Thing of the Week - The Chemex

My kitchen has an absurd number of implements for making coffee. I’ve got my automatic Cuisinart (which I love for the insulated carafe), an Italian moka pot (takes me back to my travels in Europe), a French press (the only way I made it through college) and of course a cappuccino machine that is jammed into the back of my cupboard. Each creates a slightly different cup. At this point, I’m standing by the Chemex as the best contraption…if you want to take the time.

The Cuisinart

The Cuisinart Grind and Brew is a solid day to day coffee pot. Having the ability to just dump the filter, pour in water and push the Program button to have fresh ground coffee in the morning is great. I’ve got a couple of beefs with this thing though. The grinder is incredibly inconsistent. What ends up in the filter basket is too course for the drip method and there are fine grounds that need to be cleaned out of the hopper each time that you add beans. There is also the issue of the filter itself. It’s a flat bottom contraption instead of a cone, which I think is inferior. I also have a suspicion that the boiler doesn’t heat the water enough…a common complaint over at the Amazon reviews. The combination of these three things means that you don’t really get that strong of a cup and you go through tons of beans.

Back on the positive side of things, having a thermal carafe makes all the difference in the world. Without a heating element and with great insulation you can make coffee at 5:30 and still have piping hot coffee at 11:00 without any degradation in flavor.

All in all, though, it’s a great everyday machine but not something you want to use for that extra special batch of coffee that demands some attention.

The Italian Moka Pot

This little guy is nice if you’re in the mood for espresso, but don’t want to drag out the gigantic espresso machine that’s in your cabinet behind the hand blender and the stand mixer. When I was in italy’ this is how all the espresso we drank was made so there is a lot of nostalgia associated with it. It’s easy to clean, but doesn’t crank out a lot of volume making it impractical if you’ve got guests. Over time, you’ll probably accumulate some calcium deposits in the lower unit which means it has to be replaced after a while. On the upside it doesn’t take up much room, and looks nice enough to leave on the stove all the time and makes a great cup of espresso.

The Espresso Machine

The staple of the 1990s kitchen is a workhorse that probably should be relegated to storage depending on how much counter space that you have. I’ve got one, but it probably hasn’t come out of the cupboard for a few years because of how easy the Italian pot is. On the upside, it will steam milk but it’s a hassle to clean once you start down that path.

The French Press

The French press is probably my second favorite method of making coffee. It’s always nice and strong and extremely convenient. I wont drink that garbage that comes out of a Bunn-o-matic so in college I used nothing but a press. The traditional size makes enough for two people and takes under 10 minutes to make. Clean up is a huge pain, though, and the coffee can sometimes be overly acidic. That second cup probably has sat in the beans for a while resulting in over extraction and you’re guaranteed to have a little grit in the bottom of each cup. Not that this is always a bad though. It’s part of the experience.

Overall, this comes in at a close second.

The Chemex

I picked up a Chemex for my wife to filter her cold-steep coffee just a few weeks ago. Little did I know that this would emerge as my favorite coffee implement. I also bought one for my dad for fathers day, and his reaction was probably typical.

Making coffee with a Chemex isn’t a quick affair. I made a batch this morning and it took about 20 minutes for four large cups of coffee. But much like the extra time it takes to use a charcoal grill instead of a gas unit, it’s worth spending the extra time. The coffee is strong, but has no bitterness or acidity. While you’re watching the water flow through, you can see the stuff that typically ends up in your cup being trapped by the grounds and the filter. The end result is every bit as good as the French press, but without the downsides of cleaning (just drop the filter in the compost bin) or the unwanted acidity and grit.

I figure my ratios with a food scale based on one of the many tutorial videos I found online. 33 grams of beans to every 15 ounces by weight of water is almost perfect for my tastes.

I worked from home one day last week, and while I was going through email I made about 60 ounces of coffee and tossed it into the thermal carafe from my Cuisinart. It was fantastic.

Is this something I make every day? Nope…decent bean juice can be had with no drama every day from the Cuisinart. Coffee from the Chemex is good enough to be enjoyed early on a Sunday morning along with a weeks worth of articles saved to Instapaper or a copy of the Economist.