The Mystique of the Chemex Filter

At the risk of alienating a lot of good coffee friends and placing myself in that category of observes who will most assuredly get picked last for the Barista KickBall tournament (again) this year, I’m just gonna go ahead and say it.  I do not believe in the Mystique of the Chemex filter.

From the side of the Chemex filter box we read:

“Perfect coffee gives you full flavor without bitterness….  Chemex-bonded® filters filter out all bitterness, sediment, and oils: prduce a clear, flavorful coffee, without fail.”

This simple and effective marketing language has spawned the widely held belief that there is something special and unique about the fiber and construction of this particular paper that endows it with the almost magical property capturing “all bitterness”.   I would appreciate an explanation of just exactly what physical mechanism present in the fibers of this revered fabric can distinguish between bitter flavor components and all the hundreds of flavor components present in coffee liquid.  Of course, that is the purpose of marketing; to distinguish your product as something unique among all the similar or identical products available.  Well I don’t believe it.

As any Barista experienced in dialing in pour-over brewing methods will (hopefully) tell you, reducing bitterness is a function of grind adjustment, agitation,  and dwell time.  The Chemex can be a real curmudgeon when it comes to dwell time.  This is in no small part due to the design of the filter (in combination with the smooth and ridge-less glass).  The beauty and elegance of the beaker is without question.  There is no bucket of criticism in that department that will carry any water, or coffee.  The exquisite  hour glass shape combined with accents of natural wood and leather provide the user with an unparalleled feeling of happiness when brewing or serving.  But this is no reason to imbue the Chemex with such fictitious qualities borne out of the herd mentality, or worse,  superstition.

I believe the most important factor in filter paper is the fiber from which it is made.  Abaca filters are excellent for strength-to-weight ratio and low occurrence of flavorful starches and tastful impurities.


Out of the Box

La Marzocco Strada and other things seen at Chelsea Market at the Out Of The Box event last week.

Manually controled pressure on a GS3, dig it, no steam wand

Ever wonder what your kettle temperature is?

Happines is preparing drinks without customer interuption

Lindsay and Kimmy from Spro test the manual pressure control

This I see with a belly full of Saussice D'Allsance

I love this machine at Blue Bottle, Brooklyn

Hangin’ with the Champ

While Gwylim Davies was stuck in North America  (on account of all that volcanic eruption over the skies of Europe) I took the opportunity to visit my co-workers at the New York Counter Culture training center to cup with him.  We also ate copious amounts of meat at the Texas BBQ joint across the street.  Then he pulled a guest shift at Dean & Deluca in Soho.

Gwylim shows Maria some cool Barista stuff

We had cupped the components of the Toscano blend, sort of the old flagship CCC espresso.  Gwyliam and I talked about the Sumatra Gayo ingredient.  He was genuinely surprised that a Sumatran coffee could actually taste good.  We talked of the tradition in Sumatra of very careless processing by hundreds of small garden farmers, and of how meticulously this coffee from the Northern tip of the island had been handled.  A little education and some incentive ($) go a long way towards elevating coffee quality from almost any particular  region (given the terroir is appropriate).

There was a pretty small turnout to the cupping considering the significant guest

All in all it was a fun day, and it’s nice to catch a few zzzes on the train coming home, even though it’s pretty late by the time I pull up to my house after a NY visit.

Town Hall: Finaly


Town Hall Coffee in Bala Cynwyd, just outside the Philadelphia city line, soft opens after a couple years of conceptualization, planning, and build out.

Aida, holding my bag

I made this messenger bag from a burlap coffee bag from Finca Mauritania.  Betty from Spruce Street Espresso took in to El Salvador for a bag making project, the details of which will be forthcoming.  Here is Aida Battle, coffee producer and owner of Finca Mauritania, holding the bag.  Apparently she though Betty was giving to her as a gift, and was disappointed when she had to give it back.

Coffee fest stuff



So what is going on in Seacaucus? Well, no drainage on the show floor, but there is water lines in. And we are brewing lots of coffee.

The MARBC is taking place in a humid shoe box. That wreaks havok with grinder settings. And union wages make it prohibativley expensive to video srteam, so I don’t know if that will happen.

Some interesting barista tools though. Tired of customers complaining of noisy knock boxes? How about an automatic portafilter cleaner from

Jay’s Strange Jam

The eagerly anticipated opening of Jay Caragay’s second Spro location in Hampden, Baltimore, was pre-heated with a dawn to dusk Barista Jam last Saturday. The day was the organizational brain child of Lindsay Wailes, one of Jay’s Baristas for the new location.  The basic outline of the day went like this

-Eat a catered pastry and yogurt breakfast

-Coffee brewing Demos

-Eva solo, Clever drip, Chemex, Syphon, Aeropress

-Free play


-Competition rules and judging workshop

-Latte art workshop

-Catered diner


The crowd gathers early in the AM

Barista Joy "controls the moist" with a Clever Drip

It was a lot of stuff to pack into one day.  Jay’s Baristas had been put in charge of dialing in all the brewing parameters of all the methods using all the coffees they carry.  There were multiple roasters represented from Barefoot, Intelligentsia, Hines , Counter Culture, as well as local Baltimore roasters Bluebird and Zekes.  I like how Jay has delegated the brewing parameters to the staff.  Simultaneously empowering, instilling confidence, and raising skill levels, this ingenious training tactic has made the shop a better place before the doors are even open.  Each brewing method was demonstrated by the Barista who personally developed the shop’s technique for that particular method.  All the methods delivered extremely good presentations of the coffees specifically chosen for each brewing device.

Lindsay Wailes, event organizer, watches over a syphon brew

The space is located along a retail strip of old, narrow store fronts in an area where the architecture is reminiscent a little bit of Washington DC.  There is comfortable church pew (rarely do the two go together) and handful of two topper tables and chairs.  The bar area is designed with the Barista in mind.  An island of counter houses the brew bar, with a large hot water tower and it’s own sink, a single halogen burner for the syphons, a two bay stainless steel pour over station, and spare room for scales and things.  The old LaMarzocco Linea, developed and built as a prototype for Starbucks many years ago (but never placed in green apron service) now features bright halogen lamps that illuminate only when the group is activated.  The white light created by these babies is soooo much nicer than the blue shift of LEDs.

The white halogen shines on Hines

There was a cupping lead by Devlin, formerly a roaster from New Harvest in Providence, Rhode Island.  Scott Conary, USBC big time judge talked about rules and judges, and various interpretations of rules.  I lead a latte art workshop.  It was my goal to have a very informative workshop while keeping to a minimum of demonstration.  The only latte art I poured for the workshop was a single Monk’s Head design, which is something I like for people to practice.  It is a great “back to basics” skill drill.

Edit:  It has just occurred to me that Scott Conary is a big time WBC judge, not USBC.

Keep the glow alive

You can read about the latte art throwdown in the previous post, which I won.  It is the first latte art throwdown I have ever won.  I won a bag of people’s stuff, which was kind of cool.