Saturday, January 23, 2010

My New Chemex

After reading about the advantages of Chemex-brewed coffee for years, I finally put one on my X-mas list and received one from my parents this year. I love the simple, modern design of the carafe with its wood and leather girdle.

Some history according to the Chemex website:

The Chemex® coffeemaker was invented by Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D., in 1941. Schlumbohm was born in Kiel, Germany in 1896. He received his doctorate in Chemistry from the University of Berlin. After several trips to the United States, he settled in New York City in 1936. Over the years, he invented over 3,000 items for which he was granted patents. However, his coffeemaker and carafe kettles were his most long enduring inventions.

Being a doctor of Chemistry, he was very familiar with laboratory apparatus and the methods of filtration and extraction. He applied this knowledge when designing his coffeemaker. He examined his laboratory glass funnel and his Erlenmeyer flask and made modifications to each. He modified the laboratory funnel by adding an "air channel" and a pouring spout. He added the "air channel" so the air displaced by the liquid dripping into the vessel could easily escape past the laboratory filter paper, which was to be used in the funnel as the filter media.

To the well of the Erlenmeyer flask he added a protrusion, which looks like a bubble. Consumers have often called it a "belly button." This is a measuring mark, which indicates one half the volume that is below the bottom edge of the handle.

He then combined the modified glass funnel with the modified Erlenmeyer flask to create a one-piece drip coffee maker to be made of heat proof, laboratory grade, borosilicate glass. Last, he added a wood handle and called the item a "Chemex®," which was a fabricated name. All that was needed then to brew the coffee was the coffee, hot water, and filter paper.

Incidentally, I previously owned the Chemex water kettle which is a striking design (pictured right) with a cool molded pouring spout and a stopper with a glass tube which allows steam to escape and keeps the vertical section (the handle) cool. Unfortunately this item met an untimely demise during its service on our cooktop.

For its inaugural run, I loaded my coffee maker with Blue Bottle Coffee's Chiapas blend. For comparison purposes, I brewed the same coffee, using the same proportions in my traditional drip coffeemaker with a gold filter.

As far as brewing technique, I used the preparation instructions on the Blue Bottle website, which dictate A) pouring a few tablespoons of hot water over the grounds to let them "bloom" for a few seconds and B) to stir the grounds while adding the remaining water for maximum extraction. I used the Chemex brand unbleached filter papers which are basically folded sheets of heavy high quality lab-grade paper. I used approx 16 oz. of water and 6 Tablespoons of (relatively unevenly) ground coffee from my blade grinder.

Following are my notes regarding the two coffees:

A) Drip Machine
Appearance - Dark, rich looking coffee, with slight murkiness and some non-offensive fine grounds in the bottom
Nose - Fruity notes are accentuated
Flavor - More of the fruity notes. A slightly more "level" flavor profile, which does not quite develop the complexity of the Chemex.
Finish - Fruitier and shorter than the Chemex.

B) Chemex
Appearance - Dark rich looking coffee with no murkiness and zero grounds.
Nose - Darker rich chocolatey notes are accentuated
Flavor - Complex flavor profile with acidity and rich chocolaty taste and texture. Nice balance of acidity and flavors.
Finish - Long, rich, chocolaty, mouth coating.

Final Observations - I'm impressed with the Chemex. It was not quite as much labor as I was expecting, having to stand there and stir the coffee while pouring water over the grounds; actually it was kind of fun watching the coffee grounds bloom and stirring the muddy, sandy-textured mass.

I can see the benefits of the stirring process and the dense paper which clearly permit additional extraction and an overall better balanced and rich tasting cup. I look forward to disovering some of the complexities of my other coffees using this method.

Oh, and by the way, the Chiapas coffee from Blue Bottle is excellent.