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.


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.






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?


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.

126 responses to “Your Coffee Maker Has Failed You Up Until This Point”

  1. Hey, Chuck, have you tried brewing coffee in a French Press? NO paper filter, and nothing in the way of you and caffeinated bliss. Seriously. Like working with black tea, it does take some finesse (DO NOT break the four minute mark on the brew time, or bit-ter!), but OHMYGOD is it heavenly. And IKEA sells ’em for less than $10. Score. 🙂 For those of you balking at the special tweaky filters and crap, this is definitely a solid second option.

    • Yay, French presses! There is truly nothing more divine than coffee from a French press (except for Turkish coffee, of course). They’re perfect for college, too. Much less expensive than buying coffee every day and much less wasteful than making a whole pot.

  2. Had a percolator that made the best selling worst tasting coffee on earth on university. Now own a grinder and a few French presses with an Aeropress on the way. There is a small shop in Pretoria who imports the raw coffee beans and roasts them on site, so I can’t buy any fresher. I’m quite a fan of their Ethiopia single origin. Smells divine and it’s just the perfect amount of bitter. Which, for me, Is lots.

  3. Not quite willing to go that OCD over my coffee. But totally agree that KCups are as bad as every other kind of packaged, pre-ground coffee. I insist on fresh beans, freshly ground, and usually make one cup at a time in my little three-dollar filter cone gizmo.

    Unless I’m backpacking. Then I drink the stuff in those little plastic tubes from Starbucks, and like it. Because hey, I have to carry it all. Light is instantly tastier.

    Don’t forget that if you like cream, use real half and half. If it MUST be powder (see backpacking note), try Nido powdered whole milk. Never, ever, the weird white stuff with no hint of dairy in a hundred miles.

  4. Awesome post! I am a coffee lover all the way (though I do love tea too!). My coffee consumption is rather simple compared to yours, but one of these days I will also accept the fact that I am also a coffee snob, and I will embrace it.

  5. OMG, so that’s what those things are called: Chemex…. Got served itty bitty individual ones just like this at the hotel restaurant (Intercontinental, Wellington) during our annual RWNZ conference. Terrific way to start a day of workshops 🙂 I can see why you’re so stoked about this purchase, Chuck. Don’t blame you a bit!

    And yeah, I’m a coffee snob from way back. We’ve used plungers (what you guys call French presses, I think?) for years at home. But last year the Hubster bought himself an espresso machine and grinder for his birthday. Best present he’s ever bought me for his birthday ever 😉

  6. So Chuck, how long before you ascend to true pure coffee snobbery and roast your own beans?
    I acquire my coffee from work, where I get it for free. And for all the complaints about Starbucks burning the beans I still blame the baristas. Fools don’t know or care how to make a proper cup.
    When I make it at home I make it in a french press. It’s cheap, takes up almost no counter space in a tiny apartment and brings out many of the flavor notes that I enjoy in coffee.
    I did not begin as a coffee snob, but now I get payed for it. Go figure.
    What coffees I enjoy? Roast is usually rather dark. Not French or anything but I like the coffee to kick me in face and remind me that I am drinking coffee. Fuck light roasts. And I am finding that when it comes to origin I usually lean towards African beans. Central/South American ones can be decent sometimes. Increasingly though I find that Asian origin beans disagree with me. Or rather I disagree with them. Often violently with a hammer. Or something.

    • I was a superbitch anti-keurig person for the longest. And a lot of it does really suck balls, and I’m sure is horrible for the environment etc. BUT — you can get empty k-cups and put the fresh ground coffee of your choice in them, which helps. And now Peets makes them — “major dickasons blend” is my fave. And it is sooooo easy. Clean and quick has broken me of my snobbery.

      (Don’t get me wrong I still LOVE great coffee — but on a “stumbling out of bed need to open eyes quickly” type morning – Keurig is ok with me provided the cups are Peets or fresh-ground regular beans.)

      • I’m still anti-K. But– The break room for the Writing faculty in the USC Cinema School has a K machine. And I have a secret stash of Major Dickason K-cups in my office. For emergency use only, you understand. Don’t tell anyone.

  7. I’m a hot-chocolate obsessive myself, but I bought the husband a Brazen brew system for his birthday and was promptly informed that I have ruined all other coffee for him. He favors locally roasted – Vancouver, BC Canada – beans from Elysian.

  8. I only just recently started drinking coffee (it’s my caffeine delivery, since I kicked soda, kind of took it back, and mostly kicked it again). I have a Keurig, and a refillable K-Cup. I buy the 5.99 cans of already ground espresso beans and use that, with some sugar and half and half, iced.

    When I wasn’t using the espresso, I was using Folger’s Black Silk, which I would add a few grains of Kosher salt to in the refillable cup, to cut the bitter. Still sugar, and milk, and ice.

    I have been intrigued by “better” coffee methods, like cold brewed concentrates, the Chemex, etc. But I’m lazy. Man, am I lazy. I am glad that I remembered I like espresso, though.

    • Coldbrew concentrates are an excellent replacement for crack, in my humble opinion. There’s a local shop here in Harrisburg that does coldbrew mixed with their own simple syrup that makes me want to wrestle bears and shit.

        • I’d never heard of the toddy system ’til my most recent Google. I was just going to do the ghetto “put grounds in water, strain/filter later” method. Though coldbrew mixed with simple syrup (per Patrick there) sounds goddamn magical and if I’m already doing coldbrew I might as well do simple syrup too, right? Right.

  9. I recently found a Chemex at World Market but I wasn’t sure about it. Now, I’m headed out to go and buy one. Thanks for the explanation on how to make it. I can’t wait to buy some good beans and try this baby out!

  10. I use Folgers for the most part (I’m pretty broke), but still make the effort to go to one of the local coffee artisans (Either Little Amps or St. Thomas, both in the Harrisburg, PA area) to get beans that I french press when I have days off from work. No need for a filter, and if you get it right, it’s glorious. As others have said, though, it takes practice.

  11. The best cup of coffee is the one you like the best. It is the one that satisfies your need for hot, mind-stimulating liquid, whether it comes from Starbucks, the latest techno-brew contraption or the ass of a jack-booted lesbian lemur. To each his (or her) own. Drink up, people!

  12. Coffee? not important. The only thing of importance is what type of bourbon to spike it with. Myself, I’m currently on a Buffalo Trace kick. With the green sealing wax. It’s a single barrel, about 90 proof. yummy.

  13. I can’t stand coffee…the taste, its smell, the machines that make it, the cake my Grandma always used to make (even though she KNEW I hated it) …just…


    But now, there’s one thing I can say I LOVE about it – Chuck’s description!

  14. My favorite coffee comes in a stained porcelain mug, preferably chipped. The coffee is served at the diner by Dolores whom calls me ‘Tootz’ in her raspy chain smoker voice. You can smell the menthol cigarettes on the coffee mug as she hands it to you. It might just be a Denny’s next to the airport, and it might just have been Christmas Eve 2004, but it was the best coffee I ever had.

    • Reminds me of the best beer I’ve ever had. College summer. Working on a surveying crew, swinging a bushaxe for ten hours a day in the horrible South Carolina summer. Coworker I’d gotten a ride with that day wanted to stop for a beer on the way home. Went to this little hole-in-the-wall bar that was about the size of a small 7-Eleven. No refrigerators; iceboxes. Yes, iceboxes: the cans were kept in these ginormous ice chests full of ice. Shoved my hand all the way to the bottom and grabbed whatever was there. It was a Pabst Blue Ribbon. Hot, sweaty and exhausted, I didn’t care; at that point, I just wanted cold and wet, so I drank.




      I’ve never had a beer so good. And I normally (still) dislike PBR. But that time, that place, that situation, it all combined to make it into the perfect beer for then and there.

  15. I have been using an Aeropress for several years. As I drink one cup at a time, it is ideal.

    I obtain my coffee beans from Whittard’s of Chelsea in 500g lots, which for me is a good balance between it not going stale and running out all the time.

    • Percolated coffee is best if made above about 8000′ elevation, where the water boils at a lower temperature. If I backpack with another coffee drinker (to share the extra weight) I love to take my mini percolator.

  16. The deeper into the Coffee Rituals you delve, the more rewarding the sacrifices of time and money become.
    Next, you must purchase a siphon. Don’t argue. It’s sciencey and kind of steampunky. It’s keen.
    And then… then you’ll begin to wonder what those LC beans might be like if they were just a bit lighter in roast. Would they be even brighter? Sweeter? Would those dark berry flavors twist from a dense compote note to a fresh-of-the-vine raspberry/blackberry?
    You’ll wonder if they could have roasted a single pound just for you if it might be that much more special, unique, amazing…
    The answer is, of course, yes. I’ll save you hours of research.
    Go buy a Behmor 1600 from or

  17. I probably have that same Cuisinart drip machine you do, as well as a french press. I use them both. Once in a while I indulge in coffee from a local shop that does custom small-batch roasts that are unbelievably awesome, but mostly I drink whatever’s on sale that week at the grocery store, because I am cheap (or frugal). I still think it beats the k-cup, which I’ve tried a few times at friends’ houses. K-cup is like paying a premium to drink crappy prepackaged hotel room coffee every morning.

    • I do love the French press, but hate cleaning the damn thing. It does keep the oils of the coffee, which the Chemex loses. (Changing the mouthfeel of the cup.)

      (Also “mouthfeel” was my nickname in high school.)

      — c.

  18. Switched over to a french press as a “temporary measure” when my Bunn died. That was almost two years ago. Grinder wise, the Baratza Virtuoso is a great and fairly affordable machine. As for cleaning the FP – I am a horrible and lazy person. Dump grinds in sink, quick rinse everything. About once or twice a month, I’ll dismantle the strainer and throw it in the dishwasher.

  19. Two questions because I love coffee almost as much as I like bearded ginggers that write;
    1) how’s a chemex coffee different to a percolator coffee? It looks like the same process?
    2) After five minutes, isn’t the coffee somewhat lukewarm?

    • 1) Percolator isn’t a pour-over coffee method. Totally different animal, different filters, etc.

      2) The Chemex holds heat quite nicely (and is part of why you pre-warm and pre-clean with boiling water), but it also goes very well on the stovetop at a low temp to keep everything warm if need be.

      — c.

  20. I’m not a coffee person, but if you brewed it, I’d try it.

    I’ve only tried the K-cups with hot chocolate (Dunkin brand) and for the small amount one K-cup actually makes, you’d think it wouldn’t taste that watered down. Which is disappointing because Dunkin actually has decent hot chocolate (especially with mint!)

    There’s really no awesome options for instant hot chocolate, though.

  21. I was reading this while drinking my cup of mud that the office supplies. Now I’ve dumped it out, and will be coffee-less for the rest of the day.
    Putting this blog into an e-mail to my kids under ‘what to get me for Christmas’. Like you, I’m a half-a-coffee snob, but would give anything ( well, almost…) for an excellent cup. (nail on the head about Starbucks and the flamethrower). Wish me luck with the Christmas thing. Otherwise, I’ll have to go into debt.

  22. From today’s post I have now discovered that I fit very snugly into the category of Coffee Chav. Please don’t hate me.

    And I’m a Brit, so it’s mostly tea for me anyway. It’s practically The Law over here, y’know ;^)

    • Indeed. Specifically, the law is George 2.’s “An Act Declaring That It Is Now Mandatory For All British Subjects To Drink Tea And Like It Because Tea Is Delicious And Besides The Crown Earns Huge Amounts Of Money From Import Taxes On It Without Which The Realm Would Go Broke And No One Wants That To Happen” of 1746 (short title: the “Tea Act”).

  23. Chuck, roasting isn’t hard, but it does take some time. You can buy one of those fancy roasters like you see on the shelves of billionaires, or you can dip your feet by buying a hot air popcorn popper and using that instead. Easy peasy.

  24. I’m a French press man, m’self, but a recent convert to the Cult of Coffee. I have a local roaster from which I buy half-pounds of amazing international delights and then do small-batch grinds. I don’t mind washing the press. I just rinse the grounds into a cup in the morning, then dry them and feed them to my compost worms. I shouldn’t be the only one enjoying the coffee, right? And coffee is rich in nitrogen, so I’m giving superpowers to myself, my red wigglers, and my fertiliser.

  25. My kleptomaniac ex-mother-in-law once got me an amazing espresso machine for Christmas. (I’m not saying she stole it, but considering how much such a high-quality machine would cost, I’m just playing the odds.) That machine lasted about as long as my marriage before crapping out on me and leaving me struggling to find a decent replacement I could afford (hehe). There was nothing, so I ended up with a $35 Target machine that spit out something akin to espresso and endured for as long as I could stand it.

    I had vowed not to ever own a Keurig after having tried one out at work once and gagging down a couple of swallows of the “coffee” before dumping the rest into the water fountain. Then my sister got one and made me a cup of coffee that was at least better than what I had been drinking from my cheap espresso maker. Her trick is to use filtered water only and use fresh coffee in a reusable filter rather than the K-Cups. So, when I ran across a deal on a Keurig, I finally broke down and bought one.

    I do not use the pre-packed K-Cups because I couldn’t afford them even if I liked them. I use a reusable filter and buy my coffee by the bag. I tried a couple of different roasts, but you’re right, they all taste pretty much the same. There is no difference in flavor from one to the next. But that’s what I can afford for now, so I’m going to stick with it until the machine gives out. Or until one of my books is a bestseller. Then I’ll treat myself.

  26. Love my coffee. Can’t live without it. Neither can others around me. It’s an affliction that spreads. I admit to owning a Keurig, and a french press, and an espresso machine. I find they all have their own little places in my crack world. The Keurig, while not the best quality, is fast and easy. The french press is great on aroma and taste and is rich in quality . The espresso machine is fun for the occasional side job. Whichever I turn to just depends on how much time I have and the sacrifices I’m willing to make for that first dreg of caffeine. Never mind the altar located in the pantry.

  27. I’m with you on the sanctity of coffee, Chuck; but I use a French press and you can pry it out of my cold, dead hands. 🙂 I have an exact measurement system that works perfectly for that one. Best. Coffee. In. The. World.

    Or, (because I’m Greek) I make Greek kafe (which includes the grounds). We cook it on the range top, coffee grounds, water, sugar (if you like it “glyko” sweet), pour into a demitasse. Boom. Sip it so you don’t get grounds in your teeth – seriously.

    Less filtration is more in my world.

    I, too, have a burr grinder. They are the best! I have a Cuisinart that measures quantity and grind perfectly, freshly, right before each brew. Ahhhh!

    Coffee is a gift of the gods. I do not abuse it. I drink it with all of its magic oils and coffee foam intact. Yummers! 🙂

  28. This will be longer than it should be…

    I used to be a barista at an independent coffee shop. I considered myself a coffee snob, then I became a trainer – mainly because I consistently made quality froth, had the best cappuccino (customers would ask for me at our 1st store even though I was the night manager at the 2nd store), and could bend the espresso to my will.

    I was full of myself.

    I took a trip to Charleston once and went to a place that makes alcoholic milkshakes and just based on watching and listening to the girl make our coffee based shake, I criticized everything she did. At that point I became a coffee snob asshole. The only thing that made it even a little okay is that she remade it changing everything based on my specifications and even she admitted that the espresso turned out way better (and so did the drink).

    I switched to a french press at home after my trip to Botswana where we had french press coffee every morning with beans from South Africa, which was amazing!

    I’m still a snob, but I have hidden my taste buds because I’m not *quite* at the place where I can keep it up. Well, I never was, but when you work for a coffee shop, you can be as snobby as you want. I definitely want to try the chemex. I went to a coffee convention in New York a couple of years ago and they made our coffee that way. They took horrible beans and great beans and showed us that horrible coffee benefits from cream and sugar, but adding those to good coffee weakens the taste. I love it when people get down with their coffee.

    Thanks for this awesome information. Maybe I’ll document my chemex experience, if I get it for myself, and drink it from my Art Harder mug!

    • WORD.

      For as much as I’m bullshitting here, I’m actually not that much of a coffee snob — I don’t home roast, I don’t use a siphon, etc.etc. — but I do like a good cup with its own unique flavor beyond just “DARK COFFEE.”

      — c.

  29. I used to own and run a coffee shop, so my coffee snobbery is come by honestly. I had the big $400 burr grinder that is way too big for a home kitchen, the coffee brewer that actually got the water to boiling (as opposed to the anemic at-home machine that certainly does not), the big honking $4000 espresso machine… and I prefer the pour-over method above any other. I don’t have a Chemex, but one can in fact achieve a similar outcome using a 1-cup pour over cone thing:

    I missed out on a vintage chemex set on ebay this weekend that was only at $17 when I looked and then forgot to bid on. Had the brewer, the swan neck kettle, even a trivet to keep the thing warm on.

    Chuck, if you are interested in other local roasters, I recommend Homestead Roasters and also One Village Coffee.

    My biggest complaint with drip makers isn’t even the flavour, though that matters a lot. It’s that it’s never hot enough. It gets cold in minutes because it never made it to boiling in the first place.

      • Seriously? That’s amazing. I drink Homestead almost exclusively these days. They’re the roaster for the local (used-to-be-mine) coffee shop in my town. Just picked up a fresh bag o’ beans this morning. One Village was the roaster *I* used back in 2009 for said same shop. Very good stuff, good philosophy too.

  30. My writing — nay, my life, dear Wendig — is fueled by coffee. One espresso in the morning, another after lunch. The habit doesn’t escalate, but remove one of those two pillars from my day, and the entire temple collapses.

    When I wanted to make drip coffee I use a Chemex, or, for smaller quantities, a Hario ceramic drip. And (as you’ve described above), the brew that results is fine, fine superfine.

    But now I’ve become obsessive again. (You knew I was a writer, right?) And so I’ve gone to Nel.

    What is Nel, you may well ask? It’s both a piece of apparatus — superficially resembling a sweat sock — and a methodology.

    Here’s what a Nel looks like:

    And here — far more crucially — is how you make a cup of Nel.

    Start with 40-50 grams of really good coffee. (Why go to all this trouble if not?). Coarsely ground. (Coarser than for Chemex.)

    Add to the Nel in a loose mound.

    ‘Groom’ the coffee away from the sides of the Nel with a butter knife or its moral equivalent.

    Make a small indentation in the center of the nel – diameter of a nickel, depth of a thumbtack. This is the Nel sweetspot.

    Heat water to 175º F. (I use a Bonavita 1-Liter Variable Temperature Digital Electric Gooseneck Kettle — allows one to dial in precise temperatures, and has a lovely small spout for pouring artistry!)

    Since the regimen is specific, I place the Nel and its associated glass carafe atop a gram scale that also has a digital timer. Ready? As Lou Reed would say: watch me now.

    • First pour: 45 ml (45 grams) in 45 seconds, into the sweet spot. (Very slow.)

    Pause for 45 seconds.

    • Second pour: 80 ml in 60 seconds. (Just slightly faster, but still quite slow. You will begin to see the Bloom.)

    Pause for 20 seconds.

    • Third (and final) pour: 60 ml in 30 seconds. (Slow, but not as slow as first two.)

    End result: 185 ml water poured over 3 minutes 20 seconds.

    End result: the best cup of coffee a Wendig has ever made himself.

    There are geeky instructions for cleaning, brushing, and in other ways Taking Care of your Nel, but I’ll leave those for another day…

  31. I have two French presses, and while the coffee is brewing in one, you can make lovely frothy milk in the other. Pour in milk, pump the filter up and down until you get a bit of froth and then microwave for a minute and a half.
    You can also mix the frothed milk with cocoa, or instant chocolate for chocolate froth. Your children will love you, if you let them get any.
    But I love the coffee made by my Bialetti. (just got back from a trip to Rome and am addicted to Italian coffee – there are no Starbucks in Rome!)
    Now ask about tea. (not that stuff that has rose leaves and dried fruit in it, but proper tea). The secret is freshly boiling water. Not hot, but actually having bubbles going through it. Which is why you keep the teapot next to the kettle.

  32. I have two French presses, and while the coffee is brewing in one, you can make lovely frothy milk in the other. Pour in milk, pump the filter up and down until you get a bit of froth and then microwave for a minute and a half.
    You can also mix the frothed milk with cocoa, or instant chocolate for chocolate froth. Your children will love you, if you let them get any.
    But I love the coffee made by my Bialetti.
    Now ask about tea. (not that stuff that has rose leaves and dried fruit in it, but proper tea). The secret is freshly boiling water. Not hot, but actually having bubbles going through it. Which is why you keep the teapot next to the kettle.

  33. Damn, son, I gotsta get me a Chemex, yo.

    And to think that I came *this* close to buying a Keurig on Black Friday. After reading Chuck’s post, however, I’m thinking that I need to clean up my act. I am a bona fide caffeine addict. Yeah, the don’t-talk-to-me-before-I’ve-had-my-fix-or-I-will-punch-you-in-the-throat kind of addict. The kind whose withdrawal symptoms include screaming headaches, extreme irritability, and the DTs. Scary.

    The thing is, when I drink coffee at home—and since I do a lot of work from home, this equals about three large mug-fulls per day—I drink only *drumroll* cold, instant coffee. I only use filtered water, though.
    Pfft . . . I may be a heathen, but I’m not a troglodye.

    What can I say . . . I live in Hawaii, where it’s generally hot, cold coffee just makes more sense. And I’m busy, so instant is the logical choice. And I only drink my coffee through a straw so I don’t stain my teeth. *Ahem* And I only use plastic, disposable straws. And I really don’t have any counterspace for a coffeemaker, so . . . you get the idea.

    My wife is a bit more discerning. She uses the plastic filter cone, which is the ghetto version of the Chemex. The plastic cone has a flange that allows it to sit on top of the coffee mug and uses a paper cone filter that takes about two teaspoons of ground coffee—my wife prefers to grind the beans herself. Hot water is poured over the grounds and the coffee drips into the mug.

    It takes her about five minutes to do this, and then she has to wait another 15 minutes before the coffee is cool enough to drink. Me? I’m halfway through my cup of swamp mud by this point. My cup took about one minute to make and I can drink it right away. Boo-ya!

    But Chuck’s post now has me thinking . . .

    I do likes me a good, hearty, quality cup ‘o Joe, would prefer it actually to the frothy slurry I drink every day. And I suppose if coffee is so important to me, then perhaps I should change the way I think about it. It’s a need, yes, but it’s also a luxury, and I’m fortunate enough that I can afford this luxury at my leisure whenever I want, so perhaps it’s time I invest a little more time and energy into something that brings me so much pleasure (and much needed caffeine).

    And for about $40.00, why not? If, as T.S. Eliot once said, I’m going to “measure out my life in coffee spoons,” then I should probably pay a little more attention to what’s on my spoon.

  34. French press all the way. One bonus here in central Florida, you can use a French press to make killer cold press coffee. Drop a bunch of grounds in to the bottom of the pot and fill it with cold water. Leave the pot on the counter overnight, and gently press in the morning. It makes a lovely, smooth almost-espresso that’s ideal for iced lattes. Which is a necessity of life here in the land of humidity.

    One more thing, Chuck. You can roast your own coffee beans in a $20 hot air popcorn popper. I’m serious as a heart attack. You get the perfect roast, from city light to blackest night. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years, and the difference in flavor is phenomenal. Takes less than ten minutes, and you’ll probably never go back to commercially roasted beans. Here’s a random instruction page:

  35. I need to re-acclimate to coffee, since I do love the aroma and flavor.

    The problem is that I’m a 4-cup-per-day tea drinker (PG Tips, with milk — and honestly, it’s not really 4 cups per day so much as it is one-giant-ass 32-oz thermal mug from my college days, filled to the brim and drunk throughout the morning) — and the last time I had coffee, I was an idiot, and made the same amount of coffee as I usually have of tea.

    Brewed it strong, too — 7 tablespoons of ground for the monster-cup.

    I didn’t really think about the fact that coffee is significantly stronger than tea.

    At first I was all like O_o

    Then I was all like ((((O_O)))))

    Then I was like ~X_x~

    Spent the rest of the day slightly nauseous and dizzy. Kinda put me off coffee. And it’s my own damned fault.

  36. I’m not sure how you take your coffee (apologies if I missed that from the post or past things) but have you tried Vietnamese coffee? It is best iced and is just so incredibly tasty. It requires another coffee gadget. (which is actually quite cheap) But is a nice change of pace from a regular cup. (also this article does not list the best brand of coffee I have tried in this method which is Trung Nguyen that I get at the Asian market)

  37. Drip coffee is a crime against humanity. I’ve had it once, that was enough. Here in the Antipodes, we are spoiled for amazing coffee on every single corner. Espresso all the way. Espresso machines aren’t cheap, but they are worth it, son.

    Though all that is null and void because I have to drink decaf these days, unless I want to split my jaw from the clenching and cope with crippling caffiene-induced anxiety attacks. You can find some good decaf from quality roasters, but that shit aint cheap. I await the barrage of abuse from coffee snobs: I know, I used to be one.

  38. I tried roasting my own beans, with an expensive roaster. I failed to adequately track all the variables and pretty much went back to high quality store roasts. Now I drink whatever Stephen makes me, but my all-time favorite coffee is the Tra Vigne blend from Napa Valley Roasting Company. Note to self: get hand-grinder and a bag of beans from NVRC, and fish down the french press, STAT.

    You’ve reawakened my inner coffee snob. ARGH.

  39. My personal preference is the french press because I enjoy the simplicity of use, clean-up, and stow-ability when not in use. I’ve used the small-batch, pour over system, but unless its a vacation or holiday I generally go for something simpler.

    There’s a local place that roasts their own beans by me, and the owner gives you a free cup of coffee with each bag of beans you purchase. And the fact that he also has a discount for teachers means he has my loyalty until the end.

    I use a larger bodum french press on the weekends. During the week when I need to get out of the house and off to school in a hurry (and may need a second cup during the afternoon), I use a double shot french press from Planetary Designs ( Its a travel mug and french press combined, plus it has a secret compartment underneath where you can store beans for your second cup. Its simple, straightforward, and quick, and makes a cup that is many times better than what is available in the faculty workroom.

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