Coffee Maker Quality10/10
Ease of Use6/10
- - Coffee tastes incredibly good after a bit of practice with the grind
- - Coffee has little bitterness
- - No coffee ground residue or sludge at the bottom of your cup
- - Simple, elegant, and great-looking (this is the Apple of coffee makers)
- - Easier to clean than you think (more on this later)
- - Made in the USA (Glass is now sourced from Taiwin and Croatia)
- - Fragile
- - Requires its own filters that are more expensive than your typical paper filters
- - Takes time to dial in on the right grind
- - Slow brew
- - Coffee cools quickly given the lack of a hot plate or insulated carafe
- - Filters leave paper residue test without a thorough pre-rinse
The first time I laid eyes on the Chemex coffee brewer was in my friend’s apartment. My initial reaction was confusion: “a decanter for coffee?”
Well, turns out that decanting has pretty much nothing to do with it, and that would make sense given that the longer you wait to drink your coffee, the colder it’s going to get.
When I tried the coffee I was definitely impressed. Very little bitterness and a nice rich flavor. In comparison to my cheap plastic coffee filter cone at home, the Chemex seemed like a home run.
The Chemex Story
The first Chemex coffee maker was invented in 1941 by a German inventor named Peter Schlumbohm. Originally, the Chemex was more complex and consisted of a spout and handle. It was also actually intended for multiple purposes, one of which was laboratory filtering. What made this coffee maker unique to the rest was its proprietary filters and conical (vs. cylindrical) neck.
Today, the Chemex is not only displayed in kitchens worldwide, but also in a number of museums throughout the country. In Schlumbohm’s obituary, The New York Times declared the Chemex to be one of the 100 best modern devices. (source: Wikipedia)
This coffee maker has some cool history, but let’s get into the meat of this review. So without further ado, here are both my written and video reviews.
Cleaning. An issue or what?
Amongst all of the consumer reviews I’ve read, this seems to be the most contentious topic. While some seem to think the Chemex is a breeze to clean, others didn’t hesitate to voice their frustrations.
Here’s the deal: you can get away with filling the Chemex with warm water (no soap), and swishing it around for a quick and easy clean. This suffices…at least up to a point.
That point is when the Chemex begins to leave a brownish (coffee-colored) residue on the walls of the carafe.
“So scrub them away!” Right? Well, it’s not that simple given the fact that you can’t fit your hand inside the Chemex to scrub the interior walls of the carafe.
Another solution a offered was to use a little bleach with your warm water from time to time. This will keep your Chemex looking brand spanking new.
One more thing…if you plan to submerge your Chemex in a big bubble bath (or bubbleless bath), you should remove the wooden cuff around the neck. You don’t want water getting trapped between the wood and the glass, because that could turn into griminess in the long run.
Still, you can remove this collar by un-tying the leather belt on the collar.
Slow brewing issues?
While this is a more time consuming brewing process, many users reported a much longer (and messy) brewing experience. The conclusion I’ve drawn as that this comes down to technique, which ties in with this coffee maker’s steeper learning curve.
While coarser coffee grounds tend to be appropriate for this coffee maker, grind your beans too finely and the brewing process will take longer than it should.
Made in the USA?
While there is conflicting information everywhere about whether the Chemex is made in the USA or not, here is the answer directly from the horse’s mouth as of 10/28/2015:
“The glass for the Chemex brewers are currently being sourced from Croatia and Taiwan. The filter paper is still being manufactured/produced here in the NE of the USA. The leather tie is also sourced in the USA, as well our wire grid and brush.
In Chicopee, MA we inspect and hand tie all of the Chemex brewers. We manufacture the filter paper here in Chicopee as well.”
So yes, it’s not 100% USA made considering the glass is sourced from abroad.
About the coffee filters
The Chemex uses its own coffee filters. Unfortunately, these aren’t available at your Safeway down the street, so the best place to shop for them is probably here. The price isn’t terrible at about $8 for 100 filters, it’s just inconvenient to order online if you suddenly find that you are out of filters. So plan ahead here!
Now you might be wondering: can I use non-Chemex filters for my Chemex?
Of course you can, but your coffee might not come out as good. The Chemex filters are an important aspect to this coffee maker. They are heavier, unbleached, oxygen-cleansed (ok ok, I don’t know what that means), and stronger. They filter out more of the stuff you don’t want, and are a critical component to preventing the coffee’s bitterness.
Experienced the Chemex for yourself?
I would love to hear your thoughts on the Chemex below. If there were a top rated manual coffee maker I could buy today, this would be at the top of the list. It is absolutely a can’t fail choice despite its few drawbacks.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts!