If you've spent any time in Rico's Coffee, Chocolate and Wine Bar, you may have noticed sets of sleek, hourglass-shaped carafes behind the bar or at tables, plugged on top by unusually shaped conical coffee filters.
These modern and elegant glassworks are products of the Chemex style of coffee brewing (chemexcoffeemaker.com), a hand-powered, manual method that understandably strikes some people as a pretty fancified way to make a cup of coffee.
But Chemex's mysteriously arduous and antiquated process actually does produce a uniquely strong and flavorful cup of joe, or as Bill Rice says in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, "Simple, workingman's coffee."
Apparently, it's such a remarkable product that after a 1950s poll of industry experts the Illinois Institute of Technology placed it on its list of "100 best-designed products of modern times" and the Corning Museum of Glass in New York displays the Chemex coffee pot in its permanent collection.
Who knew? (Rico's owner Richard Skorman, apparently.)
As for how the contraption works: Rico's baristas begin the process by unfolding the scientifically engineered Chemex filters. The filters were designed with the advanced chemistry of coffee-brewing in mind, and are modeled after those used for professional laboratory work. The design makes them thicker and heavier, and, according to both Chemex and Rico's baristas, distributes water to each ground more evenly than the inferior coffee filters in your cupboard.
Next, they prepare the beans into coarse grounds, only grinding enough for a 32-ounce batch (two large-sized cups at Rico's, or two grande cups, in case you only speak Starbucks). The small batch size ensures that the coffee you purchase hasn't been sitting around for hours.
Once the grounds are ready for their transubstantiation — yeah, I spent a few years in coffee shops myself — the next step is to "prime" them, an integral process. This entails pouring a small amount of 205-degree water onto the grounds and allowing them time to expand and soak in the water before the final pour.
Priming the grounds is the foreplay of coffee brewing. It enhances the percolation of the water through the grounds, supposedly reducing bitterness and allowing the water to better steep out the coffee's flavorful oils.
After the priming, it's time for the final pour. Rico's baristas slowly let the water seep and absorb into the grounds. Finally, the coffee comes dripping out, ready to drink.
"When we say handcrafted," one Rico's employee assures, "we mean handcrafted."
Chemex hardware is available for purchase in-store, so if you buy into the brew method's superiority, you can bring a carafe home to your kitchen. Or to your glass collection.