The “Beautility” of Coffee—from a Chemist’s Lab
Since 1941, The Chemex Coffee Maker: Form, Function and Flavor
I’m a sucker for signs.
So when a friend showed up at my apartment with a box of 1964 Chemex filters the day after I learned that James Bond only drank coffee made in an American Chemex, I thought “Hmm…”
I’ve only become a coffee drinker in my dotage. I’m a massive tea drinker, but over the past few years I’ve grown to love having a cup of coffee in the afternoon.
I became infatuated with the Chemex story, got one for Christmas and am learning to use it. Words like ‘Bloom’ and ‘Burr Grinder’ are now part of my coffee education and vocabulary and, frankly, I’m starting to get a little full of myself.
I asked Ashley Rodriguez ofabout the Chemex pour-over brewing method and she had this to say:
Chemex brewing can be tricky. It’s the least forgiving brewing method, but it’s also such a beautiful piece of equipment and produces wonderful flavor clarity.
I’m game! And the idea of using something beautiful on a daily basis as part of a coffee routine really appeals to me.
But it does take a bit of time — not a whole lot, but enough that it may not appeal as much if you’re a morning coffee drinker dashing to work. Maybe on the weekend, then?
Form most certainly follows function with this wasp waist beauty. The Chemex isn’t, and has never been, just a pretty face. It makes delicious coffee. And its history is tied to WWII.
The Chemex Story
Here’s the opening line from the Chemex website under the ‘History’ tab:
The CHEMEX®️coffeemaker was invented in 1941 by the eccentric chemist, Dr. Peter Schlumbohm.
Intriguing! Dr. Schlumbohm wanted to design a useful product that was also beautiful. He referred to his invention as part of the “Beautility” category.
The borosilicate glass carafe being of “non-porous labware that would impart no flavor of its own” was embellished with a heat-proof wooden collar and leather tie.
During WWII metal was needed for the war effort.
Its Bauhaus-inspired design is so elegant it became part of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
But there was another important part of Dr. Schlumbohm’s invention: Double-Bonded filters.
Again, from the Chemex website:
Being a chemist he (Dr. Schlumbohm) studied and understood clearly the chemistry behind the extraction of flavor and caffeine from coffee beans.
It was this knowledge that led him to invent the double-bonded CHEMEX®️ paper filters for a perfect extraction.
There’s so much more interesting history about Chemex and “the eccentric” Dr. Schlumbohm and if you’d like to read about it here’s a link:
History of Chemex, Click: Here
How to Brew
There are 8 steps to the Chemex pour-over method called “Brewing 101” and I’ve linked to the steps: Here
It’s straightforward, and one of the most important steps is the initial small pour-over that allows the coffee to “Bloom.”
If you’d like to learn more about this step, Ashley Rodriguez (who I quoted earlier) has written a terrific piece for Serious Eats. Click: Here
Chemex’s Captivating Star Turns
If there was an award for “Best Supporting Performance by a Coffee Pot” it would have to go to the Chemex.
From The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Rosemary’s Baby to Friends to Mad Men to Curb Your Enthusiasm, the Chemex has graced both big and small screens.
As well it should.
The Chemex is an icon of the coffee and design worlds. I’m so glad that the pour-over coffee method is back in vogue and has been steadily rising in popularity because, selfishly, I’m drinking coffee now.
I’m late to the party, but it’s already been fun trying to catch up. ☕️
A Peek Inside my Cupboards
My friend, Food Writer Rachel Phipps ofis doing a series on the cupboards of fellow food writers. Rachel did a lovely feature this week on some of my cupboards, so click on the orange link above to read the full article. Thank you, Rachel!
Speaking of my kitchen, the next Tuesday edition for premium subscribers will be in your inbox on January 24 and will include more peeking into my kitchen.
The next Friday edition will post on February 3rd.
Thank you to Ashley Rodriguez, have a great weekend, Everyone!
All the best, Jolene
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