The first time I laid eyes on the Chemex coffee brewer was in my friend’s apartment. My initial reaction was confusion: “a decanter for coffee?” I thought to myself. Well, turns out that decanting has nothing to do with it, and that would make sense given that the longer you wait to drink your coffee, the colder it’s going to get.
When I tried the coffee I was definitely impressed. Very little bitterness and incredible overall flavor. In comparison to my cheap plastic coffee filter cone at home, the Chemex seemed like a home run.
The Chemex Story
The first Chemex coffee maker was invented in 1941 by a German inventor named Peter Schlumbohm. Originally, the Chemex was more complex and consisted of a spout and handle. It was also actually intended for multiple purposes, one of which was laboratory filtering. What made this coffee maker unique to the rest was its proprietary filters and conical (vs. cylindrical) neck.
Today, the Chemex is not only displayed in kitchens worldwide, but also in a number of museums throughout the country. In Schlumbohm’s obituary, The New York Times declared the Chemex to be one of the 100 best modern devices. (source: Wikipedia)
This coffee maker has some cool history, but let’s get into the meat of this review. So without further adieu, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of the Chemex coffee maker.
Please note: Although we are reviewing this top rated coffee maker, we have no experience using it. Instead, we summarize all of the most helpful reviews on this coffee maker from around the web. We do our best to make our reviews completely unbiased, making sure to cover both the positives and negatives of every coffee maker we review. Visit our about page to learn more…or feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns you may have.
- Coffee tastes incredibly good (this is your chance to ditch the cream and sugar)
- Coffee is not bitter (or at least significantly less bitter)
- No coffee ground residue or sludge at the bottom of your cup
- Simple, elegant, and great-looking (this is the Apple of coffee makers)
- Easier to clean than you think (more on this later)
- Incredibly fragile (just like any test tube)
- Requires its own special, pricey, and difficult-to-find filters
- Steeper learning curve
- Slow and more “hands-on” brew (could be a benefit to some)
- Coffee cools quickly given the lack of a hot plate or insulated carafe
- Difficult to clean (wait! I thought you said it was easy to clean?)
Cleaning. An issue or what?
Amongst all of the consumer reviews we’ve read, this seems to be the most contentious topic. While some seem to think the Chemex is a breeze to clean, others didn’t hesitate to voice their frustrations.
Here’s the deal. You can get away with filling the Chemex with warm water (no soap), and swishing it around for a quick and easy clean. This suffices…at least up to a point.
That point is when the Chemex begins to leave a brownish (coffee-colored) residue on the walls of the carafe. “So scrub them away!” Right? Well, it’s not that simple given the fact that you can’t fit your hand inside the Chemex to scrub the interior walls of the carafe.
Fortunately, one user offered a brilliant solution: a baby bottle cleaner. It fits through the small opening in the Chemex, allowing you to scrub away at the walls when needed.
Another solution a offered was to use a little bleach with your warm water from time to time. This will keep your Chemex looking brand spanking new.
One more thing…if you plan to submerge your Chemex in a big bubble bath (or bubbleless bath), you should remove the wooden cuff around the neck. You don’t want water getting trapped between the wood and the glass, because that could turn into griminess in the long run.
Slow brewing issues?
While this is a more time consuming brewing process, many users reported a much longer (and messy) brewing experience. The conclusion we’ve drawn as that this comes down to technique, which ties in with this coffee maker’s steeper learning curve.
While finer coffee grounds tend to be appropriate for this coffee maker, if they are too fine the brewing process will take longer than it should.
Watch the video below for a great tutorial on how to brew coffee in your Chemex. This should get you brewing at normal speeds.
About the coffee filters
The Chemex uses its own coffee filters. Unfortunately, these aren’t available at your Safeway down the street, so the best place to shop for them is probably here (affiliate link). The price isn’t terrible at about $8 for 100 filters, it’s just inconvenient to order online if you suddenly find that you are out of filters. So plan ahead here!
Now you might be wondering: can I use non-Chemex filters for my Chemex? Of course you can, but your coffee won’t taste as good. The Chemex filters are an important aspect to this coffee maker. They are heavier, unbleached, oxygen-cleansed (ok ok, I don’t know what that means), and stronger. They filter out more of the stuff you don’t want, and are a critical component to preventing the coffee’s bitterness.
Experienced the Chemex for yourself?
We would love to hear your thoughts on the Chemex below. If there were a top rated manual coffee maker we could buy today, it would be this one. It is absolutely a can’t fail choice despite its drawbacks. Thanks for reading and please let us know your thoughts!