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Wednesday
Sep052012

COFFEE . A CHEMEX METHOD

Hey there. This is Hugh. Please proceed accordingly...

About a year ago we did a post about how we brew French Press coffee. Unfortunately, in the inexplicable way of the internets, that post no longer exists. You can still find the video over here, but the bits of information found in the post are no longer with us. That being said, I'll recap a few of the pertinent points in this entry, but the good (no, great) news is that in just a few weeks, there will be a new and incredible coffee resource available. We are lucky enough to have some wonderful friends at 10 Speed Press, one of whom sent us an advance copy of the forthcoming Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee book (Thanks Ali!) by James & Caitlin Freeman, and Tara Dugan, and oh man, is it something. If you take your coffee seriously, you need this book (and if you don't take your coffee seriously, you need this book).

I've been earneslty experimenting with a few different brewing methods for about 3 years nows, and it's only been in the last couple weeks, since diving into this book, that I've been consistently happy with the cups I've been brewing. Our coffee up to this point has been pretty good, occasionally really good, but until recently I often couldn't understand why that distinction was presenting itself. Now I do. I think that this largely comes from the holistic view of the coffee process that I've been introduced to in the pages of this book. James and Caitlin have given me a better idea of how and why coffee is grown, why the art of roasting is truly an art, how to better understand and adapt my brewing methods, and quite a bit more. I could go on and on about the book, but seriously, you should really just preorder a copy. Your coffe will never be the same.

Ok. So. The Chemex.

Pour over is Sara and my standard, day to day brewing method. It's a simple, honest process. Approachable enough that even if you've never manually brewed coffee before you can end up with a solid cup your very first try and it's elegant enough that you can spend every morning for the next few years perfecting the execution. Simplicity. Elegance. Perfectly paired ingredients.

What you'll need for this particular method:

  • Cool, filtered water
  • Well and freshly roasted coffee beans (try Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Sightglass)
  • A decent grinder - important to ensure consistent particle size (we use a Capresso Infinity)
  • A Chemex & oxigen cleansed filters
  • A swan-neck kettle - you don't need one, but using one will allow you much more control and precision while pouring (we use a Hario Bouno)
  • An instant read, digital thermometer
  • A gram scale
  • A timer
  • Scissors

The Method (I get kind of wordy, here, sorry, but for those of you who care, hopefully there's something new in here for you. For those of you who don't, the video hits the basics). You'll often find that brewing instructions give all measurements in gram weight, this is for a number of reasons, but most importantly, it allows for consistency and easily defined ratios. This method calls for a 1:10 ratio of coffee grounds to water, so you'll be using 30 grams of coffee beans to yeild 300 grams of brewed coffee (about 10 fluid ounces).

Fill your kettle with approximately 700 grams of water. You'll be using a portion of it to rinse the filter, and part of the water will be absorbed by and remain in the filter and coffee grounds at the end of the process, so you'll need the extra. Start your water (we use a Capresso electric kettle as it brings the water to boil quicker).

Prep the filter. I like to round off the top of the square Chemex filters so that they match the profile of the Chemex itself. This allows me to position the spout of the kettle as close to the ground as possible which makes controling the pour considerably easier. Open the filter and place it inside the Chemex, with the three-walled side of the filter centered over the pouring groove in the Chemex.

Once the water is up to a boil, rinse the filter. Chemex filters have quite a bit of paper mass, so thoroughly rinsing before you brew in them helps wash away the otherwise papery taste they can impart. If you fully remove the filter at this point, you'll have a dickens of a time getting it reseated correctly, so just peel back part the filter and empty the water.

Measure 30 grams of beans then grind. This part takes some experimenting. The basic idea is that a finer grind results in more surface area which results in more extraction. If the water pours through quickly and you get a weak, tasteless cup, you'll want a finer grind; if the water stalls and you find a bitter, over extracted cup, grind a bit courser. For ballpark purposes, in our grinder, the finest being a 1 and the coursest being a 10, I grind at about a 2.5 for Chemex. All grinders are different though, so experiment until you get it dialed.

Add the grounds to the filter then gently groom them until you have a level surface. Try not to compact any part of the grind bed while doing this. Set the whole assembly on the scale and tare.

Prebrew. With the water at 200° (up to 205° for a fresh, light roast, and as low as 190° for a darker roast) add just a small portion of the water to the grounds, about 60 grams in this case, as coffee will hold about twice it's weight in water. You want to add as little as possible while fully saturating the grounds.

Allow the prebrew about 45 seconds (as little as 30 seconds for super fresh beans and up to a minute for a less recent roast), then gently begin to add water in small, concentric circles, in the middle of the grounds, being sure to keep the flow of water away from the sides. As the water level begins to "swell," pause for just a few seconds until the it drains back to the original level of the prebrew. Continue doing this, slowly adding water, while maintaining the same approximate level, until the scale tips 400g, which should take place at about 3:00 on your timer. Again, about 100g of this water will remain in the grounds/filter.

Just before the last of the water dissapears into the grounds, remove and discard the filter (around 3:30).

Pour. Enjoy. Hopefully with cookies.

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Reader Comments (67)

Not sure if you found the original French Press post or not, but I just happened to still have a copy of it still in my Google Reader. I remembered it fondly since I used it to improve my own french pressing skills. It seems like all of the pictures aren't linked anymore, but here is the original text:


Hi, it’s Hugh. Sara had a big week, so here I am with the second of three things I can do in the kitchen :)

Here’s the thing: as much as this post is about coffee, it’s also about simple things. I love simple things. Honest, effective, beautiful. All qualities of well executed simplicity. Coffee is simple. There are only two ingredients, but the degree to which you can either finesse or mutilate the drink is massive. The neat part is that it’s not too difficult to do it right. All you need is clean water, some well roasted beans, and an eye on the details.

(Hold on. Stepping out of my own narrative here… I just had to erase a ton of nonsense because I think I lapsed into coffee snobbery. So I’m going to stick with the whole “simplicity, not coffee” idea and get to the point.)

In general, I like to do things deliberately. Sometimes to a fault. I love researching, quantifying, dialing things in. It can be the spoke tension on my bike wheel, the lines in a picture, or in this case, the brewing parameters for our morning beverage. Luckily, Sara handles most of the cooking, otherwise, meals would be few and far between.

This is a simple idea, but it’s a delicate process. And I like that.
What you need:
1. Filtered water.
2. Coffee. Preferably good coffee, recently roasted (inside of a week is good, but the fresher, the better). Whole bean is a must. You want to grind the coffee just before you brew. The flavors in a cup of coffee come largely from the oils inside the beans. If you grind your coffee the night before, or days before, or buy ground coffee, your missing out on the majority of those oils. For this post, I used Brazil Bob-O-Link beans, roasted yesterday, at a local roaster called Portola Coffee. If you don’t have a local option, there are some great places to get super fresh beans online. Try Paradise Roasters.
3. A French Press. A great coffee tool: inexpensive, easy cleanup, lots of flavor potential. If you don’t already have one, it’s totally worth it.
4. A Kettle

What you kind of need:
Thermometer
Timer
Food Scale
Spoon
A decent burr grinder. I use a Capresso Infinity. It’s a a pretty solid grinder for the money. A step up gets pricey, a step down’s not worth it.
The Method:
There are four major variables in this method: water temperature, water:coffee ratio, coarseness of grind, brew duration. The following method is what I’ve found to yield a cup that both Sara and I really like. If you want something a little different, tweak one or more of those variables until you find what your looking for.

Prep:
1. Start your filtered water in the kettle. The target temperature is just a touch over 200°. It’s a good idea to preheat the French Press using hot water, otherwise, it will rob a significant amount of heat from your water when you begin to brew, resulting in under extracted coffee.
2. Measure out the beans. I use a 15:1::water:bean ratio for a French Press. I brew 825g of coffee for Sara and I, so it’s 55g of beans.
3. Grind the beans. You want it about the coarseness of sea salt. This is where the quality of your grinder comes into play. Most grinders are going to do a decent job with the coarse grind level used for a French Press, but any fines in there are going to over extract (more surface area in contact with the water), and they’ll squeeze through the mesh filter into your cup. Gritty :/
4. Put the press on the food scale, add the coffee grounds, and zero out the scale.

Brew
5. Start the timer and add 200g of 200° water. Use the spoon to agitate the water-coffee mixture as little as possible while ensuring all the grounds are fully saturated. If you’re using fresh beans you’ll see the mixture “bloom.”
6. At 0:40 on the timer, use the spoon to deflate the bloom, still agitating as little as possible. Add an additional 625g of water, gently stir, and place the lid on the press.
7. At 4:00, press and pour. Don’t fully empty the press into your cup. Nobody likes the dregs. I don’t think.
And in case that didn’t make any sense, here’s a different kind of visualization (with music by my buddy Drew).

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

Why do you guys have to be so amazing. I want some coffee now. I learned more in that 4 minutes and 23 seconds than my 7 years at Starbucks. :P

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Encarnacion

We've been plain filter brewing our coffee for almost a year now, after many years of being addicted to the single brew machines, aka Keurig et al. I like the simple, hands on approach of plain filtered water dripping through good coffee into my cup. It's a meditative moment every morning for my husband and me.

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersue/theviewfromgreatisland

I love the video! And never taking my coffee making for granted again. Ever :)

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKiran @ KiranTarun.com

I think we need to catch up over another cup soon!

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermr. haack

I love the pour-over method, and I use it every morning. I have tried to reduce my waste by using hemp filters though. Great video!

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAshley @ Sensibly Gourmet

Ah, a Chemex is the next thing on my wish list. this post is beautiful, and it's definitely going to come in handy soon.

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllison

that's the next-level shit, right there

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterchan

This is great! I've been trying out a few different approaches with my Chemex, and I'll definitely be giving this one a go tomorrow morning. Thanks for sharing!

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSamantha

Wow...i love this video. Made with tlc, every cup. And looove that scale, beautiful.
Xoxoo
Diana

September 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMusings by di

Love my coffee - and love these photos. Total coffee porn :)

We just got back from a camping trip in remote Australia, where I took my steel stovetop espresso maker and made the best coffee it's ever produced on the hot sand of the campfire. Nothing will ever be the same in my little townhouse kitchen in the city ....

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda@EasyPeasyOrganic

Such a cool idea!

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKatrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar

I've been thinking about buying a Chemex for a while now and this post has now convinced me all the more. I'll make sure I have some cookies on hand to enjoy with my first try.

Thanks for talking coffee.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSasha

Beautiful photos and method as always. I've been using a pour-over brewer -- would you be able to tell me what the difference is between pour-over and a Chemex? The processes seem quite similar.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDiane, Abroad

Love this video! And love that you're such a coffee enthusiast. I know few in real life (my husband and best friend are both tea drinkers), so please excuse my long, rambling post.

When I received my copy of Sprouted Kitchen a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to see a couple of pages devoted to French press-brewed coffee. I haven't used that method in about six years (when my favorite press broke), but it used to be the only way I would brew my coffee -- a method I had tweaked and perfected all through university until I was in my early 30s. When my press broke, I finally bought a Chemex, and it renewed my love affair with the perfect cup of coffee.

And then, fate threw an obstacle my direction -- I had transparent braces put on my teeth at the end of spring this year, and as a result, can only drink my coffee through a straw. I refuse to drink hot coffee that way, so I finally bit the bullet and jumped on the cold-brewed coffee bandwagon. And once again, I've found the perfect cup of (iced) coffee!

A third way I make coffee is in a stove top espresso maker. This is reserved for when I'm in the mood for an affogato. Do you have favorite brewing methods for different situations?

Anyway, thanks for the coffee post (and video)!
Monika

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMonika {wcv}

I have been using a chemex for two years now and I consistently have a good cup. I realize now after your post that I can have a better cup of coffee by buying a food scale, a thermometer and perhaps a better grinder. I will slowly strive towards my best cup yet! Thanks for the post!

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentershilpa

Gorgeous photos and video! I already had my cup of coffee for the day this made me crave more. I'm trying to avoid buying more kitchen equipment but I'm definitely intrigued by this brewing method. Hmmm.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterIris

yes, i love stars! and the font in this video. thanks for making this!

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermackenzie

Love the video.

Do you know what kind of gram scale that is? It looks beautiful...I've been having trouble finding one that's attractive.

Thanks,
Jonathan

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJVS

i need more SK videos in my life.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermatty mo

What a fantasic video, absolutely loved it, and I am not a coffee person myself.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlicia

I love how "Mad Scientist" this recipe post is ;) and great song choice Hugh!

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaggie

i've never had coffee but that video makes me want to try it.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjsa

This is just beautiful.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Manning

Holy smokes, Hugh! Killer post, from the photos to the writing to the video. I usually don't have the patience to sit through food blog videos but I couldn't stop watching this one. Sara, Hugh, could you two be any more talented? I think not.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKathryne

Unreal video. Perfect jam. Bravo! Oh, and you should invest in a hand grinder! Can't wait to see you kids on Sunday!

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle

Awesome video! You guys are always taking it to the next level. I love the shots where the music is in sync with the bubbles beginning to form when it's boiling. Yeah, I'm a dork. This makes we want to run out and buy new equipment. The Hario kettle is dead sexy. Thanks you two for sharing your talents!!

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterYumi

Rock on, guys! We're neck-deep in the specialty coffee scene in the Netherlands, and It's always a pleasure to find kindred spirits helping to spark the revolution.

September 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterValerie {all mussed up}

Hugh! Please invite us over for coffee!

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLuise

Beautifully done. You both have such a gift at writing. Absolutely stunning!

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJessie

We tried this in Stockholm in march, I was in a little café where we had a brunch... amazing ! No bitterness, very smooth coffee, we reallly enjoyed it !

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTaste it if you can

Hey! Bravo!!! I have read several coffee posts on food blogs and was, admittedly, ready to read another disappointing suggestion for a recipe. Forgive my lack of faith!

This post is fantastic! Thank you for not neglecting details and writing the long post that the chemex deserves.

And should you wish to try a new roastery from the south, CREMA of Nashville has got it goin on. Online store is in the works.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterjulie stewart

It really is all about slow coffee these days. Wonderful!

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFrederike

Awesome video! I second that – more videos on SK!

P.S. Just got your book today, I am so excited to settle in with a cup of tea and read it cover to cover!

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDaniella

I have been making coffee using a Chemex for almost 50 years. I just love that Chemex has finally been discovered by a far younger generation. It simply makes the best coffee ever without following your rather complicated process. [Who has time in the morning for that. I want my coffee stat!!!!] All you have to do is find the best beans you can, grind what you need just before pouring the barely cooled from boiling previously filtered water through and you will have it.

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSuegramma

what book is that in your picture?

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

@andrew- it's the Blue Bottle book mentioned in the text.

September 7, 2012 | Registered CommenterSara

After breaking two Chemexes (sp?), I gave this method up. Yes, we are a bit clutzy in our household.

Now, we bypass the Chemex and just use a porcelain funnel and a thermos. Same result. Less pretty.

When we used the Chemex, we always transferred the coffee to the thermos to keep it hot. So, now we are saving a step...and we don't have to replace the expensive Chemex.

Plus, the coffee is just a tasty!

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commentermaile

Wasn't aware that the Blue Bottle book was out! I pre-ordered it. Very cool! Thanks for the response!

Andrew

September 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Man... I LOVE this blog. I'm a newbie to you guys! How did I miss knowing about you? (Found you thru Joy the Baker.) I have already orderded your cookbook. And it has already arrived. And I have already made two of your recipes! (Squash Tart (cuz you said it was "man food"... unbelievably good and Grilled Flatbreads... also incredibly good.) And I am already telling anyone who will listen how awesome you are! And now the coffee thing? You two are like a dream come true! Thank you thank you thank you thank you!

September 8, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCat V

What an amazing video! Have been curious about Chemex process so now I know. Staying at Ace in NY next week so will try a cup at Stumptown. Just received the SK cookbook. It is beautiful and can't wait to start cooking my way through it.

Thanks for the video.

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

Awesome video. We've used your video for the french press method as our guide at our house for the last year and loved it. Will be interested to try this out too!

September 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMeg H

Such a beuatiful video. Great job!! I'm a coffee addict and brewing the perfect cup of coffee truly is kind of art.

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSini

The internets never forget!

http://web.archive.org/web/20110308134002/http://sproutedkitchen.com/?p=2299

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJavasnow

hey there- beautiful blog and very lovely video. just a tip: try using less coffee. 30 grams to 400 of water is quite a lot (i know blue bottle tends to use a ton of coffee in most of their preparations), but you're most likely under-extracting it. i would start with 23g of coffee, same method (60g pre-wet; 400g water total).

September 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterlaura

I have been seeing this method popping up in local coffee houses more and more over the last couple of years. It's such a fantastic and pure way to brew coffee and whenever I walk into a new cafe and see it being used, I just know that I will be enjoying a great cup of coffee!

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAna

I just got y'all's cookbook in the mail and it is SO wonderful! Already blessed my week, and I have made three recipes!

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSara B.

Wow, I really loved that video. And you really demystified the Chemex method! Makes me want to upgrade from my French press. :)

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLinda

wow! awesome video!! had anyone tried the toddy cold brewing system?? man, i could use a cup of hugh's coffee now!! thx for sharing:)

September 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

Beautiful post, we've always struggled to get get flavor and strength from the Chemex method, so I'll definitely be following your instructions, down to the last detail. But mostly, we've just resorted to the stove top Moka pot for a strong cup of coffee :). And we love Stumptown coffee, along with the Blue Bottle Coffee company down here in Brooklyn, where they mercifully have a location.

September 12, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRadhika Bhandarkar

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