Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Best Coffee Maker On Grid or Off?

As appliances in our home have "bit the dust" (that's southern talk for died... kicked the bucket... no longer working), I've looked for alternative replacements that are truly "simple machines", needing little in terms of fossil fuels. So when the expensive drip maker started giving us trouble many months ago, I pulled out a French Press I had stored away and used that for my morning brew.

My husband, not so eager to let go of his electronic gadget (he adores technology), continued to use the drip maker by pouring water in the basket over the grounds every time he wanted a cup. Since this contraption had a spring release in the bottom of the basket in order to stop the dripping when you pulled out the carafe, the process took some time. Let's just say... it wasn't very efficient. And it never seemed clean to me. And it took up a lot of space on the counter. And it was ugly. And... 

Okay... I confess I didn't like it.

For the most part, I was okay with the French Press. It made a decent cup of coffee, but it always seemed slightly bitter. Not my favorite flavoring, but REALLY not my husband's favorite! We needed something we both liked. Something efficient, clean, and non-electric.

Enter the Chemex.

Now I know you've probably seen one of these. I even remember my dad using one when I was a kid (he'd make coffee with anything, IN anything!). They've been around a long time; 1941 to be exact. And it is totally S.I.M.P.L.E. Even more simple than the French Press.

But that's not the only reason I like it so much. The coffee isn't bitter at all! With the French Press, the grounds sit in the water and continue to do so (which is why I think it takes on a bitter taste). However, with the Chemex, the water passes over the grounds, just like in a drip maker, but instead of using an electric pump to get the water over the grounds, it uses gentle muscle action combined with gravity.

That's right... you lift your arm and pour the water over the grounds and gravity pulls the water through the filter into the bottom of the carafe. It takes just a minute and it's basically a no fail method as long as you have a heat source for a water kettle.

Here's a little brewing tip from Chemex... pour just enough hot water over the grounds to wet them through and allow them to "bloom". When the little bit of water you poured over them has drained out, you know to go ahead and pour the rest of the water over the bloomed grounds.

The little "belly button" on the side is an indicator of 
how many cups of water are at that mark 
(ie: for a 6 cup pot, the belly button denotes 3 cups). 

One of the biggest drawbacks for me with the French Press was the fact that I had no way to keep the coffee hot once the water was poured over the grounds. With the Chemex, you have two alternatives that seems to work... a simmer plate on a gas stove or a stainless steel wire grid for an electric stove. The manufacturer does not recommend placing the Chemex directly on an electric stove, nor over an open flame, but with a simmer plate or wire grid, it works great! Just be sure there's some coffee in it!

We'd had our pot almost a month when someone left only a couple of tablespoons of coffee in the carafe on the simmer plate. I came in MUCH later, only to find dried up crusty coffee all over the bottom. Seriously, I thought it was totally ruined. I allowed the pot to cool completely and then I rinsed the inside with water... almost every single bit of it washed right out! The remaining bit came out with some soap and a bottle brush. Whew! A piece of cake (although I do NOT recommend this!).

The bottom of the Chemex resembles a glass beaker, like you'd find in a laboratory, while the top also hails from the chemist's lab: a glass funnel. Combined into one continuous piece, the Chemex has very little to clean.

My hand can't fit down inside, but by using another simple tool, the bottle brush, I can easily and quickly make a pass through the inside with a bit of soap and water... and clean up is complete! However, I do prefer to remove the wood collar most of the time so as to prolong the finish. I thought this would be hard to take off and on, but it's been much easier and quicker than I anticipated. In the end, I have a spotlessly clean coffee maker every single time.

Finally, there is the cost issue. Many electric coffee pots range from $50 - 150. And unfortunately, their lifetime is only about 2 - 3 years... at least in our home. The cost of electricity is also added to raise the bottom line of these devices.

With the Chemex, you can expect to pay $35 to less than $50, unless you select a handblown model (mine is a Classic 6 cup pot). And, you only have to heat the water once (again, this is unless you use the simmer plate to keep it warm, but it's always an option to just enjoy your coffee immediately after brewing). Certainly the glass could break, but the replacement cost is so much less than an electric pot! And with almost every drip maker, there's a glass carafe anyway. Have you ever tried to replace that? A new one is at least half the price of a Chemex.

In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know Chemex sent me their product to try at my request. Without a doubt, I'm sold! I can not reasonably see why I will ever go back to an electric drip maker when I can have the same thing, only better, for less money and save some extra bucks in electricity costs. With all the electric coffee pots I've purchased over the years, I just scratch my head and wander why I didn't figure this out sooner?


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