Better Home-Brewing, Chemex Edition

Our 50 oz. Chemex, in all its beauty

Our 50 oz. Chemex, in all its beauty

In our opinion, the best brewing method for experiencing beans as they were meant to be enjoyed. The amount of control you have over water temperature, brew speed, and water placement makes for a killer cup if you have a little methodology under your belt. 

So, here's a tutorial. This is a basic pour-over that can easily be adapted for a  single-serve V60 pour over as well. 

First, get your water heating. 

A teakettle with that long, snakey spout is optimal for water control and brew speed. Really, if pour overs become your favorite brew method, you probably want to consider investing in one at some point. We love our electric version (which is available on Amazon) because water temp is simple to monitor, but if the price deters you, they also make a much cheaper stovetop version.

(Really, any tea kettle will work; I'll give modified instructions for a tea kettle with a regular spout once we reach the pour part. It's a lot harder to get an even brew, but we made do with a regular tea kettle for a year, until Ryan very generously got Rebecca this beauty for her birthday.) 

Optimal water temperature is 208 degrees Fahrenheit. This is hot enough to extract the oils from the grounds, but not hot enough to be boiling and muddy the flavors. If you're using a stovetop method, 208 degrees is just before the water boils at 212 degrees. 

A note of interest: Most conventional coffee makers aren't able to heat water to this point. This is one of the reasons a pour-over method does better justice to your beans' potential. 

Second, wet the filter. 

Put a new paper filter in the top of your lovely Chemex. Notice that the side of the filter with multiple folds is on the side with the spout. This is important for stability. Pour a bit of hot water evenly onto the sides and bottom of the filter. This rids the filter of the trace amounts of paper taste it can lend to your coffee and also heats up the Chemex, preventing premature cooling. This step can be done while your water is heating; it doesn't have to be a perfect temperature. Just pop the teakettle back onto the heat source to continue heating once you're finished.

Be sure to pour the water out of the Chemex before continuing. 

Third, grind your beans. 

You'll want to wait for this step until JUST before your water is hot enough to begin brewing. Remember the post on grinding? Your grounds have lost quite a bit of their magic even 30 seconds after grinding, so wait until you're ready to brew. 

Aim for a coarse grind. On our burr grinder, we turn the dial all the way to to "coarse" end on the right. Here's a sweet visual cheat sheet from Primer Magazine: 

Aren't they good at design? Wow.

Use one rounded tablespoon of grounds per 5 oz. of water you intend to use. So, for our 50-oz. Chemex, we use ten rounded tablespoons of grounds if we're making a whole pot, and five if we're making half a pot. 

Fourth, dump your freshly-ground beans into the prepared filter. 

Use a spoon to gently make a small hollow in the very center of the grounds. This will allow the water to flow through the grounds more evenly. 

And now, with your water at 208 degrees...

...You're ready to start brewing! 

Fifth, make it bloom! 

Pour just enough water to make the grounds wet evenly over them. Pour in circles, slowly, alternating big and small circles to keep the brew as uniform as possible. Don't pour too close to the edge of the grounds, or the water will simply take the easy route down the side of the filter instead of running through the grounds. Leave a tiny ridge of grounds undisturbed around the perimeter. 

Don't overdo this part. After one or two passes, as soon as the grounds are wet, stop pouring

And look at that bloom! The higher and more active the grounds rise and "breathe", the more CO2 gas is escaping. This is a beautiful sight for two reasons: 

1) CO2 presence is an indicator of bean freshness. 

2) CO2 is crucial in aiding the transfer of the flavor oils from the grounds into the liquid you're now calling coffee. 

Let the grounds bloom undisturbed for 30 seconds. This, we think, is the most magical part of the brewing process. As the CO2 escapes, the most complex, delicious notes of the beans are released. If you rush the blooming process, you'll miss out on the best notes in your final cup. 

Sixth, continue pouring. 

If you're not using a scale and tracking water content (which we aren't fancy enough to do at home, yet... and Rebecca misses the sweet digital scale she used at work), the rule of thumb is to not pour faster than the coffee is exiting the bottom of the filter. Keep up the even circle motion, alternating large and small, and take your time. If you're pouring too fast, the flavor will fall a bit flat and boring in your mouth. Patience is definitely the key here, and it absolutely pays off. 

If you're using a tea kettle with a conventional spout, you'll find it's pretty hard to control the water flow and placement. Just do the best you can, trying to aim for a different spot in the grounds each time, flood the grounds with as little water as possible, then stop and wait for the coffee stream to slow before repeating the process. 

Seventh, remove the filter. 

Once you've used the amount of water you've intended to, stop pouring. Wait just a bit for the coffee stream to slow, and remove the filter. Don't wait until the coffee stops dripping. The most acidic notes are extracted toward the end of the pour, and if you allow all of the end stuff to drain into your Chemex, you might end up with a sharp taste that masks some of the complexities and awesomeness. 

Eighth... ENJOY! 

Include your favorite mugs in the experience, of course. Pop the little glass lid onto your Chemex, if you have one, to keep the coffee hot as long as possible. 

If you're like us and make way too much coffee, you can stick the cooled (make sure it is cool, so as not to break the glass) Chemex into the fridge, then reheat it on the stovetop without changing the flavor much at all. If you have a glass-top stove, you can put the Chemex directly onto the burner. If you have coil burners, you'll need a stainless steel wire grid between the Chemex and the burner to keep it from breaking. 

Thanks, Andrew, for asking your question and giving us reason to write this post. To address your question specifically, yes. It's possible to brew a full 50 ounces in this size at once. If your teakettle is too small to hold 50 ounces of water, you may have to take a quick break mid-brew and heat up more water. We often make partial batches, but this size is great because you have the option of making a whole lot of coffee... A nifty feature for coffee parties. :) 

And there it is, folks! Our very favorite brewing method. We'd love to hear your results, experiences, and questions!