So, you need to figure out how to use a Chemex. Maybe you already took the plunge, got rid of your French press, and have this trendy coffee carafe sitting on your counter. Or maybe you’re ready to buy a new coffee maker, and the Chemex is at the top of your wish list — if only you knew how it worked.
Well, don’t worry. We won’t let the Chemex confound you any longer. In this brew guide, we’ll show you how a Chemex differs from other coffee makers, and we’ll explain how to use it step-by-step. From the supplies you need before you start to the simple process for brewing Chemex coffee, this is how to use a Chemex to make a perfect cup.
How Is a Chemex Different From Other Coffee Makers?
The Chemex was originally designed by a chemist, Peter Schlumbohm. He made the coffee maker by putting together two different pieces of lab equipment — a glass funnel and an Erlenmeyer flask.
But while it may sound like a scientific advancement, the design isn’t exactly revolutionary.
Essentially, the Chemex is a carafe with a pour-over coffee maker built into the top. If you don’t own a Chemex coffee maker, you can recreate the experience by placing a pour-over coffee maker on top of a glass pitcher or stainless steel thermos. The Chemex brewing process (which we’ll explain below) is exactly the same as the brewing process for pour-over coffee.
However, true Chemex devotees will tell you that, unlike the pour-over, the unique shape of the Chemex helps aerate the coffee — similar to how a decanter helps aerate wine. Aeration exposes different flavor notes.
With a Chemex, you also get a second pour. You pour the coffee once when you brew it. Then, you pour it a second time from the carafe into your cup. This second pour also helps aerate the coffee and bring out those tasting notes. With a pour-over coffee maker, you don’t get this second pour because you brew coffee directly into your cup.
A Chemex can also be a better choice if you’re making coffee for a group because you can make multiple cups of coffee at a time. However, you can also do this with a pour-over and a pitcher.
And like a pour-over, the number of cups you can make will depend on the coffee maker’s size. You can get everything from a one-cup Chemex to a 10-cup Chemex — just like you can get everything from a one-cup pour-over to a 10-cup pour-over.
Making Chemex coffee (or pour-over coffee) is a little more involved than making drip or French-press coffee, but it’s worth the effort. If you master this coffee making technique, you can make a seriously smooth cup of coffee.
How to Use a Chemex Step-by-Step
Unlike a drip coffee maker, where you can set it and forget it, a Chemex is more of a handmade-with-love process. You’ll need some supplies in addition to your Chemex and coffee beans, and you’ll need to warm up your wrists — you’re going to do a slow pour.
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
Here’s what you need before you start, plus our tips for getting the best results out of all your gear.
- Chemex coffee maker: Again, if you don’t own a Chemex yet, you can also do this with a pour-over coffee maker and a pitcher. Pour-over coffee makers are relatively common, so you may be able to borrow one from a friend if you want to experiment with this technique before you commit to a Chemex.
- Ground coffee: The best coffee comes from fresh ground coffee beans, so we recommend purchasing whole beans from your favorite coffee roaster and then grinding them at home in a burr grinder or coffee grinder. With a Chemex, you should use a medium to medium-coarse grind size. A coarse grind will be too large and will lead to weak coffee while a fine grind won’t let water easily flow through. Choose a light or medium roast coffee for the best flavor.
- Coffee filters: You can buy Chemex filters, which are paper filters sized to fit perfectly into a Chemex coffee maker. If you want to use standard grocery-store filters, you’ll need to pair them with a metal coffee filter to get the right fit with the Chemex. We don’t recommend using a metal filter without a paper filter because it allows grounds and oils to sneak through.
- Electric or stovetop kettle: A gooseneck kettle will make it much easier to slowly pour the water, and timing has a big effect on flavor. We recommend the Hario v60 Drip Kettle or v60 Power Kettle. However, for your first time trying this technique, any kettle will do. You can even use a saucepan to warm your water, but you may want to transfer your hot water into something with a pouring spout before you start.
Those items are the absolute essentials, but you may also want to consider these three things for the most precise brew.
- Kitchen scale: Any electric kitchen scale will do. Using a scale will help you get the perfect coffee-to-water ratio, and you’ll know exactly when to stop pouring.
- Timer: The timer on your cell phone, microwave, or oven will work fine. Timing has a big effect on flavor. Using a timer will help you get more consistent results.
- Filtered water: Filtered water will give you the best flavor because it doesn’t contain any of the heavy metals often found in unfiltered tap water.
Step 2: Get Ready to Brew
- Place a filter in the top section of your Chemex coffee maker (or place it in your pour-over coffee maker and place the pour-over over a pitcher).
- Heat your water to between 195 and 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature is just below boiling water.
- Before you add coffee grinds to your filter, first pour hot water down the sides of the filter to help it stick to the sides of the Chemex.
- The hot water will filter through the filter into the carafe. Swirl it around to warm the Chemex, and then dump it out.
- Add your coffee grinds to the filter.
Tip: The amount of coffee you need will depend on the number of cups you want to make. To make one cup of coffee, you’ll use 14 grams of coffee grinds for every 237 grams of water. If you’re not using a scale, you’ll use two tablespoons of coffee for every cup of water.
These ratios make one cup of coffee. Multiply these numbers by the number of cups you want to make. Keep the capacity of your Chemex in mind so you don’t overflow the carafe.
Step 3: Bloom the Coffee
Blooming helps make coffee less acidic and gives you a better brew. When coffee blooms, it releases CO2 stored in the beans. That CO2 is replaced by the water in your grinds. As this happens, the grinds will start to grow and swell.
To bloom your coffee, you’ll:
- Place your Chemex on a kitchen scale if you’re using one, and press tare. This will help ensure that you get the perfect water ratio throughout the entire brewing process, not just the bloom.
- Slowly pour water over the coffee grinds in a circular motion, starting from the center and moving outward. Make sure to wet all the grinds, including around the edges of the filter.
- Use just enough water to soak the grinds. Then stop pouring.
- Wait 30 seconds while your coffee bubbles and expands.
Step 4: Brew the Coffee
Now, you’re ready to brew. As you brew, try to keep your water stream as small as possible. A slower pour will give you better flavor. You’ll also take breaks as you pour, so your brewing process will look like this:
- Set a timer for three minutes. Try not to complete this process before the timer runs out. In other words, take your time — a longer brew leads to better flavor.
- Again start in the center of your coffee grinds and pour your water in a circular motion, soaking all the beans. Use about one-quarter of your water on this pour.
- Wait 45 seconds to one minute for the water to drip through.
- Pour more water over the grinds, working in a circular motion from the center outward. Use one quarter of your remaining water.
- Wait about 30 seconds.
- Repeat steps four and five three more times until you’ve brewed the coffee for the entire brew time, and you’ve used the total amount of water for the number of cups you’re making.
- Discard the coffee filter and coffee grinds.
Step 5: Enjoy
Congratulations! You’re ready to drink your first cup of home-brewed Chemex coffee. If you’re planning to enjoy a cup now and a cup later, we recommend transferring your extra coffee to an insulated thermos. The glass Chemex carafe isn’t designed to retain heat. You can, however, place the Chemex carafe in the fridge and reheat your extra cup later or turn it into iced coffee.
You can prepare your cup of coffee just like usual, adding cream, sugar, or flavor syrups. Though, you may find you need less cream and sugar than you would with drip or French Press coffee. The Chemex brewing process makes an incredibly smooth cup. Enjoy!
From Chemex Coffee to All Your Coffee
Now that you know how to use a Chemex, you’re on your way to becoming a coffee connoisseur. And at Cup & Bean, we know a little something about that. We’re obsessed with coffee, and we spend our time analyzing every aspect of this delicious brew.
Whether you want to learn how to make coffee in a few other ways, like in a drip coffee maker or a French Press, or you want to find the best way to make flavored coffee, we’ve got all the tips you need. Plus, we have guides to the best beans from every coffee producing region — from Brazil to Bali. Explore your favorite beverage at Cup & Bean.