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Finding the right coffee for chemex

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 3:37 pm
by shm
Perhaps this problem can't be solved I'm not sure.

I ordered a Chemex at the end of last year after reading enthusiastic posts about them.

I've been disappointed. At first I thought it was because I was using the coffee intended for an espresso machine, but after trying some filter blends I've not noticed significant improvement.

What I find is a distinct lack of body in the cup which I was not expecting. As far a taste goes I'm finding most coffees unbalanced with too much acidity and brightness for my taste. But it's the lack of body I find most unsatisfying.

Am I just not finding the right blend or SO coffee or this lack of body a feature of Chemex coffee?

RE: Finding the right coffee for chemex

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 5:01 pm
by CakeBoy
It is usually clean and I find that is often coupled with a pleasing creamy body with some depth. For my taste, I don't find it thin, though it is not really viscose either.

What quantities of grinds and water are you using and roughly how coarse are you grinding?

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 9:32 pm
by Rujir
And which other methods except of espresso do you prefer? Have you ever tried French Press, for instance? Maybe you are just not used to anything else...

This is the case, where I totally agree with James Hoffman and his opinion. :oops:

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 9:59 pm
by bruceb
Espresso is a very peculiar method of preparing coffee. A coffee has to have certain characteristics to be useful for espresso making. If a buyer is buying coffee to be used primarily for espresso he has to know and buy beans that are suited to the method and the roaster has to know how to roast the beans for that method of extraction. I can't imagine a buyer bidding on coffee that is unsuitable for the method it is to be brewed by.

I love other kinds of coffee, but because of a medical problem I really can only drink espresso. I am rather ashamed to admit that I brought a Chemex back from the States a few years ago and no matter what I did with it I couldn't make coffee that was any better than I could make with a simple Melitta pour-over and paper filter, so I gave it away. I am really astonished to read the descriptions of the coffee made with the Chemex because no matter how hard I try I cannot see a difference between it and other cone filters.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 28, 2010 11:48 pm
by dr.chris
Its funny we at home are going through a period of realising that some coffee beans that work for Espresso dont work for cappucino and visa versa....

But thats probably a discussion for another thread

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 9:59 am
by espressomattic

What beans are you using? As Cakes asked; what ratios. If you are using too little coffee etc your going to get less body. You will not get the bosy you get in an espresso. The reason being that espresso is a concentrate basically and the Chemx is not.

Different coffees offer differening body. An El Salvadorian will not have as much body as for example a Sumatran. Growing conditions and processing methods have a great effect on the body of beans. Chemx will give you a very clean cup and not the 'thickness' of the espresso. If you are after a heavier body, a darker roasted bean will give you that through the Chemex.

In regards to your comments Bruce, I haven't actually tried any other filter methods and can only rave about the Chemex...sorry.

Lighter roasted coffees will give you a brightness, so maybe the beans you are using are a lighter roast.

I have no problems with using espresso blends through the Chemex at all.

PostPosted: Mon Mar 01, 2010 12:27 pm
by shm
I'm brewing in the ratios suggested by James' blog & video, can't remember off the top of my head. Using the kyocera hand grinder and adjusting until I can get a 4 minute pour, as per instructions online.

I use hasbean blends and SOs mostly.

I'm actually enjoying press coffee more than Chemex. I know you can't compare espresso or cappuccino to Chemex as it's more akin to an americano than anything else.

PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 11:33 am
by RolandGlew
I'm not a big espresso drinker, but I brew fairly regularly in the Chemex, French Press, Pour Over, Stovetop/Moka Pot and Ibrik.

I'd say the Chemex does okay with body for me, but it does produce a cleaner cup than the french press, and possibly a little less body because of that. For me at least, it produces a better body and fuller flavour than the pour over.

My main thoughts would be -
Grind a bit finer than french press, and don't fill the filter cone too high with water. Lots of water in the cone means the water goes through quickly - so a shorter extraction time. Adding a little bit of water and keeping it regularly topped up certainly produces better results for me, rather than grinding finer.

On acidity, I would note that there is a preference for bright coffees among the speciality side of coffee. I'm not saying whether that's good or bad, but even those ones not identified as bright are generally more acidic than most general blends you would get from other sources. And I do agree that the Chemex favours acidity a bit over the french press - although I wouldn't say by a huge amount.

I'd therefore suggest looking through the cupping notes on the roasters website and looking for something that mentions body and mouthfeel without acidity - there are definitely a few out there.

Not sure if that helps you SHM - hopefully it does. Would love to hear if you get something that you find more satisfying and what changes helped/didn't help in getting it.

PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 1:27 pm
by dsc
Hi guys,

most of the stuff I've used in the Chemex was good/great, but recently I've been struggling quite a lot with Passeio Minas from SQM, tried various things with it and I still can't get rid of the intense bitterness for some reason. I switched to an FP, filtered through a a Chemex filter and it's definitely better, although lacking a bit in the taste department. Dunno what it is, but it looks like Chemex likes to have more coffee in it, so if you use a bigger model for small amounts of coffees it might not work properly. Another thing is grind size, when I was playing with the Mojo I found that I was grinding too coarse and loosing some of the taste, so that's always something to play around with. Have you tried brewing with slightly hotter water?

There's not going to be a huge body on the Chemex brews, of course espresso is in a different league all together, but I do find some brews different, bit like part cream/butter sort of thing.


PostPosted: Wed Mar 03, 2010 9:50 pm
by shm
Thanks for all the feedback. I'll certainly try experimenting a bit more and let you know(eventually) how I get on

PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2010 6:42 pm
by gb
I've found a few fundamental things that I've been doing wrong with the Chemex. I can't stress enough how much this has caused me some serious brain drain! I've been obsessing about the Chemex for the past 4 weeks since I've got one, and here's what I've figured out so far.

1. Dark roast tastes like crap in the Chemex. I bought a dark roasted Rwandan coffee from Costco that wasn't exactly fresh, but their beans are kept in giant vacuum packed bags. So I gave them a shot. Completely horrible in the Chemex. This could also have something to do with #2... :arrow:

2. I just realized that the coffee storage method I've been using is completely wrong. I've been using an airtight metal/plastic container. I bought beans just roasted a week ago, and as soon as I got home I put them in this container. The first cup wasn't bad, but after that it just got more and more rancid tasting. I was scratching my head, trying to figure out what the heck I was doing wrong. I figured out that the flavors from the dark roast were causing some real problems, even though I washed the container and dried it before putting the coffee in there. I'm going to buy a ceramic airtight container today.

I think these two things have caused me some serious headaches.

There are about 15 different things to consider when making the coffee, and these have to be just right in order for it to be great. So far, I've got one great cup of coffee, and I think this has been because of the two items above. Soon I'm getting a new Baratza grinder, so that will help in the consistency department.

When trying to dial in a perfect Chemex cup of coffee, consider the following.

Roast - go with a medium to light

Time - approximately around 4 minutes

Water - I use Primo bottled water that goes through a water cooler. I just cleaned out the water cooler, so this should be fine. I haven't used a Brita, but I hear that is a good way to go.

Amount of coffee is around 60 grams per liter, or 30 if you are doing around 500ml. The thing that no one tells you about the Chemex is that there is hardly any way you are ever going to make 10 cups or 50 oz of coffee in this thing. I bought the "10 cup" model thinking that it would be a perfect replacement for my standard coffee maker. It's not. This thing will realistically only do about a half a liter of coffee at a time. Any more than that, I'm going to have to get a better grinder.

Grind Setting - As I just mentioned, the grind I used is the coarsest possible, and I can't get much more than 500ml out of the Chemex in 4 minutes. I have a crappy grinder, so this might not be a reality for some people.

Rinse the filter - I bought the brown Chemex unbleached filters and I am happy with it so far. But you do have to rinse them with quite a bit of water. I'm looking forward to trying the bleached ones.

If you are looking to buy a Chemex, get the one with the glass handle and not the wooden collar. I bought the one with the wooden collar and I would much prefer the other one.

All in all, I have faith in the Chemex, but I've been buying the wrong kind of coffee and I've been storing it improperly. I'm running out of problems to fix! The scary part is, what if I get all of this stuff right and the coffee still doesn't taste near great? That is my big concern. Right now I'm getting caffeine headaches trying to figure it all out. I'm anxious to get that perfect cup of coffee and at the moment it's just not happening.


PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2010 6:59 pm
by gb
Another thing I've been thinking about...

I wrote above that the proper time is 4 minutes. The Chemex brewer itself doesn't mention time at all. Stumptown coffee has a guide on their site that doesn't mention time at all either. They just recommend 5 heaping tablespoons per 20 oz. of water. I'm sure that on a medium-coarse grind that is about a 4 minute pour.

Anyone have any thoughts on the Chemex filter having a different effect on the time?

PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2010 8:36 pm
by dsc
Hi gb,

few things from my point of view:

1. I think this depends on the beans, but I do prefer light roasts in the Chemex

2. yup oils are bad, just keep everything clean and it should be ok (or smell the container first, if it smells rancid it's bad)

3. also heard that Brita is ok

4. typical dose is 60g/1000ml, but do experiment with other values as well

5. rinse, rinse, rinse those filters

6. agreed on the glass handle, the neck-hold idea isn't bad, but I'd prefer something other than wood as it tends to start looking bad after it gets wet and dries out on it's own multiple times. I've seen photos of really bad looking wood-necks, simply because the outside layer of the 'handle' peels away

7. I think there's a minimum amount of coffee one should use to get a proper brew from the Chemex. Using a 10 cup model for brewing one cup is probably not going to work well. Also timings are different when using less coffee, otherwise you have to grind really fine to slow down the pour. No one really mentions this anywhere which always amazes me.

8. I've been getting some very harsh, bitter notes recently and I can't really get what's going on. It used to be so nice and now it's shit. Having a sinus infection doesn't really help to nail down the problem.


PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2010 10:01 pm
by gb
As I've said before, the search for the perfect cup of Chemex leads to a deep, dark rabbit hole.

About 3-4 years ago I switched from using cream and sugar to just drinking straight black drip coffee. Only recently has my quest for the perfect cup led me to the Chemex. I can hardly stomach a French Press drinking coffee black, so I got a Cuisinart auto-drip. That lasted for a few years and now I'm on to something new. I've tried almost everything in the coffee world for the home barista. I'm looking for something that's going to give me the perfect cup almost every time. Home espresso is so hard to try to figure out and I'm not that moved by espresso, so this is where I'm at.

For anyone who prefers strictly black coffee, if you've had an amazing cup of it, it's like the best sex you've ever had. It's elusive and everything after that is measured against it. It is hard to get on a consistent basis. I say that because you actually taste coffee and there's nothing else to muddy up the taste. I guess that for those that drink straight espresso, it's similar.

I think part of the problem is that when you see or read about the Chemex, it seems like a foolproof device. You look at it and go, "Ok, so someone took all the question marks out of what might be going on inside of an auto drip maker. And now I get to tweak everything to perfection." There's a lot of variables and unfortunately if you don't start out with good equipment and/or coffee, you are kind of wasting your time.

Which leads me to my grinder situation. It's the only part of the equation that I have to get nailed down. Once I get the right grinder, then I can hopefully get at least a great cup out of the Chemex nearly every time.

The only other thing I can think of at the moment is that I'm doing something wrong with the filter. I soak it every time with about 500ml of boiling hot water. For some reason, the taste I'm currently getting seems to be a paper taste. I just found this article, which might be of some help for the papery taste: ... x-filters/

I'm not looking for a perfect cup every time, but I am looking for a great cup every time. I never thought the Chemex was going to be this hard to figure out when I got it, but it can be. Since I've bought it, I seem to have noticed a lot more people having problems with it than I thought. Can the learning curve of this thing be that hard?

Sadly, since my last post I got some Ethiopian Yirgacheffe that was roasted about a week ago and I put in about 30 grams of coffee for about 16 oz of water. Didn't quite turn into the revelation that I had when I switched from dark roast to medium. It's ok, but still not nearing great.

Does anyone else have one of those "eureka" moment stories with the Chemex?

[/end coffee rant]

PostPosted: Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:30 pm
by CakeBoy
Welcome to TMC gb :D