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Published April 09, 2014, 04:29 PM

Review: Chemex coffee a clean, crisp brew, but lacks boldness

FARGO – The Chemex coffeemaker is one of the latest trends in coffee-making gadgetry popping up in foodie kitchens, but it isn’t new.

By: Heidi Tetzman Roepke, INFORUM

FARGO – The Chemex coffeemaker is one of the latest trends in coffee-making gadgetry popping up in foodie kitchens, but it isn’t new.

The distinctive glass carafe with a wooden collar and leather tie, which serve as an insulated handle, was invented by a chemist in 1941. Over the years it has been recognized for its elegant, modern design, but I was curious to know if it lives up to fans’ claims of making a superior brew.

The Chemex is a “pour-over” coffee-making method, which is about as simple as it sounds. Hot water is poured into the top vessel, which contains a paper filter filled with coffee grounds. The coffee slowly drips through the filter into the vessel below. Voila.

For my first try at Chemex, I started with Stumbeano’s House Blend coffee beans, which I ground to a medium grind – or a little coarser than drip grind – as I waited for my water kettle to heat up. I placed the square paper filter in the top vessel with three of the folded edges on one side, and one on the other, producing a cone shape.

Brewing instructions call for one tablespoon of coffee per cup, so I added six tablespoons of coffee grounds to the filter for my 6-cup Chemex. (Several sizes and types are available at www.chemex

coffeemaker.com.) Once my water was boiling, I took it off the heat for 30 seconds, and then poured a small amount onto the grounds, just enough to wet them.

The instructions call for waiting 30 seconds for the grounds to “bloom” so they can take in the water more evenly. (Add eyebrow raise of skepticism here.) After that, I poured the water over the grounds in small amounts in a circular motion as directed, soaking the grounds each time.

In a world of automatic-drip coffeemakers and Keurig machines, these steps, or any waiting at all, won’t be for everyone. But advocates for “slow coffee” methods say the extra few minutes is worth it for a better cup of coffee.

Next, the moment of truth. My first thought was that it had a very clean, almost crisp flavor. It wasn’t bitter and had more clarity in the flavors than my last cup from an automatic-drip coffeemaker. No extra grounds floating around or sediment at the bottom of this cup. In a word: precise.

Further review prompted thoughts that maybe next time I should use more grounds. I wouldn’t say it was weak, but it was a contrast to the full-bodied, almost chewy result I can get from a French press, the latter retaining more of the oils from the beans.

Bottom line: The Chemex makes a routine into a ritual with a few more minutes of preparation involved, but this can also be a downside if you’re short on time. It produces a clean, smooth cup of coffee, but not everyone will prefer its lack of boldness. I’ll probably use it on the weekends when I’m in the mood for a more leisurely brew.

Tetzman Roepke is the assistant features editor at The Forum. Readers can reach her at htetzman@forumcomm.com.