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The Art of Chemex

The Art of Chemex Image

Monday, February 20, 2012

Nikki Halverson, Customer Service All Star

You might be asking yourself, "What is the Peace Coffee crew doing brewing coffee with glass lab equipment?" This is the Chemex! All the rage back in the 1960s and '70s, this stellar piece of brewing equipment is back.

Chemex’s history goes back to 1939 when Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D (1896 - 1962), designed the Chemex. Born in Germany and a graduate of the University of Berlin, he moved to New York City in 1936. Dr. Schlumbohm held over 3,000 patents (the Chemex patent was awarded in 1941) and was very familiar with laboratory apparatus and the methods of filtration and extraction. He combined his glass funnel and his Erlenmeyer flask and further modified it by adding an "air channel" and a pouring spout. The wood collar was also added as a stylish heat absorber.

The filters are the other part of what makes the Chemex brewer special. Chemex filters are 20-30% heavier than standard filters and remove even the finest sediment particles, as well as the lipids (oils and fats) that are a natural constituent of coffee. Unlike other drip brew filters, which are flat bottomed, the Chemex filter is cone-shaped, which regulates the infusion time by regulating the filtration rate. This yields a richer flavor, while at the same time the thicker paper filters out particulates that are responsible for undesirable bitterness.

In 1956, the Chemex was selected by the Illinois Institute of Technology as one of the best-designed items in modern times. It is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City, the Smithsonian, the Philadelphia Museum and the Corning Museum, NY. It has been recognized as an outstanding example of American Design.

With recommendations from our head roaster, Derek, I tested three different roasts of coffees with the Chemex. First, I brewed the Guatemalan Light Roast. The resulting cup had medium body with a nice mouthfeel. The honeyed flavors of the cup stood out more than any other.

Next, I brewed the Bolivian that we're currently roasting. The resulting brew was noticeably paler than the Guatemalan and had a really light, clean mouthfeel. The nut flavors of the coffee came through the most, reminding me of good almond butter.

The final and most surprising coffee I brewed was the Sumatran Italian. While I am generally a light roast kind of girl, the Sumatran Italian poured out clear and clean, since all of its characteristic oils were filtered out. I was left with an awesome cup that tasted like smoky molasses, and not the more bitter flavors that generally seem to dominate my experience when I drink dark roasts.

If you have not had a cup from a Chemex, I highly recommend it. And the good news is that we now have them for sale on our website and at our coffee shop. So don’t take my word for it — try it for yourself!  Top Photo: Hagley Museum and Library

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