Invention And History
The Chemex, invented in 1941, was arguably the first coffeemaker to emphasize form alongside function. Created by chemist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, it was intended to be a work of art as well as an effective tool. (He referred to them as “Beautilities.”) Schlumbohm wanted to reimagine the perfect cup of coffee—to strip this basic act down to its very essentials and reshape it from the ground up—and this began with design. In choosing to construct what became the Chemex’s famous hourglass shape, he ended up not only creating a device that brewed coffee without a hint of bitterness, but also a product whose elegance reflected the new, streamlined aesthetic of Mid-Century Modernism. Schlumbohm, who patented some 300 inventions during the course of his career, succeeded admirably: one can regularly find his enduring legacy, the Chemex, exhibited in the permanent collections of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art (NY), Brooklyn Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass, and as a part of temporary collections in museums around the world.
In 1941, sixty-four percent of all household coffee was made using a percolator. While the Chemex “never challenged the percolator,” writes Mark Pendergrast in his book Uncommon Grounds, it was mostly embraced by the purists of the café culture—those who had the time and the wealth to embrace an artisanal approach to making coffee. America during wartime was a comparatively thrifty nation—savings rates soared as high as 25%—and the Chemex, while perhaps too beautiful and effective to fail completely, nonetheless mostly limped along commercially until the nation could afford to give it its due praise.
The Chemex Brewer Today
Like many items once considered too luxurious to indulge in, the Chemex has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity over the last decade. Coffee connoisseurs have come to prize its consistency, beauty and integrity, while those without much disposable income rejoice at a chance to experience fantastic brewed coffee using a product that, despite all its finery, can be had for less than $50. The only real costs—which many coffee lovers are only too happy to pay—are time, patience and a willingness to learn the finer points of a different approach to brewing coffee.
How To Use A Chemex
Follow the steps below and, with practice—you’ll be brewing your way to a delicious cup of coffee.