You Can’t Afford This Coffee Maker

The Best Home Coffee Makers

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The Chemex is an hourglass-shaped glass flask designed by German-immigrant chemist Peter Schlumbohm in 1941.

It makes beautifully clear, flavorful coffee, but compared to a French press (see next recommendation), it’s relatively time-consuming and messy, which can be a challenge first thing in the morning.

Dampen a special Chemex paper filter, insert it into the top of the flask, add medium-ground coffee, and continually add slightly-cooler-than-boiling water until you’ve brewed your desired amount. You don’t simply add water then step away. You must keep the top vessel filled while the finished coffee filters to the bottom. The sand-through-the-hourglass-like process is what makes the finished product so good. It gives the hot water time to infuse the coffee, yet also filter through.

Many coffee experts use a French press in the morning, because it’s easy to operate and clean out. Plus there are no paper filters, which people with very exacting palates claim can impart or absorb flavors. This Chambord model is a classic and considered to be one of the best.

It debuted in 1933, manufactured incongruously by a clarinet factory in Normandy. Now owned by Bodum, the press is still the same. It comes in several sizes. Like all French presses, it works like this: Add coarsely ground coffee and near-boiling water to the pot, then place the filter plunger on top, but don’t press down yet. After you let the grounds and water steep for about four minutes, press the plunger down slowly—the water will be pushed through the strainer, leaving the grounds behind on the bottom of the pot. Your coffee is ready.

Can a Good Coffee Maker Transform Bad Coffee?

Out of curiosity, I wanted to see if the French press and the Chemex could make low-quality coffee taste good. I chose Folgers Classic Roast, which in my opinion somehow manages to be thin yet jaw-achingly sharp and bitter.

The folks at Intelligentsia declined to let me brew Folgers in their Clover, because a company representative said we wouldn’t know the correct settings and therefore wouldn’t give the coffee a fair shake. I felt it would have been a bit much to ask Intelligentsia’s quality-control team to determine the best settings, and Folgers does not have brewing guidelines for the Clover.

Following Intelligentsia’s general guidelines for brewing coffee in non-Clover appliances, I used Brita-filtered water—boiled in an electric kettle and the temperature verified with a digital thermometer to be 205 degrees Fahrenheit—and two tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water.

The standard grind of Folgers was too fine for the French press, leaving way too much sediment. The Chemex made a characteristically clean and sediment-free coffee. Otherwise the finished cups of coffee were similar: There was no body. It was like drinking hot, brown, burnt water, an interesting concept actually. The piercing bitterness I usually taste with coffee of this caliber wasn’t there. So sadly, the answer is no, not even two great coffee makers can make bad coffee taste good. Just a little better.

Louisa Chu is a chef and food writer who’s cooked her way through the world’s hottest kitchens, from El Bulli to Alinea. And yeah, that’s her taking Anthony Bourdain on the Paris meat market tour in No Reservations on the Travel Channel. Louisa can currently be found in Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie on PBS, Gourmet’s Choptalk, and her own food blog, Movable Feast.

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