A Coffee Blog

Chemex: The chemist’s coffee maker

Chemex is one of the most iconic coffee makers in the world. Recognized for its clean cup of coffee and its beautiful design. Created by an eccentric chemist and made popular by guest appearances in books, movies and series. Today, Chemex has the status of perhaps the most recognizable pour-over coffee brewer in the world.

In a blog series, ONSK takes a closer look at popular brewing equipment, so that those of you who are considering jumping into a coffee adventure with speciality coffee have a beginner’s guide in the search for the right setup. We have previously focused on Hario V60 and AeroPress, but this time it’s about Chemex. We ask the questions: Where, when and why?

Doctor Chemex

Dr.  Chemex

Peter Schlumbohm with his invention. Image from Collectorsweekly.com

The Chemex coffee maker was invented in 1941 by a German chemist with the fantastic name Dr. Schlumbohm.

Peter Schlumbohm, who migrated to the United States in 1936, lived life to the fullest. He is known for driving around Manhattan in his specially designed Cadillac – of course, decorated with a gold Chemex as a cooler figure – and drinking and eating their way through New York’s nights.

Dr. Schlumbohm was a pure esthetician and a product of German design modernism. A style that is characterized by combining design, art and functionality. The eccentric German chemist and inventor got his best ideas on countless city trips. He is behind several kitchen tools, which he called his “beautilities” (after the English term for tools, ‘utilities’).

In a tribute to Peter Sclumbohm’s achievements, shortly after the chemist’s death in 1962, Ralph Caplan described Dr. Scumbohm as “the synthesis between logic and madness”. Caplan is an acclaimed author of several books on design and architecture. And one must say that it is an appropriate description of “Doctor Chemex”.

Extract the best and skip the rest

pamphlet about Chemex

Chemex is a modern design icon that is exhibited in several museums worldwide. In the picture: TV. a pamphlet from MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), where the coffee maker is still a permanent part of the exhibition. Th. an advertisement explaining how to brew at Chemex. Both are from 1943. Image from collectorsweekly.com

Chemex was created in an attempt to transform making good coffee into a simple and at the same time beautiful experience.

In all its simplicity, the coffee maker consists of one piece of borosilicate glass that can withstand temperature shock. A wooden collar is wrapped around its handsome hourglass figure, held together by a rough piece of leather cord.

Among coffee enthusiasts, the Chemex has become popular on the basis of its ability to brew a COMPLETELY CLEAN cup of coffee.

The reason behind the clean taste must largely be found in Chemex’s filters, which are thicker than traditional coffee filters. Here, unwanted oils and aftertaste are filtered out, and the finer flavor notes in the coffee come to the fore. One of Chemex’s (many) slogans also reads “extract the best and skip the rest”.

Although brewing coffee on the Chemex is not difficult, the filters can clog and be a challenge for new users.

Did you know about Chemex?

…that the coffee maker is available in many sizes – from 3 up to 13 cups. Today you can also find an electric version.

…that the boom in electric cookware in the 1960s meant that Chemex almost had to turn the key.

…that Dr. Schlumbohm himself was responsible for the marketing. With varying degrees of success. He is both known for dubious mottos such as: “With the Chemex, even a moron can make good coffee”, and pearls such as the one mentioned above: “Extract the best and skip the rest”.

(The pictures show the 3 and 6-cup versions, which are available at ØNSK. And Jacob, who works at ØNSK, who is churning from a 13-cup Chemex.)

Part of pop culture

Ross from Friends drinks chemex

Chemex’ is a permanent part of Monica’s apartment in the series ‘Friends’. Image from Google.

It was Peter Schlumbohm himself who was responsible for the marketing of his coffee brewer. And even though he was an eccentric person with big arm movements, the sales strategy was for demand to grow organically – from word of mouth and consumer to consumer.

A funny anecdote from 1942 tells how Dr. Schlumbohm presents a Chemex to the buyer at the huge Macy’s mall and asks him to try it. The next day, the buyer calls back with the message that Macy’s not only wanted to sell the coffee maker but also believed in it so much that they wanted to start marketing it.

Over time, pop culture in particular has helped create demand and popularity. Chemex appears in hit series such as ‘Friends’ and top films such as ‘Rosemary’s Baby`. And to make it not a lie, our all-time favourite agent, James Bond, drinks coffee from a Chemex. It happens in Ian Fleming’s fifth Bond book, ‘From Russia with Love’.

And if it’s the right coffee maker for 007, it’s probably the right coffee maker for you too.

Learn how to brew coffee with Chemex

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