so check the coarseness and the brew times.
French Press vs Chemex | Filtered Coffee Health and Taste
I strongly prefer unfiltered coffee. I think the oils and solid materials contribute to what I like in a good cup of coffee. Perhaps you prefer different coffee and that is great. But have a really well make French Press vs Chemex taste test before deciding for yourself. French Presses and espresso machines have metallic filters instead of paper. Also, many pour overs and drip makers have a metallic filter option.
Many people believe that filtered coffee is healthier for them. An advantage of the Chemex vs French Press could be that unfiltered coffee may potentially raise bad cholesterol levels. A Harvard Health Blog article says that filtering coffee reduces oily diterpenes cafestol and kahweol. These two terpenes appear to be associated with increased bad cholesterol.
This highly rated French Press can be had for just $23 with free Prime shipping.
It also does APPEAR as if, possibly, maybe, Chemex could remove more oils than other paper filtering methods too. Whether you people who are concerned about their bad cholesterol should switch to Chemex or not I am unqualified to say, and I have not seen anything definitive on that issue. However, if you are concerned about your bad cholesterol levels then discuss it with your doctor or research this issue from a credible medical source (not me). My cholesterol is fine, and I am not factoring this into my daily coffee decision.
Chemex Brew Guide
The so-called Chemex ratio is 1:15. This is the amount of coffee grounds to water required to make Chemex coffee. In other words, in terms of weight, for every gram or ounce of ground coffee you use 15 of that same unit in water. People adjust the Chemex ratio up or down to their own preference. In fact, lists of Chemex recipes are shared online.
Personalizing your Chemex coffee ratio for a legitimate preference if fine, of course. However, avoid the cycle of using more coffee than is needed to make up for rushing the brewing and under extracting your coffee. This is common and leads to a dramatically different tasting coffee, and a lot of wasted coffee grounds.
How to Use a Chemex Coffee Maker
Making coffee with a Chemex is almost a ritual. You have to love it, or you won’t want to do it. And for Chemex coffee maker fans, that daily ritual is part of the appeal.
To me, it is a slow and manual way to make coffee. For people looking for simplicity and convenience, a Chemex may be a frustrating choice.
Using a Chemex coffee maker involves a lot of steps and it takes a long time to make, upwards of 5 minutes. In my experience, only the Flair Espresso Maker demands more from you to get a cup of brew. Worse, if you skip or rush any of the steps it affects the distinctive taste and the quality of the Chemex coffee.
This video from Elemental Coffee is a great example of how to make great coffee with your Chemex coffee maker.
- Preheat the brewer
- Double fold the filter with the triple layers side by the spout
- Use a sweeping motion to wet the filter and wash out the excess paper taste
- You may want to fold the filter down by the spout to reduce the chance that the filter collapses
- Measure out your grounds, use exactly the right coarseness
- Start your times and pour to saturate the coffee grounds
- Stir and wait 45 seconds
- Do a second, wiggling and then spiraling motion to pour the rest of the water
- Wait another 45 seconds and fill the remaining water
History of the Chemex
People who think the Chemex coffee maker is a new invention are surprised at its actual history. Dr. Peter Schlumbohm born in the 19th century and became a chemist and inventor. He emigrated from Germany to the United States and designed a large number of products. His primary focus was glass chemistry vessels and products. Dr. Schlumbohm patented over 300 items. In 1941 Dr. Schlumbohm patented then released the Chemex coffee maker. He based the design both on previous designs of glass products for chemists but also experimented looking for a unique design that would produce better tasting coffee.
Since then the Chemex has had its ups and down in popularity but has remained a beloved design and successful product over the decades. In 1958, designers at the Illinois Institute of Technology called it “one of the best-designed products of modern times” it is still studied by design students today. Museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York have included it in exhibits.
Final Word on The Chemex Pour Over
We hope this review of the Chemex pour over coffee maker and brew guide have proven helpful. Chemex coffee has its fans and is one of the most beloved products in the world. In spite of its quirks and the Chemex filters, many people consider it to be the best pour over coffee maker around.
So, whether you buy a Chemex coffee maker depends on whether you love the taste or not. Also, whether you view the Chemex pour over process as calming daily routine or chore, you could simply add a Chemex Ottomatic automatic pour over coffee maker.