Q: How did the hipster burn his tongue?
A: He drank his coffee before it was cool.
Brendan brews Chemex coffee at home before he comes to work and drinks more coffee. Chemex is an old-school pour over coffee preparation that has seen resurgence of late. Look in the attic, chances are your parents or grandparents had one packed away. It is a simple borosilicate glass carafe designed to perfectly extract coffee. The funny thing about a Chemex is that there are no moving parts to replace and Brendan is the Parts Department Manager at Seattle Coffee Gear. Coincidence? I think not.
Brendan’s day is spent surrounded by carefully labeled boxes of highly specialized replacement parts. He provides parts to our Service Department and to other service centers around the U.S. who repair consumer and commercial espresso machines and grinders. More often than not, due to a lack of routine maintenance and the sheer number of internal parts, semi-automatic and superautomatic espresso machines will require service.
Contrast the high tech design of a superautomatic with the pure simplicity of a Chemex coffee maker. They both get the job done. Coffee is produced. However with a manual pour over preparation like the Chemex, you control every variable. Some baristas go to great lengths to measure in grams the freshly ground coffee and the water added so that the experience can be closely replicated each time. A variable temperature electric water kettle can be set for the ideal temperature to brew a single origin Ethiopian or an artisan local espresso blend at home. The grind, the dosage, the temperature and the timing are all variables that a superautomatic controls mechanically, but with the Chemex you control it all.
Which is better? In the end it all “boils down” to your level of willingness to participate in the coffee making process. Chemex is like coffee aromatherapy. For some people like Brendan, the preparation is as enjoyable of an experience as the final cup that is created. But we’ve all had days where it is also a blessing to be able to push a button and receive a hot mug of Americano coffee. Neither is inherently good or bad, they fill different needs. Where do you fit in the coffee spectrum, hipster or high tech?