Chemex 101: Brewing Tips and Advice From a Coffee Novice
Learn how to brew coffee in your Chemex! I’ve got tips on brewing, filters and the simple way to clean your Chemex. Make sure to watch the video tutorial at the end for for step-by-step instructions on brewing Chemex coffee.
Over the last few years I’ve really come to enjoy a good cup of coffee. Especially one from the beautifully designed Chemex. I mean, it is gorgeous, right? Not only will it make your coffee taste good, it’ll make it look good.
But as much as I like coffee, let’s be clear – I’m by no means a coffee connoisseur, guru or expert. I’m just your run-of-the-mill coffee drinker who likes to brew a warm cup at home or relax in a fab coffee shop when I’m out and about.
You’ll find lots of posts online about Chemex brewing that talk about measuring your coffee into proper gram weights (using a scale) and pouring the water slowly (with a timer) to ensure an exact volume of water over the ground coffee in 4 minutes to extract the perfect cup of coffee. There are even some apps.
When I first got my Chemex, I’ll be honest. That stuff intimidated me. I’m a smart girl with an MBA, but I sure didn’t feel like doing math equations and pulling out timers and scales every morning just to brew a cup of coffee!
I’m sure there’s valid science to extracting a perfect cup of coffee (coffee is a massive industry after all), but I view coffee like wine. Everyone likes something different. And no choice is wrong. You simply like what you like.
So today I wanted to share with you everything I’ve learned about brewing coffee with my Chemex Coffee Maker – and let you know that you too can take the easy brewing route – and still have a darn good cup of coffee.
What is a Chemex?
I first discovered Chemex on Instagram, perusing other food bloggers feeds a few years ago. No joke. I kept seeing this gorgeous beaker-like thing with a stunning wood handle filled with coffee and I had to figure out what it was. Well, clearly I was late to the party as Chemex has been around for more than 70 years.
The Chemex Coffee Maker is a pour-over style of coffee brewer, with a glass flask shaped like an hourglass. The neck or handle of the hourglass is then wrapped in wood with a leather tie. The Chemex is so simple in design it’s stunning (which is what lured me in). In fact, the design is so noteworthy that it’s featured in The Museum of Modern Art in New York. And to think, I just wanted it for a food photography prop, initially.
What size Chemex should you get?
I struggled with this for a while because I’m just one person and at first I thought I should go with the three cup model. But cutting to the chase, I purchased the eight cup Chemex and here’s why. Chemex measures cup size on each model as a 5 ounce cup. Therefore, the eight cup model (when full) is 40 ounces.
If you’re like me, your regular coffee cup is much larger than 5 ounces. Mine (the one you see pictured) is 16 ounces. So that’s actually three cups according to Chemex.
In other words, if you purchase the three cup model and have a large coffee mug, you’ll get one true cup of coffee. With the six cup model you’ll get about two large cups of coffee. And with the eight cup model you’ll get anywhere from two to four cups of coffee, again, depending on the size of your mug (hint: go measure your mug right now).
Therefore, if you’re more than one person, I really only recommend purchasing the six or eight cup models. If you’re three or more adults at home, go with the ten cup model. When I fill my Eight Cup Classic Chemex full with water from my 1.2 liter kettle (approx 40 ounce), it fills my Chemex up nicely and I get about three true cups of coffee.
When it comes to kettles, do purchase a gooseneck kettle as well. I love my Hario Kettle and it makes brewing pour-over coffee abundantly easier.
So what do I do after I’ve brewed a full batch in my Chemex? I save and refrigerate my leftover coffee to be reheated the next day. I’m sure this is blasphemy to coffee connoisseurs, but I’m all about easy and not having to wash my Chemex every day if I don’t have to. It’s like batch cooking. To my credit, Chemex themselves state that coffee can be reheated (without any bitterness) after it’s been refrigerated in sealed container. Win!
What about Chemex filters?
What really makes Chemex special and distinguishes it from other brands are the filters. Chemex filters are 20-30% thicker than regular coffee filters which filters out bitterness, oils and grounds. That means you get a super clean and clear cup of coffee.
I had to laugh when I first purchased my square natural filters because I was like, “what the heck?” Having only used single sheet coffee filters, I didn’t understand this origami-like Chemex filter. But it’s really quite simple. Keep it folded, then open it up so you’ll have one layer on one side and three layers on the other. The side with three layers is what you’ll put against the pour spout on the Chemex.
As for the square versus circular filters, there’s really no difference. Though I do find the little points on the square make it easy to lift out. And of course I went with natural, because I always choose unbleached anything if possible.
What is the best Chemex grind size?
Based on my research (from the coffee gurus), it seems a medium to medium-coarse grind works best. When you grind your coffee to this consistency, it should resemble the texture of sea salt. If you grind your coffee too fine, it will take longer for your coffee to brew given the increased thickness of the Chemex filters.
When grinding coffee at home go with a burr grinder for a more even consistency. You’ll find burr grinders ranging from economical to expensive. I purchased a middle-of-the-road Cuisinart Burr Grinder and have been quite happy with it.
Most coffee aficionados will say that you should grind your coffee beans right before you brew, for the freshest coffee. And I don’t doubt that. But the reality is I usually grind enough coffee for a week or so. I store my grinds in an airtight glass Weck Jar and use this 2-tablespoon coffee scoop to scoop out my grinds as needed. If you want to label your glass jar as I did, read my pantry organization post.
How much ground coffee should you use?
Now this is where all the ratios and scales typically come into play. If I were to follow the coffee experts’ advice, I’d use 40-50 grams of coffee for 700 grams of water (which is about 25 ounces). But because I didn’t want to pull out my kitchen scale every morning, what I really wanted to know was what that translated to in coffee scoops.
So let me break it down for you. 40-50 grams of coffee = 4-5 coffee scoops. One coffee scoop = 2 tablespoons = 10 grams.
Interestingly enough, all brewing examples I found online only showed brewing a Chemex half full – I have no idea why. If you purchase the eight cup Chemex and would like to brew a full container, based on the math above you’ll need 70-80 grams of ground coffee or 7-8 coffee scoops for 40 ounces of water. Personally, I found this much too strong.
Chemex themselves recommend one heaping tablespoon for 5 ounces of coffee, which means 8 heaping tablespoons or 4 heaping coffee scoops per 40 ounces of water. At the end of the day, I actually preferred 3 coffee scoops with a full kettle of water. Remember though, I’m a coffee novice who doesn’t like my coffee overly strong.
There’s always talk of over extraction or under extraction when you start to alter coffee measurements, but really, it’s all about personal preference and taste. Each person is unique (genetically) in our ability to taste, particularly when it comes to bitter compounds. So tinker around with ratios until you find what works for you.
How do you brew coffee with the Chemex?
I recommend watching my Chemex brewing video at the top of this post. But if you prefer step-by-step instructions, I’ve got those for you as well. Remember, it may take you one or two tries to get comfy brewing with your Chemex, but after that, you’ll be golden. Promise.
Step One: Heat the water in your 1.2 liter kettle and bring to a boil.
Step Two: Grind your coffee with a burr grinder and determine how much coffee you’ll use based on how many cups of coffee you’re making. For a full container (on the eight cup model), try starting with 4 coffee scoops and adjust as necessary.
Step Three: Place a filter in your Chemex (with the three layer side of the filter facing the spout) and pour a little hot water to wet the filter. This warms the glass and removes any paper taste from the filter. Dump out this water. Note: because you just used water from your kettle, you’ll have less than 40 ounces to brew. If you’d like, you can fill the kettle back up and bring to a quick boil again. Or, you’ll have just slightly less coffee if you don’t refill.
Step Four: Add your coffee grounds onto the pre-moistened filter.
Step Five: Pour just enough water to fully saturate the grounds and let the coffee expand and bloom for 30-45 seconds.
Step Six: Pour your water in a slow, circular fashion until you’ve filled the top nearly full (about a half inch below the top). As the water starts to drain, continue adding more water until your kettle is empty (if you’re using an eight cup Chemex), or until you’ve reached just below the wood handle.
Step Seven: Once your Chemex is full, remove the filter and grounds and enjoy your freshly brewed cup of coffee.
How do you clean a Chemex?
After you brew your coffee, just rinse it out with warm water and a few drops of liquid soap. I don’t even remove the handle for this. Then turn it upside down to dry. This is how I wash my Chemex 90% of the time.
If you have residue on the bottom or feel you need a deeper clean, fill your Chemex halfway full with ice and a quarter full with water. Add a few tablespoons of salt and a couple drops of liquid soap. Swirl and slosh this around until it’s all bubbly, then pour it out and rinse.
The Chemex is also dishwasher safe (with the wood handle removed), though I tend to hand wash using the two methods above.
What type of coffee do you recommend?
Oh, geez. I’m probably the worst person to ask this question as my tastes are not the most discerning. Currently I’m enjoying this one. But what I can say is do pay the extra and buy organic coffee. Conventional coffee is one of the most heavily chemically treated foods in the world. So I choose quality over quantity.
I hope this post on brewing coffee with a Chemex was helpful – and if you still have questions feel free to pop them in the comments section below. Lastly, if it just so happens to be blazing how where you’re at right now and the thought of hot coffee doesn’t get you excited, don’t forget about my Cold Brew Coffee Recipe. That will definitely cool you down.
Watch the video and learn how I brew Chemex coffee:
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Originally published May 2017, but updated to include new information.