From A Doctor's Apartment To MOMA New York, Via Macy's
Perhaps art isn’t something you immediately think of when you think of coffee, but let us assure you, when you dive deeper into speciality coffee, creativity and artistic expression are everything. Whether that be the latte art produced when pouring your favourite milky coffee, the hand-thrown, unique porcelain coffee mug you grab out of the cupboard every morning, or maybe the equipment used to brew the coffee. It is the latter that we’re talking about today, specifically the Chemex.
The Chemex coffeemaker is familiar to many, whether you’re a coffee nut or not. You may not know what it does or how to use it but you would look at one and think… that looks familiar. If you ever watched the TV show ‘Friends’ growing up like I did, you’d often see the Chemex on the shelf in Monica’s kitchen or on the table in certain breakfast scenes. No doubt it has become part of popular culture and for good reason.
Who invented the Chemex?
Designed in 1941 by German inventor and chemist Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, he was renowned for his eccentricity and countless inventions as he registered over 300 patents in his life for various different inventions from cocktail makers to cars. Being a chemist and spending a lot of his time in labs, labware provided the perfect inspiration for his coffeemaker. He was incredibly familiar with their function and their uses for filtration and extraction - key principles when brewing coffee. When the Chemex released, a slogan that often went along with it was ‘It Pays to Pay for Filtration’. The process of filtering the coffee is a key factor for creating that crystal clear cup of coffee devoid of sediment or ‘mud’, as Dr. Schlumbohm called it, and avoiding all those undesirable artefacts that other coffee making practices produced.
Chemex and it's design
Previously speaking of flavour, the glassware derived from Dr. Schlumbohm's lab equipment was non-porous and imparted no flavour of its own which is also a crucial part of the puzzle. Other vessels would often alter the taste of the coffee and it was crucial that this was avoided. It is also apparent that Dr Schlumbohm had a keen eye for design as the Chemex itself is clearly influenced by the Bauhaus school of design.
The Chemex itself is crafted out of a single piece of borosilicate glass, wrapped in a wooden collar and finished off with a rawhide tie. These seemingly simple design features were the perfect blend of form and function that Dr. Schlumbohm was aiming for and it quickly became appreciated by the masses in both the scientific community and the design community when released in 1942.
The early life of the humble Chemex
Dr. Schlumbohm gave a Chemex sample to the famous retailer Macy’s of New York in 1942, advising the store representative to take it home with him to try. The next morning Dr. Schlumbohm received a phone call saying that Macy’s would be running an advertisement campaign for the Chemex on May 24th and this became the introduction of the Chemex to the public.
The first 500 units were made in Dr. Schlumbohm's apartment and from humble beginnings it quickly became an icon not just as a kitchen staple but as a feet of design. The Chemex can now be found in museums including the Brooklyn Museum where it is part of the permanent collection, The Corning Museum of Glass, as well as at MOMA, New York. In 1943 shortly after its release the Museum of Modern Art displayed the Chemex as one of the best-designed products of that year. The Illinois Institute of Technology took this accolade a step further calling the Chemex on of the 100 best designed products of modern times.
The Chemex of today
It’s fair to say Dr. Schlumbohm achieved his objective making something highly functional and artfully designed. To this day it’s still seen as a design item as much as a functional kitchenware item. You only have to go on Instagram to see beautifully styled interiors adorned with a Chemex.
We certainly recommend that everyone has one because, not only are you buying a highly effective coffee brewer, you’re also buying a piece of design history and we think its a very small price to pay for the legacy you’re buying into. Tempted to upgrade your coffee brewing equipment? A very affordable choice of coffeemaker, be sure to visit Chemex on the GUSTATORY marketplace.
GUSTATORY (adjective): curating excellence in taste.