The Chemex vs Kalita Wave – The Manual Drip Coffee Maker Showdown
You can’t possibly have enough room for all of the coffeemakers and tools you need on your countertop. With limited shelving real estate sometimes you need to find something that is not only easy to use but also looks beautiful on display.
Today we will have two of the most aesthetically pleasing drip brew methods going toe to toe for the prettiest and most functional coffee maker available: The Kalita Wave vs Chemex.
Both the Kalita Wave and Chemex are pour over brew methods that use paper filters to extract a delicious cup of joe.
According to Specialty Coffee Consultant Scott Rao in his book ‘Everything But Espresso’ paper filtered pour over brewers are advantageous because they will produce a cup with very bright nuanced flavors and less "mouthfeel" or chewy texture in your coffee.
The Kalita Wave Dripper
The Kalita Wave is by far one of the easiest pour over brew methods available. It is widely praised by coffee professionals for its accuracy and consistency in a cafe setting.
It’s different than most pour over drip methods because instead of a conical shape the wave features a flat base with three holes evenly separated for a more even extraction.
It also uses thin paper filters that look similar to ones used in standard coffee pots.
The glass Chemex is by far the most aesthetically pleasing brew method available on the market. This cannot be argued as it is the only brew method located in the New York Museum of Modern Arts permanent collection.
It was also chosen by the Illinois Institute of design as one of the 100 best-designed products of modern times. Its sexy, nobody doubts that.
One of the unique aspects of the Chemex is that it’s created from a single piece of hand-blown glass.
The only accessory to the glass vessel is usually a wooden grip placed around the neck and delicately held in place by a wooden dowel and leather cord. Simple and elegant (and it makes a damn good drip of coffee, too.)
The Showdown: The Kalita Wave vs Chemex
Although both of these coffee makers are stylish and definitely interesting pieces for your home coffee making collection, let’s see how they compare in their quality of their brew.
Since they are both drip coffee makers, we'll simply put them head to head in two areas: consistency (how easy it is to make the same great tasting brew) and ease of use.
Note: Grind will be moderately fine on the Chemex and less fine on the Kalita Wave as it has a thinner filter and drips slower due to the flat design. If you have a decent grinder however, you’ll be fine.
1. Consistency (of Achieving a Great Brew)
There is nothing more frustrating than learning the ropes of a new brewing method but getting different results each time.
It all comes down to a range of factors in the end, however the better the coffee maker, the easier it will be to achieve a consistent brew.
The standard pouring method for both the Wave and Chemex is a clockwise pour starting from the center of the grounds and moving outwards slowly till the water is completely drained. This allows for an even extraction and minimizes the risk of channeling through the conical filters.
A variation on the clockwise rotation pour is the zig-zag method. Favored with the Kalita Wave, this process requires a brisk side to side movement of the spout to evenly saturate the coffee grounds.
When pouring in the Kalita Wave you will see that, because of the small holes at the base, the water will fill up rather quickly and require that you will periodically have to wait to continue pouring.
On average you will have to fill the Kalita Wave up to the brim about three times for a full extraction. This will make you worry about too much agitation, but the pausing and refilling don't adversely affect the flavor in any way.
Pouring the right way with the Chemex will leave you with a very unique and flavorful cup of coffee however, if you move too briskly or don’t pour in an even circular movement, you’ll notice uneven extraction and bitter coffee notes.
We’ve also got to mention the risk of channelling here - something that a lot of drip based or pour over brew methods suffer from. It happens thanks to uneven channelling of water through the grounds when pouring, and it leads to an inconsistent taste from cup to cup.
Water, when poured too quickly or unevenly, will seep through grounds leading to over extracting some grounds and under extracting others. That "chalky" description you get from coffee stems from this issue.
You’ll more likely experience channelling with a Chemex vs a Kalita dripper due to the cone like shape of the filter. Keep and eye on it.
WINNER: The Kalita Wave takes the cake here as it’s a very forgiving brew method due to its ingenious flat bottom design. Instead, of the coffee dripping immediately out at one point, the grounds become submerged, and the coffee is evenly extracted through the three-point bottom.
2. Ease of Brewing
You’ll find that the Chemex comes with square paper filters that when folded out, are huge making you feel like you have to practice origami to fold it correctly and prepare it for brewing.
When placing the filter into the Chemex, you must make sure that the thicker folded side (with three layers) is placed over the spout as close to even as possible. This will help prevent any channeling that can occur and will assist the filter maintain its conical shape. The pouring of water requires an attentive eye and a steady and controlled hand.
You will find and be pleasantly surprised that the filters for the Kalita Wave are easy to insert and easy to prepare. You will notice that there is less fidgeting of the filter and will sit in place evenly and maintain its structure as you prepare your coffee.
Winner: When you are looking for an easy brew method for your morning coffee situation the Kalita Wave is the better choice. With it's easy to use filters and its brewing forgiveness, it is the easier to use method when you are not fully cognizant.
The Chemex is aesthetically pleasing, creates a fantastic cup of coffee, and is an all in one brew method and serving carafe that impresses guests. Add to that the accessories you can buy, like handblown glass cups and water kettles, you will definitely have an impressive countertop piece.
The Chemex is ultimately for the process loving coffee enthusiast. If you find satisfaction in delving deeply into the coffee making ritual than a Chemex fits your personality.
When looking for a good morning get up and go type of brew method, the Kalita Wave is easy to set up, easy to pour, and super forgivable. As a bonus, the design of the wave is such that it is an easy method to throw in a bag and take with you to work. You can also make the Wave without the use of complex tools like a spouted kettle or scale.
So there you have it – the Kalita Wave vs Chemex dispute has been cleared up and you can enjoy your morning brew of drip coffee knowing you made the right choice!
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