From Chemex, with Love

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He likes his martini shaken, not stirred. Yes, yes—we know that. But what about how Mr. Bond liked his coffee?

Two large cups, black and without sugar.

In the 1957 novel, From Russia With Love, we see James Bond’s love of breakfast. “Breakfast was Bond’s favourite meal of the day. When he was stationed in London it was always the same. It consisted of very strong coffee, from de Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex, of which he drank two large cups, black and without sugar. The single egg, in the dark blue egg cup with a gold ring round the top, was boiled for three and a third minutes.”

The precision of this breakfast is so fitting, and the Chemex is no accident, of course. While the iconic hourglass shape of the Chemex may seem like it was born out of the third wave, it has actually been in production since 1942. German-born chemist Peter Schlumbohm invented the Chemex. His patent (No. 2,241,368) for a ‘Filtering Device’ was filed on Thursday, April 13, 1939 And 735 years earlier on same day, Constantinople fell, temporarily ending the Byzantine Empire. More on that, later.

The Chemex's high sleek lines are unmistakable and have been featured in popular movies and shows, including alongside Mia Farrow (twice!), Dustin Hoffman, Doris Day, and even on Friends multiple times. Oh, and if Bond likes it, you know Don Draper does, too.

 Still from Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Still from Rosemary's Baby (1968)

 Scene from FRIENDS

Scene from FRIENDS

 From  MoMA, 1942.  To search more of this issue see  HERE  (google image) or  HERE  (JSTOR).

From MoMA, 1942. To search more of this issue see HERE (google image) or HERE (JSTOR).

The Chemex was invented by Dr. Peter Schlumbohm, "a scientist with a larger-than-life personality and a strong perfectionist streak" according to this great profile in Collector's Weekly. In 1942, MoMA notably shoewd the Chemex on the cover of its bulletin. The title of that issue: "Useful Objects in Wartime." 

The Chemex is often cited as a magical object by its fans, who seem to hold this object up as a magic lamp to release a genie. The alchemical wizard imagery isn't too hard to conjure, but is curious, given the chemist's beaker and high-science design. But alchemy in coffee will be transparent not only in this design, but when you try the brew and have a rich drink with no sediment.

But back to Bond. The choice to include the Chemex in From Russia, with Love is an interesting one. Apparently, "Fleming's trip to Istanbul in June 1955 to cover an Interpol conference for The Sunday Times was a source of much of the background information in the story." [via] And Istanbul was the site of the first coffeehouse, Kiva Han in 1475.

Below you can read the full Bond breakfast scene from the novel, From Russia, with Love, by Ian Fleming.

 Still captured from the  From Russia, with Love (1963)  intro sequence

Still captured from the From Russia, with Love (1963) intro sequence

"Bond went back to his breakfast. Normally it was little straws in the wind like this that would start a persistent intuitive ticking in his mind, and, on other days, he would not have been happy until he had solved the problem of the man from the Communist union who kept on coming to the house. Now, from months of idleness and disuse, the sword was rusty in the scabbard and Bond’s mental guard was down.

Breakfast was Bond’s favourite meal of the day. When he was stationed in London it was always the same. It consisted of very strong coffee, from De Bry in New Oxford Street, brewed in an American Chemex, of which he drank two large cups, black and without sugar. The single egg, in the dark blue egg cup with a gold ring round the top, was boiled for three and a third minutes.

It was a very fresh, speckled brown egg from French Marans hens owned by some friend of May in the country. (Bond disliked white eggs and, faddish as he was in many small things, it amused him to maintain that there was such a thing as the perfect boiled egg.) Then there were two thick slices of whole-wheat toast, a large pat of deep yellow Jersey butter and three squat glass jars containing Tiptree ‘Little Scarlet’ strawberry jam; Cooper’s Vintage Oxford marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum’s. The coffee pot and the silver on the tray were Queen Anne, and the china was Minton, of the same dark blue and gold and white as the egg-cup. 

That morning, while Bond finished his breakfast with honey, he pinpointed the immediate cause of his lethargy and of his low spirits. To begin with. Tiffany Case, his love for so many happy months, had left him and, after final painful weeks during which she had withdrawn to a hotel, had sailed for America at the end of July. He missed her badly and his mind still sheered away from the thought of her. And it was August, and London was hot and stale. He was due for leave, but he had not the energy or the desire to go off alone, or to try and find some temporary replacement for Tiffany to go with him. So he had stayed on in the half-empty headquarters of the Secret Service, grinding away at the old routines, snapping at his secretary and rasping his colleagues.

Even M had finally got impatient with the surly caged tiger on the floor below, and, on Monday of this particular week, he had sent Bond a sharp note appointing him to a Committee of Inquiry under Paymaster Captain Troop. The note said that it was time Bond, as a senior officer in the Service, took a hand in major administrative problems. Anyway, there was no one else available. Headquarters were short-handed and the 00 Section was quiescent. Bond would pray report that afternoon, at 2.30, to Room 412.

It was Troop, reflected Bond, as he lit his first cigarette of the day, who was the most nagging and immediate cause of his discontent."

You can find the full text of the novel here.

Liz PearComment