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Coffee Hall of Fame: The Chemex

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Coffee Hall of Fame: The Chemex

Paul Haworth

The Chemex is an icon in the coffee community. As a brew method, it delivers one of the most clean coffee extractions possible. In addition to this, it carries a great legacy as a device that symbolizes the mid-century American sensibilities of minimalist design and wartime conscience. Easy to use and aesthetically suited for entertaining, the Chemex should have a place in every coffee lover's home.

Bauhaus Design

During the rise of Hitler and his National Socialism, a great diaspora took place from Europe to the U.S. which brought with it (among many things) the peculiarities of design from the Bauhaus school. A hallmark of this was found in what came to be known as 'mid-century modern'—a celebration of basic materials used in a responsible and human-centered way. MCM has proven to be quite timeless in its appeal and will likely be with us for some time in the form of furniture, architecture, and day-to-day utilities. The minimalist form of the Chemex is a great example. The hourglass shape with glass and wooden construction is so simple and still so elegant.

Wartime Materials

When our nation entered the second world war, it became every citizen's responsibility to cooperate with the effort in whatever way possible. The patent for the Chemex was actually filed in the US (by a German expatriate) before our entrance into the war, and initially garnered a very niche appeal. It was after the Museum of Modern Art published an article referring to the Chemex as a 'useful item' during wartime that its popularity truly began. With its 'non-wartime materials' (no metal, no plastic), the glass device fit the bill perfectly.

chemex-moma

Cover of the December 1942 MOMA magazine highlighting the Chemex

Taste the Difference

Beauty aside, what differentiates this method from others in terms of cup quality is its filter. The Chemex brand filter is very thick and absorbent, allowing no undissolved particles to pass through while also providing a slower 'drawdown' (speed the coffee flows through its filter) and subsequently enabling full extraction. There just isn't another method that produces the same type of clarity with such ease. For guides on proper brewing with the Chemex, look online or head to your local roastery for advice or a demonstration.

Designed For Sharing

You will discover that the Chemex is well suited for sharing. The ideal batch size (unless you are using the less common pint-size Chemex) is at least two typical coffee servings. There really aren't many better ways to start a morning than sharing coffee with a friend or loved one; this only gets better when the coffee is brewed with confidence, using a beautiful and timeless tool to craft the experience.