Peter Schlumbohm with Chemex coffeemakers. (Photo from LIFE Magazine, 1949)

Peter Schlumbohm with Chemex coffeemakers. (Photo from LIFE Magazine, 1949)

Spawned from the unlikely mind of an expat German scientist — the Chemex coffeemaker is a brilliant melding of design and convenience, a thermal carafe drip-system consisting of lab grade borosilicate beaker glass and a filtration system using laboratory filter paper.

Peter J. Schlumbohm, Ph.D, moved to New York City in the mid-1930s and was desperately searching for a great cup of coffee amid the city’s stale automats and late night diners.

Kaufmann Mercantile Chemex coffeemaker

The Chemex we sell in our store.

Finally — fed up — he decided to construct his own coffeemaker with the tools on hand. In his case, laboratory tools. The result, 50 years later, is still winning design awards (it’s also part of the MOMA permanent collection), and brewing an excellent cup of joe.

I have had the pleasure of owning two Chemex. My first, the classic Chemex coffee maker — with the wood holding ring and leather cord — was one of my favorite breakfast fetishes, a hippie classic and a combo of all the things I love — the clean lines of the beaker glass, the earthy wood, the worn leather cording… and the hot, delicious coffee on a foggy LA morn. 

Peter Schlumbohm with Chemex coffeemaker. (photo courtesy of The Hagley Museum and Library)

Peter Schlumbohm inspecting his work. (photo courtesy of The Hagley Museum and Library)

I dropped it and broke it, which is something I tend to do, so my next Chemex, although still beautiful, is of the glass handle/contemporary model, a better way to brew for a klutz like myself. Thank you Dr. Schlumbohm!

Drawings of the Chemex patent, 1947.

The 1947 patent for Chemex.

FURTHER READING

Article in TIME MAGAZINE from 1946, article in LIFE MAGAZINE from 1949, article in THE NEW YORKER from 1954.

The LIFE Magazine image found at Google Books.

4 Comments

  1. brian numme
    Posted July 18, 2011 at 2:05 AM | Permalink

    Have been using Chemex pots since the late 60's and will never use any other. I dislike anything electric and especially that is manufactured in China. The simplicity of design, ease of use, and the flavorsome brew are all most welcome.

  2. Posted November 16, 2011 at 8:16 PM | Permalink

    (A long time ago) when I was ten years old, my family moved from New York City to New Jersey. Not very long after, one of the first shopping malls was built in our town, and Stern's built a department store there. Because my parents were furnishing our new house, my mother decided she would go to work at Stern's in order to get the employee discount on furniture. She ended working in the houseware's department, and to this day I have two wonderful things she discovered there.

    The first is a set of stainless steel flatware made in Germany. It has perfectly balanced hollow handle knives, and nothing I have ever seen in terms of stainless flatware compares to its elegance and beauty!

    The second is her hand-blown Chemex Coffeemaker.

    In the late 1960's I married my high school boyfriend just one month shy of my twenty-first birthday. He had just graduated from NYU, and we were moving to Philadelphia because he was going to Penn for a graduate degree. One of the presents I received at my bridal shower was a Chemex of my very own. Two of my husband's cousins were coming over one night after dinner to see our little apartment with its view of the New York City skyline and have coffee and dessert. Out came the Chemex. I used it that night for the first time, following its specific instructions exactly. Twenty minutes after I started, we had very delicious but rather lukewarm coffee. Since then, I have learned how to make wonderful hot-enough coffee in a Chemex, but that night remains a very fond recollection for me of the days when I was learning how to wend my way around the kitchen.

  3. Fran Watson Richards
    Posted January 8, 2013 at 3:54 AM | Permalink

    Chemex makes marvelous coffee. I've used it since early 1960s, broke one once, replaced it, and am still using it.

  4. WEndy
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 12:15 AM | Permalink

    I would love to know how u managed to make a piping cup without using water that's been at a rolling boil as they suggest! Loved your story…

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