I had been living off of bad coffee for two weeks. Motel coffee. Rest stop coffee. Instant coffee, usually mixed on the trunk of my car with cold water and a plastic spoon—the consequence of a cross-country move. One of my first purchases after settling into my new home was designed to erase the taste of those dozens of crappy cups: the Classic Chemex coffee maker.
I had alternated between a French press and electric drip coffee maker for years, but had long wanted to try the iconic pour-over brewer. It surpassed expectations. The Chemex quickly became my favorite way to make coffee at home and an item I widely recommend.
In this review, I’ll go through the reasons I love the Chemex, brewing tips I’ve picked up, and even some drawbacks to know before buying.
Let’s start with this question, though:
What is a Chemex?
A Chemex is a pour-over style coffee maker that brews manually. No electricity needed. The device was invented in 1941 by chemist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm and gained popularity for its stylish-yet-functional design, along with the flavor clarity of its coffee. Decades later, the design has remained unchanged: a glass flask with a wooden collar and leather tie. Simple. Eye-catching. Effective.
Chemex Classic Series Coffeemaker
Produces rich, flavorful coffee
Looks great on a counter
Chemex Bonded Filters are specifically recommended
Why I love my Chemex
My appreciation for the Chemex starts with taste—the best praise I can give any coffee maker. The Chemex produces a “clean” cup of coffee, meaning little to no sediment or unwanted oils and a lighter mouthfeel. This opened a world of flavors that I was missing with a French press and drip machine, as both tend to brew coffee that’s bold, but not as dynamic. The Chemex is especially good at accenting bright and lively notes in coffee beans, such as citrus, honey, or stone fruit.
The ability to distinguish flavors in a cup is called “coffee clarity,” which is where the Chemex truly shines. The first analogy that comes to mind is that Chemex coffee is like a fruit salad, while generic coffee is like a fruit smoothie (bear with me). With Chemex coffee, individual flavors stand out more, like eating strawberries or grapes one at a time in a fruit salad; with generic coffee, the flavors are still there, but they blur together, similar to a smoothie. A Chemex certainly isn’t the only way to make tasty coffee with a lot of clarity, but I’ve found it to be the best method for me and one that I can easily and consistently recreate every day.
Tips for brewing tasty Chemex coffee
There was a short spell of trial and error when I first used the Chemex, on par with any new brewing device. It took maybe four or five batches before I locked in the routine I like best.
Here are the steps:
1) Place a paper or reusable filter in the Chemex. If using paper, open the filter with three layers on one side and one layer on the other. The side with three layers of paper should be placed against the spout.
2) Heat water to 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
3) Rinse the Chemex filter with water to avoid any papery taste in the coffee. This also pre-heats the glass to keep the coffee hot longer.
4) Scoop coffee grounds into the filter. I use 80 grams of medium-coarse ground coffee and 40 ounces of water, which is on the stronger side. (Remember, coffee companies are sneaky and consider a cup to be 5 ounces instead of 8 ounces. My “8-cup” Chemex only has a 40-ounce capacity.)
5) Pour a small amount of water over the coffee grounds until they are gently and evenly saturated. Wait 30 seconds before pouring more water. This key step in the brewing process is called coffee blooming, and it gets rid of extra CO2 in the coffee grounds, leading to a richer, tastier cup.
6) Pour water until the Chemex is full or at the desired level, and enjoy.
Is it worth the hassle?
Many people may avoid the Chemex because it requires more time and effort than an electric coffee maker, and it can appear daunting. The first part is true: It takes me at least five minutes from putting the kettle on to the first sip of coffee, sometimes longer. The biggest hassle is that water has to be poured several times in small amounts, otherwise the filter will overfill and make a mess. The Chemex is also hard to clean by hand unless you have a bottle brush, but note that it’s dishwasher safe after removing the wooden collar.
The last part, however, about how daunting the Chemex appears, I have not found to be an issue. Those new to non-electric coffee makers may go through a slightly longer trial-and-error process, but once I figured out the steps I like for the Chemex, I’ve never made a bad batch. The Chemex is an approachable and relatively affordable way to make café-quality coffee at home, and it has become an indispensable part of my daily routine.
Capacity: 40 ounces | Weight: 1.1 pounds | Dimensions: 5.25 x 9 inches | Materials: Borosilicate glass with wooden collar and leather tie | Warranty: None
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Derek Rose is a writer and teacher living in Seattle, Washington. He has been the Coffee and Tea Expert for The Spruce Eats since 2019. His work has also been featured in Atwood Magazine and the Albany Times Union, and his fiction has appeared in Sixfold, the Atticus Review, Sink Hollow, and Potluck Literary Magazine.