Upping my Coffee Game with a Chemex

I found myself at the register at Whole Foods in Oakland without any food but instead, an 8-cup Chemex, a box of filters, and a bag of Ethiopian coffee beans. As the guy rung me up, I couldn’t help but feel like I had to explain: “I want to be able to make good coffee for a lot of people” was along the lines of what I said. With complete sincerity, the guy said that he hopes everyone enjoys the coffee I make for them.

I had been thinking about getting a Chemex for a while now. You may have seen one in a coffee shop – it looks like a beaker and makes the coffee the barista is making look like a science experiment.

A Chemex!
A Chemex!

I’m pretty happy with the pour over I use every morning, a gift from friends a few years ago. But, the pour over is not meant for more than one cup of coffee at a time and I become unsure of my coffee making skills when it’s not about me. I have found myself in situations where I try to make coffee for more than one person and it doesn’t work out too well, like taking a 1/2 hour to make coffee for 5 people.

Over the last week, I volunteered for coffee duty at one place where I take spiritual classes as they held one of their workshops. My task would be to make coffee during a few of the sessions for the teacher and the students who had come in from around the country/world to attend, including during their 5am morning sessions over the weekend.

This was my chance. I could totally use this opportunity to get a Chemex! But, there was that pesky little detail of having no idea how to use one.

For starters, I couldn’t just buy a Chemex and call it a day. I knew enough about the thing to know that I would need to invest in a digital scale and a proper kettle to allow me to control the amount of coffee and water used, in addition to the flow of water over the coffee. I never got these items for my pour over, even though they would’ve been useful – I have been eyeballing how much coffee I ground like a rebel this entire time while using the regular kettle in the house. But if I was going to get a Chemex, I wanted to do it right.

So I got everything I thought I needed: the Chemex, the right filters, a digital scale, the gooseneck kettle. Then, I sought out the owner of one of my favorite cafes in Oakland, hanging around until she had a moment for me to interrogate her on the best practices of using a Chemex. She gave some really good tips and tricks and suggested Stumptown’s tutorial on how to use a Chemex, as it was meant to be pretty straightforward. No “one half, counter-clockwise turn with a wooden spoon after 5 clockwise turns during specific phases of the moon” in this particular tutorial, for which I was grateful.

However, I couldn’t have the first time I used a chemex be for the workshop so I took everything to work and made coffee for myself and my manager/coffee buddy. I made it in my cubicle, having filled my kettle with the hot water in the break room and got started, ear buds in, watching/listening to the tutorial as I was making the coffee, syncing the start of the stopwatch on my phone with the time the dude on the tutorial started his timer, pouring the appropriate number of grams of water over the ground coffee at the suggested increments of time. It was a bit nerve-wracking.

After about 4 minutes and a messy cube later, I got it done and the coffee tasted pretty good! There was definite room for improvement but I knew where I had made mistakes and would know then what I could do to make it better.

My cubicle, post-coffee
My cubicle, post-coffee

I ended up using the chemex a few times over the past week and each time, it got easier and easier to make. Just to make sure it tasted fine, I had to consistently sample my own supply to ensure the quality of the product. I was pretty happy with the results.

Brewing Coffee
Brewing Coffee

I may make coffee at work for tips until I make back the money I spent on all the coffee paraphernalia but I really do like the fact that I can now officially make coffee for more people than just myself. Looking forward to sharing the coffee love, InshAllah.

If you’re interested on how one brews coffee on the Chemex, check out the Stumptown tutorial.

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