Chemex Brewing Guide: Instructions, On How To master This Brewer

You could make coffee a cup of coffee like any average joe, or you could be a caffeinated Jedi and learn how to brew coffee with a Chemex. Trust us, you want to do the latter. However, learning how to brew with the Chemex requires a guide, and we’ve got you covered here step by step!

The Interesting History of the Chemex

Dr. Peter Schlumbohm was the chemist who graced the world with the Chemex in 1941. Dr. Schlumbohm went against the grain of the mid-20th century by inventing a new product based on elegance and simplicity instead of complexity and flashiness. He managed to invent the Chemex using just a single hour-glass shaped flask of glass and a paper filter (1). 

Chemex place setting

Regardless of whether you’ve known about the Chemex for ages or are just now wanting to brew your first cup with it, it’s something of an art and a science. If you still haven't gotten your hands on this elegant pour-over coffee gear, you can read our Chemex review here.

But if you already have one (i'm assuming you do) here’s how you can make coffee amazing friggen pour over coffee with the Chemex.

What You Need

These are the bare bone requirements needed to brew great coffee with a Chemex. Please note that this recipe makes 6 cups!

an illustration of the basic things you will need to use to learn how to use a chemex
  • A Chemex 
  • A Chemex filter (for this article we’ll go with the traditional Chemex circle filter)
  • A pouring kettle (go for a gooseneck…it’s worth it!)
  • Coffee grinder
  • Whole coffee beans
  • Water
  • A timer 

Chemex Instructions: 5 Steps

You have everything you need, now follow these simple steps:

1. Get The Right Grind

Proper starting grind for Chemex

It’s not enough just to have “ground coffee” for your Chemex. “Ground” is a very subjective term for particles that could vary in size from the chunks you see in rock salt to the fine dust of powdered sugar. Learn which grind size works for what brew method in this article.

If you're using a Capresso Infinity grinder as used for this photo, start out two clicks to the right of center and adjust to taste. Finer grind = bolder flavor; coarser grind = sweeter coffee.

The right grind for the Chemex is medium-coarse: somewhere between the size of sea salt and regular sand.

Grab a grinder of your choice (burr grinders are usually recommended for a Chemex), and grind 50-57 grams of coffee to medium-coarse. Don’t worry if it takes a few attempts to get it right.

Pro Tip: There’s no shame in actually getting out a container of sea salt to put by your grinder for reference! 

2. Fold your Filter

Filter orientation

Make sure the channel at the left is clear - otherwise your coffee will bubble over

The Chemex style of folding the coffee filter throws people for a loop more often than not. It isn’t necessarily rocket science, but it is different than the average filter you throw into the top compartment of your normal countertop coffee maker. They’re unconventional, but their double bonded paper filters are key to a well extracted cup of coffee with less bitterness (2).

Chemex paper filters are 20-30% heavier than other filters so they retain more of the suspended oils during the brewing process and solids cannot pass through the filter. - The Perfect Daily Grind

The traditional Chemex filter comes as an unfolded circle. Simply fold the circle in half once, so it looks like a half moon. Then, fold that half moon in half again. Now your filter should look like a triangle with a curved bottom base made up of layers.
Look at the layered side of your triangle and separate the 3rd and 4th layer with your fingers and open them up. You should now have a cone filter in front of you with one side made of a single layer of paper and the other side having 3 layers.

Of course, you can also find pre-folded Chemex filters in square as well as round. These greatly simplify the morning ritual (to my mind, an essential part of any task which, of necessity, precedes the consumption of coffee).

Place the filter into the top of the Chemex with the 3-layer side along the spout of the Chemex. This is extremely important for ventilation and extraction, so don’t overlook it!

Rinsing your filter is essential to ensure a quality cup of coffee. Once you’ve placed the filter in the Chemex, run some of your boiled water through it before you add the coffee. (To become a Chemex Jedi master, work on doing the rinse and pour in 30 seconds, and you'll let the water come to the right temperature without wasting time.)

Don't forget to drain the excess water. It’ll keep the paper taste from your coffee as well as seal the filter to the Chemex.

Rinsing the filter

Be sure to get all the water out after rinsing. And take a whiff - you'll never skip this step again. 

3. Reel In Your Ratio

Coffee ratio

Nailed it.

At this point, you’ve got your medium-coarse ground coffee and your layered paper filter primed and ready in the Chemex. The only thing left is to dump in some coffee and pour, right? Not quite! You’ve still got to hone in the most important element—the coffee to water ratio.

The general rule of thumb is to add two tablespoons for every one cup (6 fluid ounces) of water (3). Some people recommend adding one additional tablespoon for every cup afterwards, but it’s really just a matter of preference. Two tablespoons per cup is still a safe bet if you prefer stronger coffee. 

Pro Tip: Consistency is the key to great coffee, and for that, you really need a scale. The Specialty Coffee Association of America's "golden ratio" says 55 grams of coffee per liter of water is just the ticket. 


4. Pour Water

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for! Add your ground coffee to the Chemex filter, according to the amount of cups you want to make and the ratio above, and add the proper amount of water. 55 grams of coffee and 1 liter (1000 grams) of water is a good ratio for the 6-cup Chemex, yielding enough coffee for two thirsty people. Let the water stand for 30 seconds after it stops boiling before pouring - this will get you within the temperature of 195-205 F (90-96 C) for best extraction.

Now, start your timer! For your first pour, just wet the grounds evenly (if you're brewing on a scale, add about twice as much water, by weight, as you have coffee). Let them stand for 30 seconds. This is called blooming: it releases carbon dioxide from the grounds, as well as a great aroma (4). It also primes your coffee grounds so that they will extract more evenly and more fully.

The bloom

The bloom - and watch those grounds swell...

For your second pour, work slowly from the middle, pouring in concentric circles working outwards towards the edge of the Chemex. Keep the water level just barely below the top, and keep in mind your exact pour time will vary depending on the amount of coffee you’re making. 

First full pour

Start in the center to break the "crust" on the bloom, then spiral outwards

The goal during this pour is to sink all of the grounds on the surface of the bed. This creates a gentle turbulence that “stirs” the coffee…” - Blue Bottle Company

A 6-cup Chemex recipe requires spreading your pours out over a 2:30 span, for a total brew time of around 5 minutes. Obviously if you’re brewing less coffee, you’re looking at a far smaller window. 

Another rule of thumb: if you're brewing a 1-liter pot of coffee (for guests, or for two people in serious need of caffeination), observe the little belly-button on the front of the Chemex. It's there as a guide: when you see the coffee at the top of the button, add one final pour to the top of the filter cone, and you'll be within a few grams of the perfect 1-liter pour. (And when you really, really need that first cuppa, this is much easier than counting grams or seconds...)

Chemex coffee brewing

When the coffee level hits the top of the belly button, add water to the top of the filter cone and you're right at 1 liter of deliciousness

Be comfortable with experimenting and fine-tuning your pour method. Mastering the Chemex means embracing both the art and the science of the process. 

5. Enjoy!

Chemex pour

When all is said and done, and all your water has successfully drained through the filter, discard the filter, pour the coffee, and enjoy a finely-brewed Chemex -  you've earned it!

If you're interested in learning more about this style of coffee, read our pour over beginners guide, otherwise, we have a whole library of brewing guides here.

FAQs

How do you make Chemex coffee stronger? 

You make Chemex coffee stronger by adjusting your coffee-to-water ratio and by fine tuning your grind size. The SCAA's "golden ratio" of 55g of coffee per 1 liter of water is a great starting point for the ratio. As for grind, a difference of two or three steps towards the finer end of your grinder's range should make a noticeable difference in strength. 

How do you make coffee in a 3-cup Chemex?

You make coffee in a 3-cup Chemex using the same method as outlined above, just with different amounts of coffee and water.  25 - 27g of coffee and 500ml of water are a good starting point for a 3-cup Chemex.

How much water do you put in a 6 cup Chemex?

The amount of water you put in a 6-cup Chemex, if you're making a full pot, should be just about 1 liter. This yields plenty of coffee for 2-3 people - about four 8-oz cups. And if you're using the "golden ratio," this makes the math easy: grind 55g (about 2 ounces) of coffee for 1 liter of water and you're, well, golden.


References

  1. Oatman-Stanford, H. (2013, October 04). Mr Chemex: The Eccentric Inventor Who Reimagined the Perfect Cup of Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/mr-chemex/
  2. History. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/gallery/album/history
  3. How to Brew Coffee. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.ncausa.org/About-Coffee/How-to-Brew-Coffee
  4. Brewing 101 With Chemex. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.chemexcoffeemaker.com/brewing-product-care-instructions
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Alex
 

Alex is the Founder and Editor of Homegrounds.co. He is passionate about brewing amazing coffee at home, and teaching others to do the same.

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