The Chemex coffee machine is a beautiful piece of engineering. Brought to life by German expatriate inventor Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, whose many design innovations, described by him as “Beautilities,” focused on reducing a product to its most essential parts and eliminated unwanted complications.
Based on long-lasting experimentation while Schlumbohm was working in his lab on refrigeration techniques, the glass-bulbed Chemex was finally patented in its current form in 1941. The lab influence is easy to see: outside of the kitchen the Chemex coffee brewing system could easily be a piece of a science experiment, the only thing it's missing is graduations along the side.
Wartime America was the perfect place for Chemex coffee brewing to take off, as production of the device required no rationed raw materials and was very simple to use. The popularity of Chemex coffee brewing continued to blossom in the 1950’s, climbed to prominence in the 60’s and 70’s, even making its way into James Bond’s detailed coffee brewing peculiarities. The Chemex movement eventually plateaued and now maintains its popularity among a dedicated coffee community even today.
How does Chemex coffee brewing work?
At it’s heart, the Chemex coffee brewing system is a traditional drip coffee machine. Only minus the machine!
You will need the Chemex coffee brewing maker (5 cup model in this example), a patented Chemex coffee filter (designed specifically for the maker), and a supply of your favorite coffee freshly ground using the medium-fine setting on your grinder. A few friends to watch you work might also be fun, as one of the big benefits of the Chemex is the visibility of every part of the coffee brewing process!
Chemex Coffee Brewing
Measure 4 cups of water into a stovetop kettle or other device. Start preheating your water to an operating temperature of about 195 to 200 degrees.
While the water is heating, you can practice folding your Chemex filter into a cone, which will sit at the top of the carafe and hold the coffee while you pour the water in.
Once you’ve added the filter, take some of your hot water and use it to completely moisten the filter. This is to both condition the filter, as well as preheat the carafe. Dump out excess water before you start the next step.
Measure out 2 tablespoons of your ground coffee into the moistened filter.
Pour a small amount of water into the filter to moisten the grounds. Try to cover the coffee evenly, allowing no dry spots and staying away from the edges of the filter. Let the wet coffee mixture sit in the filter for 30 seconds, allowing the ground coffee to “bloom.”
Pour the rest of your hot water into the filter, starting at the center and moving in a spiral motion out to the edge. You should run out of water before reaching the paper filter edge.
Wait another 2 to 3 minutes for the Chemex coffee brewing to finish, exiting the filter into the bottom of the vessel. Lift out the filter/grounds and throw them away.
Now you can pour and enjoy your delicious (and somewhat time-intensive) Chemex-brewed coffee!
Chemex Coffee Brewing: Further Reading
For more reading on Peter Schlumbohm’s life and designs, the best resource we’ve found is this incredibly detailed article at Collector’s Weekly It includes both the Chemex coffee brewing system, as well as a treasure trove of period advertising to really appreciate the full 1950’s Chemex zeitgeist.read more