Chemex coffee brewing guide

The inventor of the beautiful Chemex brewer, Peter Schlumbohm, once said, "With the Chemex, even a moron can make good coffee.” Now, Intelligentsia Coffee has produced a terrific video that will show morons how to make terrific coffee.


  1. chemex coffee is so good, i don’t care that it uses paper filters. the taste is totally worth killing the environment for.

  2. chemex coffee is so good, i don’t care that it uses paper filters. the taste is totally worth killing the environment for.

    Hrm. Are you sure they don’t just use paper from tree farms for their filters?

  3. What is it exactly that makes the Chemex so great, besides the nice shape?

    Is it the paper? The method of pouring water in? If so, either of these should be reproducible with a regular old electric drip pot, no? (It would take a little jiggering to make it wait after soaking the grounds, but that doesn’t sound hard.)

    Is it psychological?

  4. @2 oh that would make things awesome! i’ll write them and ask!

    i should also add that chemex makes a really good iced coffee too. the flavor isn’t the same as cold brew, but its one of the better methods. someone on the or forums posted it a while back : fill the chemex with as much ice as fits, and brew with 2x the grounds.

  5. #5: Granted. When I was in Spain, I discovered that coffee out of their vending machines beat most of what we get here in los EEUU. Ask for “cafe American” and they brew it properly, then add more water.

    The two most effective ways to kill coffee are to cook it (old-style bubbling percolators are a Bad Idea) and to contaminate it with rancid oils from previous batches. I suspect the Chemex’s largest advantage is that, being glass and having a relatively wide mouth, it’s easier to keep clean.

    And it’s relatively elegant-looking — no separate filter holder to deal with.

    But I would bet that using any other drip coffee maker, and keeping it really clean (baking soda is your friend), would produce equivalent results.

    Having said that: There are a few worthwhile tips in the video. I never remember to wait for the grounds to finish their initial soak.

    Then again, I make coffee relatively rarely. At home, I’m more likely to grab tea.

  6. Supposedly, many drip machines don’t heat the water enough, which makes for a bland brew. Boiling your own water mostly solves this problem, although it should be at like 195F or so, so you should let it cool a little. I don’t know how big a deal this is; I could never taste the difference in my French press.

    Or you can get a decent drip machine and good filters. I’m sure there are enough reviews on the internet, and I think a recent issue of Consumer Reports did some testing.

  7. Café Piston, if you ask me. And don’t skimp on your grinder.

    Or even better, espresso. And best of all, roast the coffee yourself. (And keep a bottle of grappa nearby.)

  8. Forget this paper filter razz-mattazz, french press is the way to go!

    I’ve never seen the technique of priming the grounds first though. Might try that tomorrow morning to see if it makes any difference with a press pot.

  9. The best coffee I’ve ever had was from a Cona vacuum pot, but there’s no denying that cleanup is a pain in the ass. Good for company, not so much the morning cuppa.

  10. 3.5-4 minutes for a cup of coffee?
    I got a life to lead, Cha cha!
    My Keurig bangs out a great cup of coffee in much less time.

  11. There are probably 20 different ways to make AMAZING coffee. They all produce slightly different flavors so one man’s “best way to do it” is not the next’s.

    As long as you’ve got good beans and water that isn’t too hot, the result will be better than 90% of the coffee in cafes in America, regardless of whether it’s drip, french press, espresso, aeropress, vacuum pot, etc.

  12. Nope, you HAVE to make coffee a very specific way on very expensive machinery or it’s completely worthless and an insult to good sensibilities everywhere!…

    Is this not the community that shoots down quackery like Monster Cables? Magic Filters?

  13. Something about hyper-obseesive coffee quality obsessions trips my pretense/BS meter nearly as much as snobby wine connoisseurism and audiophile woo-woo. Is that a James Randi challenge I smell brewing up!?

  14. @3 its 95% the paper and 5% the cone shape. chemex paper is significantly thicker than normal coffee filters, and it has a completely different feel. i can’t really describe it. its just way way different.

    @12 – Priming the grounds for 45 seconds is called blooming. Its the more correct way to make french press too.

    @13 huh? vacuum pots are really easy to clean. The vacuum action dries the grounds up quite a bit, and most will go into the trash/compost. The rest just get rinsed down the drain. My only issue with vacpots is that they break too often . I had 3 bodum stems crack on me and then i gave up.

  15. While I’m sure this makes a tasty cup, moving to a system that uses paper filters seems like a giant step backwards to me. We should be aiming for more environmentally friendly solutions, not ones that create waste with every cup. At least this is a step up from the Aeropress which uses proprietary paper filters (are the chemex filters proprietary too? I guess they must be as they’re the entire brewing system).

    I’ll stick with my french press which will make endless cups with the same reusable filter. Besides, how much better can the chemex possibly taste? I’ll take 98% of the flavour if it allows me to eliminate 100% the waste (not counting grounds of course).

  16. so if I use three ordinary Melita filters it’ll be the same?

    Still working on the ultimate cuppa joe: so far: styro cup, tap water from a rusty water heater, no name brand instant coffee crystals, edible petroleum whitener, saccharin, nuked in a microwave, cooled and then re-heated. Any suggested additions?

  17. Here’s the deal… If you want great anything, find a fanatic, or group of them, look at what they do right, and then adapt the procedures to fit your needs.

    In my case, the Japanese are fanatic about tea… so they have created Thermal Pots, that keep water hot at exactly 208 degrees, (I use a Panasonic NC-EH22PC), get a Melita # 1 or #2 filter,(unbleached), and a one-cup drip holder, press a button, to rinse your filter, add your fine ground coffee, press again, pause, press again until you fill the folder to the proper amount and by the time you tidy up, (reseal your coffee beans and put away the grinder), viola! a perfect cup of coffee.

    But here’s a real secret… Every major city has a Brazilian or South American food shop somewhere.
    To save time I try and find the most popular Brazilian Ground coffee, Pilao or Caboclo and use a heaping teaspoon of that, it doesn’t get bitter, it’s faster, and produces a coffee that’s is preferred by people who grow the coffee. It’s quicker, with less fuss and mess than grinding your own and making a science project out of things. You can keep the opened vacuum sealed bags in your freezer in a zip-lock freezer bag, and you will never have a “bad” cup of coffee again…. well at home at least…

  18. @djrevmoon:

    Huh? Not exactly sure what was meant by that, but I have to say that after growing up as an Italian, then living in the States for a few years, and recently coming back from a vacation, I am so glad to be back in a proper coffee society after the awful bitter-sour-brown-liquid land of England…

    Is it some left-over mindset from WW II rationing that English people still think coffee should taste bad?

  19. I used a Chemex throughout high school. I think it’s time I bought one of my own.

    Hey, coffee fanatics: Is there any reason not to set a Chemex on a hot plate (on low) to keep the coffee warm?

  20. I tried all those fiddley solutions for several years. It got so preparing took longer than drinking. Now I just use K-cups. I can be drinking fresh, properly prepared coffee within seconds. It actually takes longer to decide which roast or flavor I’m in the mood for (though I rarely go for the flavored varieties, but I like knowing I can should I choose).

    Zero cleanup, and there’s actually less net waste, since I never toss a cold pot. Takes less energy, too, since there’s no heating plate and it only heats the exact quantity of water needed to 192 degrees.

  21. You should try this yourself, but…

    I brew espresso in the morning with a moka pot. I used to think that I would get better coffee if I took it off the stove right as the last coffee bubbled out into the top chamber. Wrong. If you leave it on for another 2 minutes, the coffee gets a rich sweet chocolaty flavor, probably from some sort of caramelization process.

    I think this Chemek thing is mostly a gimmick. My mother has been brewing coffee this way sine I can remember, but with a $2 plastic filter holder, that she sets right on top of her coffee cup.

  22. Takuan, don’t forget to boil the water with the instant coffee in it for at least 2 minutes. Really enhances the bouquet.

    djrevmoon, Puhleeze. That’s as ignorant as saying “Those Europeans and their bad beer.”

  23. I’m thinking maybe making a cup of instant noodles in it first to create an attractive slick on the coffee might be a nice touch…

  24. of course, a good cup needs a snack to go with: white, “enriched” Wonder-bread with generic margarine and bologna, pressed paper thin and wrapped in cheap wax paper than melts into the bread. Perhaps spiced up with a nice slice of processed cheese?

  25. Coffee, like tea and wine, has so many nuances once you get past the initial good/bad stage that subjecting it to a Randi-style test just isn’t feasible. One man’s meat, etc.

    I have come to prefer a darker roast than standard American, which many people find less tasty, comparatively speaking. Not bad, just different.

  26. The Chemex has been sold unchanged since the ’40s; as the quote above says, it was invented to make coffeemaking simple in a time of percolator-pots. You can make a very decent cup of coffee in a Chemex by just scooping a bunch of ground coffee into the filter and pouring water over it. The tips in the video are fine-tuning for the best possible flavor; there’s no need for skeptical wankery or namecalling for chrissake.

  27. Probably won’t buy the Chemex, but I do plan to blast that music next time I fill the french press. I’ll bet it enhances caffeination.

    @MADMOLECULE: It’ll cook the coffee. I use a drip brewer when I need to make more than my french press can handle, and even with the hotplate under the carafe on its lowest setting, the coffee starts to taste a bit rank if it’s on there for more than 30 minutes.

  28. Absolutely the best thing anyone can do to make better coffee is to use good, fresh ground beans and clean equipment. That makes more of a difference than almost anything.

    After that, you’re jsut tinkering in the province of coffee fanatics. Which is fine. I happen to be one. But I’ve had Chemex coffee made this way, and I still prefer my French Press. Coffee is a personal thing.

  29. You can make really good coffee directly into an insulated carafe by using a large Melita filter holder and #6 (large) filters. I’ve “adapted” the Melita filter holder by cutting it in the appropriate places to make it fit snug over the open top of the carafe.

    It’s been working great this way for over 15 years.

    The clue is, as the video says, prime the grounds with an initial blast of hot water and wait for it all the settle. Then pour the rest of the water in and make sure it covers the grounds. This gives the mix time to brew.

    Also, if the water is rapidly boiling, turn off the heat and let it sit until there are few if any bubbles. Water at the boiling point scorches the coffee grounds.

    Brewing the coffee directly into a thermos/carafe eliminates the need to heat the coffee after brewing. Never reheat coffee! You’re liable to boil it, and if you boil it it’s worthless.

  30. Not a technique, but a coffee. Not trying to sell it, but it just came back after a long hiatus.

    Mello Joy coffee. A cult coffee in southwest Louisiana, this is the best coffee I’ve ever, EVER had. Smoothest, least bitter coffee I’ve ever tasted.

    It’s not typical New Orleans coffee with chicory. It’s Acadian (commonly called Cajun) coffee. Yes, there is a difference.

  31. It only takes a couple minutes for me to grind and brew coffee with a Technivorm KBT741; Rinse the basket/carafe with water and run a descaler through it once a month.

  32. The differences between Chemex coffee and your standard drip maker:

    1) Most drip makers do not get water hot enough, so they leave flavor behind. NO drip makers have accurate temperature control. NONE can be adjusted.

    Chemex, if follow the instructions in the video, you will automatically have water at a good, hot temperature (somewhere between 195 and 205 F if you want to measure).

    2) The “bloom pause” that they suggest WILL get more coffee flavor. Standard drip makers cannot not do this.

    3) Chemex is even easier to clean up than a standard drip maker: discard the paper, rinse the pot, and put it in the dish drainer. (If it looks filthy, you might have to use some soap, but don’t tell the coffee snobs.)

    To answer a few questions:
    A) Don’t keep the Chemex on a burner. Coffee kept on the heat can get pretty nasty, and the Chemex might crack, especially if you forget and it boils dry. If you can’t drink the coffee before it gets cold, try warming it in the microwave, it’ll probably taste pretty good. If that’s unacceptable, get a thermos.

    B) I’ve used the Aerobie Aeropress, and found that it produces good coffee, but I end up using a LOT more grounds per cup. On the other hand, it will often produce good coffee from the cheapest, nastiest coffee grounds around, so if you work in an office where they have those foil packets “for free,” an Aerobie will be an excellent choice for the cheapskate.

    C) If you must, try re-using the Chemex filter paper, see if it tastes OK. You can store a cleaned, wet paper in a zip bag in the fridge.

    D) A French Press can make delicious coffee, especially if you like it VERY VERY STRONG. And it will ALWAYS have a few grounds in the bottom of the cup, no matter how careful you are. Find one that has an insulated pot, because otherwise, the coffee will be cold very soon.

    E) As said above, the most important factor is beans. They have to be good, they have to be roasted recently, and they have to be ground within a few hours of being brewed. Driving across town for beans that are roasted in the store is worth trying. I bet you’ll go back for more.

    The second most important factor is water. It has to be tasty, and it has to be hot enough. (And if you boil it for a long time, that will make it less tasty, so try not to.)

    The third factor is cleanliness. Clean the pot!

    And the final factor is procedure. Once you find a procedure that is simple AND produces delicious coffee, you have WON THE GAME and may disregard what the snobs say.

    The Chemex ritual above looks pretty darn easy and should be foolproof — that’s why Mark posted them. Yes, there are other ways to brew coffee that are just as good, maybe even better.

  33. I’m sorry, I just can’t something seriously until there have been millions slaughtered in war over it.

  34. I cold brew my coffee, add ice and some condensed milk. I don’t particularly like hot drinks and I burn my tongue more often than I care to admit.

    The advantages of cold brewing are that you’ll never burn it, you can make a horrendously large batch at once, you end up with concentrated coffee, it requires almost nothing equipment-wise and the coffee is far less acidic.

    The negatives are that there is quite a bit less caffeine in it and some coffee geeks will argue that the hot water is necessary to “activate” the coffee or something. Plus it takes about 12 hours to make coffee via cold brewing.

  35. This is my favorite way to make coffee — thanks for posting this.

    I think it’s the paper quality of the filters that’s key. They’re definitely thicker than Melittas but have a different texture as well, and very slow. I actually use a 5″ diameter glass funnel with a Chemex filter to make 2-3 cups most mornings, and have the 70s-style wood-handled 8 cup version.

    I’ve never weighed out beans to within 0.5 grams.

    For your coffee!

  36. I love the “pour in a circular motion”.

    I wonder if one gets better results when one crushes the beans with the flat side of a blade and pours clockwise once after pouring counter-clockwise seven times.

  37. Low tech.

    Grind beans, that you’ve kept in an airtight container in a cool place, preferably but not essentially using a burr type grinder. Use a hand grinder if you don’t have electricity.

    Put lots of ground coffee in a ceramic or glass jug. Heat water to just the point of boiling. Pour it in. Stir with a wooden spoon. Leave for a short while. Hit the jug with the spoon to take the grounds to the bottom.

    Pour into a cup. Use a nylon strainer if you can’t stand a trace of coffee grounds. Drink within three or four minutes.

    #24 SamSam

    The average British cup of restaurant coffee has been made for you by someone who drinks tea.

    If you come back I’d recommend Bar Italia in Frith St or Monmouth Coffee in Borough market.

    England is full of places with beautiful espresso machines, staffed by people who don’t know the water temperature (or any other part of the process including the quality and freshness of the beans) matters a lot.

    Where you found your nice cup of coffee when you got back to America beats me.

  38. No, you guys have it all wrong. You have to use a metafilter.

    But seriously, you’re worried about the environmental waste from using one 12×12 square of heavy paper per day? A sheet of paper that weighs maybe 5 grams? Talk about a first-world problem.

    Plant two trees. Now you can have your chemex filters guilt-free for the rest of your life. Think of it as a carbon indulgence, only for cellulose.

    Or, give up one Sunday New York Times. Presto – enough cellulose for a year’s worth of Chemex filters.

    – kabong

  39. i use my old style chemex every day.handles and spouts ruin the entire idea of a ultra simple coffee maker.the wide mouth is great for those “what planet i’m i on” mornings.get the cleaning brush and don’t let left over coffee sit in it.

  40. Confirming for #51 above that the music was by the Chicago-based marching band Mucca Pazza, specifically their song “Andalou Cöcek” from their CD “Plays Well Together”. for more details.

  41. @Piers W: Where you found your nice cup of coffee when you got back to America beats me.

    It’s funny that this stereotype of Americans exists, since there are more arrogant coffee snobs per square foot here (at least on the coasts) than anywhere else I’ve been in the world, including Italy.

    Even Starbucks, which is easy to mock, can be credited for spreading the idea of drinking Italian cafe latte outside of Italy — the bars you mention are almost certainly a result of this spread (I certainly remember the awful grey grounds in French presses in even the best London establishments 15 years ago).

    In the states (on the coasts at least) every neighborhood has at least three snobby coffee bars, each with some arrogant prick prattling on about the altitude of the plantations on Kenya or whatever. Recently I was told not to buy the fancier beans I was buying, because, since my Bialetti wasn’t going to be making enough crema, “there wouldn’t be any point, would there?”

    Fortunately, all these jerks are very capable of pulling excellent coffees, and the back rooms in the establishments know how to roast their own high-quality beans perfectly, so I can confidently say that I get consistently better coffee here than in the Roman bars I grew up on (and still visit on holidays).

  42. Well yes, I do remember a few pretty much ok places in Portland OR, Boston, and even Grand Rapids.

    Dayton OH, or Fort Worth, for example, not really.

    I was comparing what you said vis a vis England, the cup of coffee you get if you make the mistake of going in any old where and ordering a cup of coffee.

  43. @Takuan: “Still working on the ultimate cuppa joe: so far: styro cup, tap water from a rusty water heater, no name brand instant coffee crystals, edible petroleum whitener, saccharin, nuked in a microwave, cooled and then re-heated. Any suggested additions?”

    Add a cigarette butt or two and you’re in business.

  44. The coffee where I live in Belgium and France is typically weak and bitter — I’ll take Starbucks over it any day, and back in the States I’m an anti-Starbucks snob.

    Anyway, a couple of points about the Chemex: There is a definite difference in the filter, and you cannot just substitute a Melitta filter and get the same result. Chemex filters are impossible to find here in Belgium, so I have tried, and the coffee made with the Melitta filters in my Chemex pot was horrible. I switched to the press pot until I got more Chemex filters.

    And I have found that a Chemex pot can be left on a stovetop or hotplate at low temperature without cooking the coffee because the Chemex filters remove much of the stuff that goes bad at temperature and gives the coffee that cooked flavor. If you’re putting it on an electric stovetop or hotplate, though, you need a wire standoff to put it on or you risk breaking the pot. (It’s okay on gas burners and glass-top stoves without the wire standoff.)

    Finally, I’m surprised nobody mentioned that the Chemex pot is cheaper than most automatic drip makers — there seems to be an assumption that because it is loved by coffee geeks, it must be expensive…..

  45. I used to work at Starbucks back when they had real espresso machines that required tamping and adjusting the grind on the burr grinder. I’ve had coffee made using many different methods, and I’ve tried many different brands of coffee. I’ve had vacuum brewed, Clover, french press, moka pot, turkish coffee, drip, percolator (the worst). I’ve had pretty good coffee that came out of a vending machine in Germany, and I’ve had great espresso in Rome and Florence. Interestingly, I have made comparable espresso at Starbucks using a La Marzocco machine and Starbucks Verona blend (instead of the usual Espresso blend).

    Some of the best coffee I’ve ever had was coffee that I brewed for myself at home using the Chemex. I don’t usually drink Starbucks, I prefer coffee from a local roaster near where I live. Starbucks over-roasts their coffee, so it almost always lacks character and tastes a bit burnt.

    The Chemex filter is the key to the taste of the coffee, it has very fine porosity that is not available in other coffee filters. Somehow it seems to make the coffee less bitter by filtering out very fine particles of ground coffee (I’m guessing at how this works).

    You can’t use the Chemex filters in another type of cone-type brewer. Other cone-shaped filter holders have ridges that keep the filter from touching the inner wall of the cone. In order for the Chemex filters to work properly, they need to be in contact with the inner wall of the cone-shaped filter holder. I’ve tried using other filter holders and the water seeps through the side of the filter without first going through the coffee.

    So don’t be cheap, the Chemex isn’t all that expensive. For the price, the coffee is the best that I’ve had.

  46. what about the lab coffee brewing setup used in the current season of breaking bad, anyone tried to build something similar ?

    1. If you find that out, #65, please report :D
      That looked gorgeous, though complicated.

      Greetings from Old Europe ;)

Comments are closed.