I love coffee. And my taste in coffee is simple: I like good, robust, American coffee. Black. I drink almost a pot of it every day. Since I started drinking it in college, I’ve used almost every method available for making it, starting with a Black & Decker cup-at-a-time maker with a reusable filter that my dad bought me for my freshman dorm. Since then, I’ve had a Mr. Coffee, a Braun, a rather involved Krups with a timer that greeted me every morning with a fresh pot, and an old-school Farberware percolator (my favorite of all the plug-in methods).
Then, about 16 years ago, while visiting my friend Janis Siegel in her apartment, Janis made me some outrageously delicious coffee. I noticed she was pouring it out of this glass decanter that looked like an oversized chemistry beaker wearing a wood turtleneck. Not only was it some of the best coffee I’d ever had, I thought the beaker was one of the chicest designs I’d ever seen gracing a kitchen. My coffee-addicted heart has been Chemex’s bitch ever since.
The Chemex was invented in 1941 in New York City by a German-born chemist named Peter J. Schlumbohm. This beautiful and simple coffee maker is made of heat-proof, laboratory grade, borosilicate glass with a wood handle tied to the neck with a leather strip. No plug. No electricity. It’s a work of modern art… literally. (It’s part of the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Smithsonian and the Corning Museum.)
When I start pouring the boiling water over the grinds, the aroma that fills the kitchen is intoxicating. Ever the multi-tasker, I get my morning news blast from NPR or BBC News as I continue dripping the water over the grinds to make a full pot. About ten minutes later, I’m slightly better informed and I have a freshly-brewed carafe of sensational coffee. The first sip of the first cup? Sublime.
I enjoy about three small cups to start the day, leaving my 40 oz. Chemex carafe about half full. One of the benefits of the Chemex is that direct heat never touches the carafe. It’s never “cooked” on a warming plate, which can make the remaining coffee taste stale or burnt. With a Chemex, I can reheat a cup in the microwave later in the day, and it’ll taste like it was just brewed.
An alternative to the microwave re-heat is to pour the freshly brewed carafe into my trusty Thermos, which keeps coffee piping hot for many hours. Added bonus there? Energy saver, of course. And that Thermos is another design icon that will never go out of style.
On summer afternoons, I’ll sometimes pour the room-temperature dividend over ice and enjoy a delicious iced coffee. Whichever way, it’s a fantastic way to enjoy incredible coffee – my way – without waiting in line and blowing $13 every day at Starbucks.
But the Chemex is not for everyone. This is no automated situation geared toward the lazy man, like one of those highly-produced setups that grinds your beans, makes your coffee and babysits your kids on a timer. No. Coffee by Chemex is a decidedly tactile pour-over experience for those willing to invest themselves and their love of good coffee in the process. One has to boil the water in a kettle, then drip the boiling water over the grinds by hand until a full carafe is made. From boil to brew, the whole process takes about ten or twelve minutes. Some guys just might not be willing to go through all of that. But in my highly digitized life, it is a meditative, analog ritual I thoroughly enjoy.
Chemex, its bonded filters and other Chemex accessories are manufactured in the U.S.A. (western Massachusetts, to be more exact).
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