The Chemex Coffee Maker Review: Is It Functional…or Just Stylish?
Given the hype explosion over the past few years, you may think that pour over coffee is a recent fad, but you’d be wrong. Among manual drip coffee makers, there is only one that has truly withstood the test of time: the Chemex, an icon of mid-century modern design for more than 70 years.
But do people only buy it for its style, or can it brew with the best of them? Without wasting any more time, let’s get straight to my Chemex pour over review to see if this is the right brewer for you.
The Chemex ‘In a Nutshell’
The Chemex pour over coffee maker is one of the world’s most widely recognized pour over coffee makers, and can be found in most coffee and kitchen stores. This brewer has a double-whammy reputation as both a beautiful kitchen tool and a high-quality coffee maker, and is a near-perfect balance of aesthetics and performance. The Hario V60 may be the most popular pour over coffee maker, but the Chemex is likely the most popular coffee maker of all classes.
With a wide range of size options and two different styles to choose from (the all-glass Chemex Handblown vs. the Chemex Classic series) the Chemex can satisfy just about any appetite.
Handled properly, the coffee it makes is smooth yet full of flavor. YES – it does take some practice to get used to, but its coffee making abilities are a match for even the best pour over pros.
- Timeless, classic design
- Available in 3 to 10 cup sizes
- Brews clean, rich coffee
- Borosilicate glass can shatter
- Doesn’t keep coffee hot
- Proprietary filters can be hard to find
Things to Consider Before Buying a Drip Pot Like The Chemex
Drip coffee often gets a bad rep for being “weak” in comparison to its très fort cousin espresso. And though that may be true at your local Waffle House, a proper drip pot brew is nothing to joke around about.
A drip pot is essentially a pour over dripper combined with a carafe. In other words, it’s pure brilliance. With a few minor variations, depending on your choice of drip pot and what fineness of ground coffee they prefer, they operate just like any standard pour over brewer: heat water (either on the stove or in an electric kettle), carefully pour hot water over the coffee grounds, and in a few minutes you’ve got fantastic coffee.
Pour over coffee makers are ideal for someone who likes manual drip coffee, but is looking for more of an all-in-one package. Because they often come in larger sizes than most pour overs, they are also great for someone with a few more mouths to caffeinate.
If you are looking for a quick, no-fuss coffee maker, then a drip pot like this one is the wrong choice! Though they are easy to use, they require a bit of patience and attention. Instead of a drip pot, consider an automatic dripper or a French press.
But…there is no coffee like clear, clean, pour over coffee. It will change your mornings; it’s a ritual that leaves you with magical tasting coffee.
PRO TIP: if you’re still set on drip pot coffee, there are a few things you should keep in mind while shopping: How much coffee can it make? How difficult is it to use? How much maintenance does it need?
The Chemex Coffee Maker Review
Pour over coffee may have only recently become popular, but the Chemex Classic Series has been around for more than 70 years. It was invented by research chemist Peter Schlumbohm (1), and has remained virtually unchanged ever since. Considering that it is still regarded as one of the better pour over coffee makers, its age is a testament to its genius design (2).
[Schlumbohm’s] chemistry background provided him with a solid understanding of how coffee extracts. He drew on this to create thick paper filters that […] keep bitter elements, oils, and grounds out of your cup.
It’s shaped like an oversized hourglass, with the dripper cone sitting directly above the coffee reservoir. Though its design may seem simplistic, each aspect serves a specific purpose: getting a deep, rich coffee taste into your cup (and your mouth).
This glass coffeemaker is great for someone who enjoys manual coffee, but if you are looking for a no-hassle coffee maker, then the Chemex is not the right choice for you (consider something simpler, like a French press). It can be a little finicky, making it a challenge for the pour over beginner. But with some practice, anyone with a little patience (and some skill with a hot-water kettle) can master the process.
Aesthetic Appeal: 5/5
Do you have any modern art in your house? If not, here is a simple solution to that problem: buy a Chemex. Though that may sound like a cheesy ad tag line, I assure you that its hand-blown beauty is more than opinion, it is established fact. This fancy pour over is on permanent display in New York’s Museum of Modern Art (3).
Got any arty friends who like coffee? There isn’t a more suitable gift.
This is a coffee maker you’ll want front and center in your kitchen. Its design is part playful, part modest, yet 100% functional. Like a third-wave Swedish coffee house, it just oozes minimalist utilitarianism.
However, a pretty coffee maker that can’t brew good coffee is no more than a dust collector. Luckily, the Chemex is more than decorative – it can produce some of the most delicious coffee your tongue has ever had the privilege to meet (which I’ll get to in just a bit).
No matter how large your coffee needs, Chemex has got you covered. With these coffee makers, you have the choice of either a 3-cup, a 6-cup, an 8-cup, or even a 10-cup brewer.
Note: Chemex uses a 5 oz. standard for their “cup” sizes, so for some people (Americans in particular), the 10-cup brewer may brew only 8 cups.
Apart from the 3-cup, each model uses the same proprietary Chemex filter, which significantly cuts down on the number of Amazon returns and makes your life a little easier. You also have the option to use either their oxygen-cleansed white filters (no bleach), their natural brown filters, or their reusable cloth filter.
Once you’ve decided which size coffee maker best suits your needs, you can then choose between two different styles. The style most people are familiar with is the Chemex Classic series, with a wooden collar tied around its waist by a leather cord. The combination of glass, wood, and leather is what makes this model such a classic.
The other style, the Chemex Handblown, is made entirely from borosilicate glass. Instead of a wooden corset, this model has a slim glass handle that arches from the top brew cone down to the coffee container, making this version great for the die-hard minimalist.
And if all those options aren’t enough to satisfy your craving for personalization, there are also numerous accessories to choose from that match its iconic design.
Ease Of Use: 3.5/5
The Chemex shares one important design feature with the Hario V60, one of pour over coffee’s most famous coffee makers. Just as with the V60, at the base of the dripper cone is a wide opening.
Other pour over brewers have certain barriers to restrict water flow, like a series of small holes in the base or a cloth filter, but the Chemex has no such barriers.
This large opening is one of the biggest reasons the Chemex makes such tasty coffee.
The large opening in the Chemex places more emphasis on other variables like pouring and grind size to control water flow. This means that you have a bigger say in the quality of coffee than you would with other coffee makers.
This feature also gives the Chemex more flexibility. By altering the other elements of your process (in particular, grind size), you can tailor each brew to bring out the nuances of different roasts.
But there’s a tradeoff: this feature can make the Chemex a little unforgiving, especially for novices to the pour over game. Learning to perfect your brewing process with this coffee maker is going to take some practice and experimentation (get a coffee journal if you don’t already have one).
Read more: how to use a Chemex.
Though it may take some extra time on the clock to master, the Chemex can produce a well-rounded cup of coffee that brings out subtle notes hidden in your coffee beans.
As a last note on usability: the hand-blown Chemex Classic Series is not dishwasher-safe (even if you remove the leather and wood collar). However, a quick rinse in hot water immediately after brewing your coffee is usually all you need, with the occasional scrub with mild dish soap and a soft-bristled brush.
Brew Control Ability: 4.5/5
Let’s cover that half-point deduction right now: the Chemex uses proprietary, double-bonded paper filters which are thicker than any others we’ve tried (and we’ve tried a lot of filters). On the one hand, thicker filters slow the drawdown, which helps extract tons of flavor when you brew coffee. They also filter out some of the polyphenols, the components of brewed coffee responsible for bitterness. These Chemex filters contribute to the deep, rich coffee flavor the Chemex is known for.
So why do we dock this beauty half a point? The Chemex brewing process isn’t designed to produce the same scintillating, bright flavors that you can get with a Hario V60. If third-wave African and Central American light roasts are your thing, the Chemex will probably not give you all the pyrotechnically bright fruit flavors that you crave. Remember, the Chemex was designed 25 years before the start of second-wave coffee in 1966; the third wave wasn’t even on the horizon (4).
What can you do to control the way your coffee tastes? As with any coffee maker, ratio and grind size still give you a ton of control over what comes out in your cup. As a basic Chemex coffee review, you can make good coffee at any coffee-water proportion fairly close to the SCAA’s “golden ratio” of 55 grams/liter; the slow drawdown and large central opening work to your advantage, with good (and normally fairly high) extraction levels no matter what ratio you prefer.
But the most important way to tweak the brewing process is grind size. Chemex recommends a medium-coarse grind for brewing coffee. We find that 37% of the way to the coarser side of center on our Capresso is a good solution for, say, a natural-processed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe: it still yields that heady, intoxicating blueberry aroma in the cup, but it doesn’t taste (as a friend once said) like somebody dissolved a blueberry Pop-Tart in the coffeepot.
The flip side? If you like dark-roast coffee, the Chemex will take you to a whole ‘nother level. That thick paper removes much of the bitterness associated with something like an Italian roast, and what it does to a mushroomy, umami-rich Sumatran French roast is little short of magic.
If the Sith had an official coffee, it would be French roast in the Chemex. #darkside
On a cold, rainy morning, I like to brew a pot of dark-roast coffee with the grind dialed to medium-fine. The finer grind use not only extracts more flavor from the coffee during the longer brewing process, but it also fills the pointed part of the filter cone with grinds, which slows the drawdown even more. The result is something almost as rich and full-bodied as you’d get from a French press or Moka pot, but with the crystal-clear character of pour over.
One final note on brew control: many people make cold brew coffee and filter it through a Chemex once it’s steeped overnight in a Mason jar. We made cold brew this way over the summer, and the coffee was every bit as smooth and rich as expected, resulting in a cold-brew concentrate that was delicious once diluted to drinking strength (about 2:1 for our specific cold-brew batch). Just be sure to rinse your Chemex filter before you pour the concentrate through it. (Interested in cold brew? Read our guide and recipes here.)
This one’s easy: in either the Classic or Handblown designs, the Chemex is big, and it’s fragile. The borosilicate glass used in its construction is great at resisting thermal shock as you heat it up before and during brewing. But sadly, we’ve determined on more than one occasion that the Chemex doesn’t bounce, nor does it repel kitchen implements that happen to fall on it.
I can’t imagine packing a Chemex in anything other than a moving van for a cross-country relocation. Carry-on? Not a chance; checked baggage is even more frightening to consider. For camping or travel, we love the Moka Pot (which has the added bonus of not requiring filters) or an insulated French press pot that doubles as a travel mug (ditto).
As with that special feeling of returning to your own bed after a long journey, coming home to the Chemex is part of its charm.
As we were recently reminded after the curious event of the colander falling directly onto the only borosilicate glass object on the kitchen counter, the Chemex isn’t cheap. But neither is that natural Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, y’know? As I like to say, there are things you save money ON, and things you save money FOR. And on a cost scale that ranges from “picking wildflowers on a walk through a meadow” to “buying vintage Italian racing cars,” specialty coffee is a great value.
Still, for a fraction of the cost of a Chemex, you can enjoy the bright, sparkling flavors that a Hario V60 yields. It’s all about finding the flavor you like.
In the world of coffee, nothing is one size fits all and this definitely applies to the Chemex. For one person, the Chemex may be the best thing since sliced bread. But for someone else, it may be a waste of money.
So which category do you fall in?
DO NOT buy the Chemex if:
- You want a quick, no-fuss coffee maker – It’s all about the process. You have to love the journey as much as the destination. If you’re the type of person who just wants your damn coffee right now, the Chemex will frustrate the hell outta you.
- You prefer strong tasting, highly textured coffee – The Chemex brews a beautiful black filter coffee. Some say it’s almost like wine. But if you’re the type of person who loves a strong shot of espresso, no filter coffee is going to give you what you want. Consider something like a French press.
- You’re not willing to learn – The Chemex has a learning curve, so don’t expect to brew a 10/10 coffee on your first try. If you want that, try something like the Clever Dripper.
3 Alternatives to The Chemex
Though it is the oldest, the Chemex isn’t the only drip pot coffee maker. If this coffee maker doesn’t yet have you convinced, take a look at some of the other options.
Three drip pot brewers you may want to consider instead of the Chemex are the Hario Woodneck, the GROSCHE, and the Walkure.
The Hario Woodneck
The Hario Woodneck looks a lot like the Chemex, but it has one big difference. Unlike the Chemex, the Woodneck uses a thick cloth filter that hangs from a wooden handle. This filter creates a full bodied coffee that is surprisingly clean, and though you can buy cloth filters for the Chemex, they aren’t quite the same.
The Woodneck is a little easier to use than the Chemex, but its filters require special storage that may be annoying to some.
You may think yourself lucky with two different style options for the Chemex, but the GROSCHE gives you three choices, each very different from the other. It follows the same basic shape as most drip pots, but with more allowance for personal expression.
The GROSCHE also uses a unique metal mesh filter which does a great job of filtering out fine particles of ground coffee while allowing oils to pass through. It requires a tad more pour control than the Chemex, but can produce a flavorful cup.
If attractive design is the biggest box on your checklist, then the Walkure drip pot is worth a closer look. There are two different models: one is meant to look more classic, the other more modern.
Each is 100% ceramic, including the filter, and produces a remarkably complex and clean cup of coffee. Each part of this drip pot was carefully thought out, and it is a great brewer for both the beginner and professional alike.
No other pour over brewer has been around as long as the Chemex coffee maker. Its timeless design has lasted not only because is it a pretty sight, but because the Chemex is also a damn fine brewer.
It is a flexible coffee maker that allows you to perfect each step of your process. With a range of different models to choose from, including the all-glass Chemex Handblown with its arc-shaped integral glass handle, plus a number of accessories, it allows you to tailor each brew to your specific tastes. Once you settle on the right level of medium-coarse ground coffee, you can enjoy something truly special.
It’s an essential weapon in any home brewing fanatic’s arsenal. If you don’t own a Chemex, you are not a true home barista. If my Chemex pour over review has you convinced, and think this classic is perfect for you, click here to check it out.
- Oatman-Stanford, H. (n.d.). Mr. Chemex: The Eccentric Inventor Who Reimagined the Perfect Cup of Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/mr-chemex/
- Fernando. (2019, January 15). Melitta, Chemex, & More: A History of Pour Over Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2019/01/melitta-chemex-more-a-history-of-pour-over-coffee/
- Peter Schlumbohm. Chemex Coffee Maker. 1941: MoMA. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.moma.org/collection/works/1847
- The History of First, Second, and Third Wave Coffee. (2018, June 8). Retrieved from https://www.craftbeveragejobs.com/the-history-of-first-second-and-third-wave-coffee-22315/