We recently drank a lot of cups of coffee in the quest to find the very best method for brewing. What we found was that, not only will nine cups of coffee get you really wired, but the old tried and true Chemex pour over still brews a truly stellar cup -- even when compared to expensive pieces of coffee-brewing equipment.
We felt pretty good about ourselves having figured that out. But then we realized that finding the best way to brew coffee isn't enough, we also need to know the very best way to use that brewer. So we turned to coffee expert Isabel Bernegger, a
manager at the Blue Bottle Coffee NYC Chelsea store, to help us out. And that she did. Together we made a video guide on how to perfectly and optimally use your Chemex for the best cup of coffee you could ever hope for.
Watch the video above to see how it's done. (Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time -- it takes practice and a couple of bad batches. ) And then continue reading to hear what Isabel had to say when we picked her brain.
First let's get to the heart of the matter, what's the most common mistake people make when brewing coffee?
There are a lot of things that can go wrong when brewing coffee, but mostly it's the beans. Using fresh beans as close to brewing is essential to getting a good cup [this is one of the reasons Blue Bottle makes such great coffee, btw]. If you use old beans, or if they've been ground for a long time before brewing, then you'll get a very flat, bland coffee. Also, don't be scared to talk to your barista! They're the best resource you can use. They can help with things from bean selection to brew questions. Baristas work with the majority of these coffees on a daily basis so they're a huge treasure trove of information.
Why do you recommend grinding your coffee so close to brewing?
As soon as you grind coffee it starts to break down. One way to think about how quickly coffee breaks down is to think of how quickly an apple gets brown when you cut it. Coffee reacts the same way. We highly recommend buying a grinder if you're brewing with any regularity. We like burr grinders over blade grinders because they grind in a more consistent way which will make it so you can easily make a delicious cup of coffee. Blade grinders will give you some big and some little pieces of coffee that could result in over AND under extracting.
Tell us, is the swan neck kettle really necessary? Can't I just use my teapot?
Yes, the kettle makes a huge difference! There are a few reasons that we use swan neck kettles. The first is that when you're brewing a Chemex you want to have total control over your pour. You need to wet the grounds without flooding them and you need to pour a consistent, light stream. It's nearly impossible to do this with a normal teapot, because you'll end up drowning the grounds and your coffee won't extract properly.
Another reason we use swan neck kettles is that they allow the water to cool down to an appropriate temperature. You want to brew coffee with water that's a little cooler than boiling and the swan neck allows the boiling water a little bit of cool-down time.
Why do you bother wetting the filter? Can we just skip this step?
Wetting the filter not only washes out the papery flavor but it helps heat up the Chemex (and will keep your coffee warm). Don't skip!
What's the deal with the coffee "bloom" pour?
This pour is important because it helps to release gasses in the beans. And a solid bloom will help to ensure even water dispersion throughout. You're aiming to just wet the grounds, not brew anything. To get a proper bloom you add about double the amount of water as you have coffee, so if you brew with 50g of coffee the bloom pour should use 100 g of water.
What happens after the bloom?
Now, you're brewing coffee. You should have a consistent pour in the center of the grounds that lasts almost 4 minutes -- yes, it's the slow. The reason for this slow process is that you don't want to wash out the grounds, but you also don't want to dry them out.
Finally, can you tell us what it is about the Chemex that makes such a great cup?
Brewing by hand is huge. Once you learn what you're doing, brewing by hand will almost always create a more delicious coffee than one that a coffee machine makes. And the Chemex uses a relatively thick paper filter, which means that you're getting a cleaner cup of coffee, without many oils coming through. It's got a full body, and a great clarity of flavor.
Ready to make your perfect coffee? Here's what we used: a Hario scale (not totally necessary but it provides the utmost control for making coffee -- also, this one has a timer), a kettle, a Chemex and its matching filters, a burr grinder and a timer. If you're looking for good beans, we're partial to Blue Bottle's Three Africans. For a more thorough step-by-step Chemex brewing guide, let Blue Bottle walk you through the process.
We'd like to thank Blue Bottle for taking the time to show us how to make a perfect pour over. We are -- for the record -- in no way sponsored by them. We just really, REALLY like their coffee.