I have come to find out that I have been brewing coffee at home in an unusual way, although I never realized it was strange untill the other day. While using a Chemex brand brewing decantor, I developed a technique for using paper filter that are not Chemex type filters, and another technique that achieves a French Press type of flavor.
If you have ever seen a Chemex filter, you will know that you can not simply subsitute them with any old thing. They appear stupidly oversized to the uninitiated, because they aren not pleated , crimped, rippled, or otherwise designed to fit into a basket. These things are perfectly flat circular sheets of filter paper with a diameter of about 12" or 14" (I don't have one in front of me at the moment to measur). The top of the Chemex is an inverted cone with a radius to match the shape of the filter which has been folded in the proper "Chemex" fashion. One must fold it in half, then fold the semi circular half in half to create a pie wedge shape that is a 1/4 circle. Popping open from the curved end makes it flare out to form the cone, which is placed in the top of the Chemex. The paper must be stiff enough not to buckle and fall into the bottom of the "hour glass" when wet, and large enough to keep all the grounds and water from spilling over the top. I havn't held one of these things in my hands for some 13 years now.
About 14 years ago I got a set of Chemex decantors at a yard sale. They were old even then, maybe 10-15 years old already. My roomate at the time kept one of them, and I got to keep two, one small size and one family size. The smaller one has been smashed for a decade now, but the large one (it holds more that a "12 cup" Mr. Coffee pot) lives on. It has a large shard chipped out of the top cone, but there is enough left to hold filters.
The official paper filters are not a common grocery store item. I have never seen them in departments stores either. I have not checked Willima Sanoma, but their stuff is usually out of my price range anyhow. That is why I began to use a gold filter in conjuction with the Chemex. I do not know what brand my filter is, but it is some metalic mesh with a "golden" color. I picked it up at the supermarket next to the Millstone and 8 o'clock display for maybe $5.00. It is not a perfect cone, it is made to replace #4 filters in some brand of auto drip machine. For this reason it does not fit perfectly into the top of the Chemex, but as long as one point of the gold filter is Keyed into the pouring slot it is quite suitable.
Using one of two methods, (please refer to the photo montage) I can replicate the flavor profiles of either the traditional Chemex method or the French Press. These are the two brewing methods most used by coffee roaster and coffee industry specialist. There are a couple of other unique decantor types, but the brewing principals are the same. The paper filter hold back certain coffee oils, and when the right temperature and brewing taboos are observed, one can make a clear, sweet, smooth, low acid coffee with a silky mouthfeel. The French Press allows these oils to pass through the wire mesh which brings out subtle floral or fruity notes, big birghtness in the acidity, and lets the beans shine with all their might. It also gives me heart burn and always has a muddy residue that settles to the bottom of the cup. The trick is to allow the particulate matter to settle by handeling the cup very gently and allowing only the most necessarry disturbances of the brew. The heart burn is something I am more than happy to put up with.
For the Traditional Chemex flavor I use a typical ruffled melita paper basket filter (my wife got a BJ's membership and came home with a pack of 600). I flatten it and fold it in half. The I fold in the two corners from a point off center to replicate the basic shape of a #4. Of course, you could just use a #4 filter, but that wouldn't be a cool technique specially devised by yours truely. At this point, just follow proper cone filter etiquette and your dreamy Prince Charming will take you to the ball.
To achieve the French Press flavor, simply omit the paper. Using the correct grind for my mesh filter, I place the appropriate amout of grounds in the filter and ad just enough hot filtered water to soak all the grounds without dripping down into the bottom of the hour glass. I wait plus or minus two minutes for the bloom, depending on the coffee, before adding the rest of the water, which is waiting on a heat source. This gives them time to expand as they take in moisture, and give off a lot of CO2, which is copiously expelled and inflates the bed of grounds like a pregnant lady. This is where it gets tricky, and I concentrate on three things here as I pour the remaining water:
1- Don't soak any part of the grounds more or less than any other part.
2- Don't pour the water directly through the side of the screen or it will pass without steeping any grounds.
3- Don't float the gournds by pouring fast or they will stick to the sides as the water level falls, leaving unsteeped grounds high and dry.
I think it is also important at this stage to time it so that the ground are not in contact with the water for more than four minutes from the first drop till the point when all the water has passed through the grounds. The result is a slightly cloudy brew with briliant and full flavor, like you might expect from a great French Press. All of this is assuming you are using very freshly ground coffee, very good quality beans, and an expertly roasted product. Obviously you don't need the Chemex to do this; you could place the gold filter in the top on any container you want your coffee to flow into. This includes but is not limited to: your cup, another brand of glass decantor, a thurmos bottle, some glass slipper you picked up at the ball. So long as the thing doesn't fall off the top or tilt over you are good to go.
I am not any sort of expert, master, or guru on the subject, as such, but simply some guy with an old beat up jar who happens to live close by to one the best roasting companies in the world. The coffee used in the photos is an organic Bolivian coffee from Counter Culture, and it was roasted about 28 hours before this brewing. I hope you enjoy similar results in your cup.