Your Coffee Maker Has Failed You Up Until This Point

Your coffee maker has failed you.

And, in turn, you have failed your coffee.

You’ve been handed a gift. Coffee beans are from MOTHER EARTH. The Earth pushed them up out of her body for you, and you’re just taking them and, and — what? Pulverizing them in the mouth of a golden retriever with halitosis. Then running them through some stanky drip coffee makes you bought from a flea market for like, seven bucks and is full of insidious black mold. Or, gods, worse, you’re using one of those K-Cup things. Those were invented for people whose tastebuds were destroyed in the war. You know what’s in a K-Cup? Coffee from the Soviet era. Limestone driveway gravel. Pubes from raccoons who died in housefires. If you’re going to drink coffee from K-Cups, you might as well eat grass-fed beef out of a dirty gym sock, or drink Lagavulin whisky after it’s first been passed through the intestinal tract of a sickly flamingo. It’s gross.

You’re just… you’re just bumming the rest of us out.

It is time to fix this. Time to pay your coffee the respect it deserves, a respect it rarely gets with Starbucks out there charring every bean that comes through their door with a flamethrower.

It is time to meet my new friend, The Chemex.

After doing a hasty and lazy read on the history of the Chemex pour-over coffee carafe, I learn that it was invented during World War II and was used as a weapon against the Nazis. Each soldier was given a Chemex when they stormed the beaches of Normandy. Why? Ah! Because the glass bell of the hourglass-shaped Chemex would take the lasers from the Nazis’ ultra-pistols and reflect them back at the bunkers and —

*is handed a note*

Okay, I’ve just been informed that this is all sheer conjecture.

We can’t say for sure that the Nazis had laser pistols and —

*is handed a note*

We can say for sure?

*one more note*

FINE, the Nazis didn’t have laser pistols, whatever.

Point is, the Chemex is awesome and has been around for a good long while. Invented in the 1940s, it now sits in various museums as an example of elegant design and stylistic function. It is also the preferred coffee maker of James Bond. True story.

I decided to check out the Chemex because my current drip maker — a very solid entry from the fine folks at Cuisinart — makes a nice and reliable cup but also seems to lose a lot of the powerful differentiation between beans and roasts. I could buy great quality beans and it would still make roughly the same cup of coffee as a meh-ehh-whatever quality of beans. Light roasts tasted only marginally lighter than medium or dark roasts. Minimal complexity.

Plus, I also learned that my burr grinder — a “Tru” grinder — was labeled a burr but wasn’t actually a burr grinder. (A burr grinder is a series of gnashing burrs plucked from the hide of a forest-trampling grizzly bear and — *is handed a note* — okay, never mind, that is not accurate.)

I’ve always been a half-a-coffee snob, and so I thought maybe it was either time to commit to the snobbery or just bury myself in a giant K-Cup and get it over with. The problem is, to be a full-bore coffee snob might seem at first to be a rather costly endeavor. A quality burr grinder will cost you the innocence of a small child plus a bag of two-headed kittens. A really great drip machine or espresso machine is the same price as a military-grade hovercraft.

I’m a coffee snob, but also occasionally kinda cheap.

Er, “frugal.”

Research showed me a couple things, though:

First, some cheap coffee makers were available. French press, which I already owned (and liked, though my grinder never got the grind right because hey oops my grinder was some Jawa-rigged rust-bucket bean-chewing droid that turned some of my coffee into boulders and some of it into microscopic dust particles). Then: the Aeropress, which was a sort of rocket-scientist version of the French press. And finally:

The Chemex.

Next problem: the grinder.

I saw some folks recommend a hand grinder for something that was cheap and simple and kept a fairly consistent grind. The downside being, hey, you’ve gotta actually put some sweat equity into riding that sweet caffeine-horse to coffee-town.

I went ahead and got a Chemex, an Aeropress, a Hario hand grinder, a Bonavita electric kettle with the swan neck, and a digital scale. I nabbed this from La Colombe, who threw in a bag of coffee.

SO BEGAN MY ASCENT TO SUPERIOR COFFEE SNOBBERY.

Because what happened was, I made one cup of coffee using the Chemex.

And I got the best cup of coffee I’d ever made.

Perhaps the best cup I’d ever consumed.

Here’s how I explain it —

You know how, when you open a bag of coffee, it has that heady, potent, magical smell? And you know how, once you grind that coffee, the smell only intensifies? And your nose detects a wealth of little eccentricities in the ground beans: coffee and wine and smoke and cherry and the sweat from an electrocuted man and a dreams of a sleeping blue whale and the earthen grave-loam of a dead god’s burial mound? And then you brew the coffee and almost all of that is completely lost? Submerged in a wash of straight-up coffee taste? Tang of bitterness?

This was the first time I’d ever brewed a cup that tasted like the beans smelled.

I couldn’t believe it. It was a coffee revelation. Angels descended. They karate-kicked me in the mouth, which gave me 10,000 new tastebuds. They sang songs of Panama, and Haiti, and Guatemala. They replaced my blood with Kona coffee. They made love to me.

It was a very meditative experience, actually. Soothing. Hand-grinding. Pouring the water in slow, deliberate spirals. I felt more involved, more active. I liked slowing it down. Watching all the processes happen. Fascinating stuff.

It’s not a joke when I say I haven’t used my drip maker since.

Mornings for me are either Chemex or Aeropress — the latter making something akin to an espresso pull (sans any kind of crema), the former being a straight-up killer cuppa coffee.

So. Chemex. Try it.

How I Brew It

You’d think there’d be one way to make coffee in this very simple maker, but that’s not true. For every user of the Chemex is, I suspect, a slightly tweaked snowflake method of brewing coffee with it. This is evidenced by the many brew guides and brew videos on the web — each slightly different than the one before it. I thought I’d detail my brew method below, which hews pretty close to the standard but offers one or two notable tweaks.

Fill the kettle halfway with tap water. Boil it. Make it bubble with watery rage.

Get your Chemex. Get your Chemex filter, which is a thick, surly filter — so potent that if you filter blood through it, it allows only the victim’s fear and illusions to seep through into the carafe. That’s some motherfucking forensic science right there, homesauce.

Pour the boiling water through the filter. Wet the sides so it sticks to the glass. You’re saying, HA HA STUPID WENDIG YOU FORGOT THE COFFEE to which I respond by misting you in the eyes and mouth with Axe Body Spray as punishment for your insolence. The goal here is to remove any papery taste from the filter, to help the filter stick to the carafe, and to warm the carafe.

Now: pour into the kettle 20 oz. of good filtered water. That’s two and a half cups.

Time to get out the scale. Put in some kind of container (a glass dish, the grinder container, a lemur skull, whatever) and tare it out. Apply beans until you get to 40 grams. This is roughly like, 2-3 tablespoons, but every bean is different so — eh? USE A SCALE, YOU SAVAGE.

Set your grind to be medium to coarse. Somewhere in the middle.

A moment, now, about bean selection. I get my beans at present from La Colombe, but I also tried a sample from Tonx recently and the beans they sent were aces. For the Chemex I like a lot of light-to-medium roasts. Anything too aggressive is best for the Aeropress, I think.

Grind your coffee. In the grinder. Not under your boot like some kind of thug. Not in your mouth. Not between two bricks. In a good grinder. Hand grinder. Burr grinder. That’s it. You get one of those regular stainless steel grinders for seven bucks, it’s gonna scorch the beans and give you an inconsistent grind and also it’ll kill ten puppies. Maybe eleven. It’s not math, it’s dark magic, so you just don’t know how many puppies will die because of your poor choice of grinder.

Boil the 20 oz. of water.

Take the Chemex and empty the water you put in there originally — you can just pour it out because the pour-groove isn’t covered by the filter. You think, “Oh, jeez, if I tip the pitcher, the filter’s gonna fall out,” except it won’t. Because of miracles. And probably science.

But mostly miracles.

Water should be boiling. Stop it from boiling.

Now: put your ground beans in the filter.

Once the water has cooled down a bit — say, 30 seconds after the boil — you want to pour just a little water over the grounds to wet them all. Enough to cover them. It’s like a wet t-shirt contest or waterboarding an enemy combatant NEITHER OF WHICH ARE GOOD OR ADMIRABLE THINGS so never mind forget I said any of that jeez just wet the coffee already.

You will notice now an effect called a “bloom.” A fungal spore pod will swell from the grounds and corkscrew its way up your nose and into your brain where it will pollinate your cerebral cortex —

*receives a note*

— I mean, the “bloom” is when the water saturates the grounds and they puff up a little before deflating again — which takes about 45 seconds or so. (I time every stage.)

Once that’s done, I begin a fairly assertive pour-over. I’ve actually taken to pressing a small dimple right into the center of the ground coffee — I start right in the center of that dimple and spiral out. Never touching the sides, because it seems like washing down the sides causes the whole thing to pack together and slow the brew. Center only. Fill about a 1/4-inch from the top. Let it drip down a little, then add more water (usually takes me three pours).

The extraction should be about 3-5 minutes.

Any less than that and it’ll taste sad and watery, like your tears.

Any longer than that and it’ll taste grim and bitter, like your dreams.

Now: pour.

Drink.

Exult.

Exalt.

ALLOW THE CAFFEINE TO GIVE YOU SUPERPOWERS.

Ahem.

The Asterisk

To be clear, I’m not actually mocking anybody’s use of K-Cups or drip makers or whatever-your-choice-of-coffee-num-nums. You follow your bliss to wherever your bliss takes you; to quote Kacey Musgraves, follow your arrow wherever it points.

How do you brew your coffee?

From where do you procure your beans?

What coffees you like?

LET US SPEAK ABOUT THIS MOST IMPORTANT OF SUBJECTS.

A Fancy Instructional Video!

This is a great video on brewing with your Chemex. Check it:

A CHEMEX BREW GUIDE from Cartel Coffee Lab on Vimeo.