A long time ago in a land far, far away I mentioned that I might be writing a post about my experience with the Clever Dripper at some point in the near future.
Well, that “near future” has come and gone. In fact, we are now in what you might call the far distant future. At least in terms of the amount of time that has passed since I let my intent be known. Ah well, such is the life of the amateur blogger.
So, now, at long last, let me say a few things about my experience with the Clever:
Yeah, “yum”. The Clever has loads of potential to make that bag of finely sourced, roasted and presented bag of beans into a very tasty cup of coffee with very little effort. Especially when compared to other drip/cone methods.
All of the coffee I have made using the Clever has been the most consistently excellent coffee I have had at home…er, I mean in “The Lab”. I’ve made good cups with all of the methods at my disposal, to be sure. Day-after-day, though the Clever has been the most reliable method of getting the most out the beans I buy.
In my experience, there are but two variations in technique that make a major difference and those two can be summed up in this question:
To stir or not to stir?
That is the question. The stir has been the paramount differentiator between either two good but different cups of coffee or a good or bad cup of coffee. What do I mean?
Well, the stir most definitely provides more extraction than not stirring. It’s just that an increased extraction, given all other variables remaining the same, is not always a good thing. Sometimes it’s too much. When it is, what results is bitterness and an unpleasant concentration of flavors, somewhat akin to that reduced concoction they call coffee at your local standard breakfast spot. You know: it’s the place that has the best post-hangover breakfast in town – all the fat and grease your poor abused liver needs at a time like that – but whose coffee might as well be mixed with motor oil. Now, when the stir-generated bitterness rears its ugly head, it’s not quite that bad – I’d still rather nurse my hangover with it than with what they have at the diner down the street – but just by way of comparison, that, in my experience, is what it can edge toward.
But not always…
Let me skip to the moral of this part of the post: it all depends on the coffee. As I said, it’s only sometimes that an increased extraction is a bad thing. Many, if not most, times it is a good thing. The most recent “bad stir experience” that I can recall was with a Burundi I got from Four Barrel. Unstirred, it had a pleasant concentrated flavor of raisins with a slightly spiced aroma. “Like an oatmeal cookie”, I think Kristin Nelson, of Modern Coffee, said. It was an apt description. Stirred, after I brought it home, was another story.
Stirring seemed to make what was already a concentrated flavor into something unpleasant. What was once merely a flavor component (albeit a major one) in the brew became a dominating and overwhelming aspect of it. It killed every bit of subtlety, canceling out the spice notes. Too much.
Now, maybe, you might suggest that I was using too much of dose or possibly too fine a grind. I tried those. Same results. It was that damn stir.
Like I said, though, it depends. Just this morning I made a stirred cup of Ritual’s Costa Rica Brumas Del Zurquí. And just the other morning I made one unstirred (I know, I know but don’t worry, I have a real life too). The difference was obvious and it was the difference between a good cup of coffee and…well…another good cup of coffee.
What I think stands out with the Zurquí is an interesting hazelnut (usually I find this in Brasils but here it is more intense and upfront) and, after cooling a bit, an intense hit of blackberries (that intense, almost tannic feature of a ripe blackberry, especially as compared to the relatively more cloying raspberry). There’s a sharpness too. This is a Costa Rica, after all. What did the stir bring out?
You probably guessed already but here it is if you didn’t: it brought out more of the hazelnut and the sharpness and shoved that hit of blackberry a little more to the back so that it was far less apparent and came on a bit later in the cooling process. It was far more subtle.
3. Grind & Dose
When I first set out to write this post (I was a younger man then) I was going to go into coarse grind vs. fine grind and the ways in which one excelled over the other given different steep times and blah, blah, blah. Instead I’m going to tell you: medium grind. Something akin to cone drip, really, is just the ticket. Coarser grinds and longer steep times just never worked out for me, leaving me, no matter what I seemed to do, with an under-extracted and thin-bodied brew.
For dose, I use the ratios I learned from Square Mile Coffee Roasters: 60-75g of grounds for every liter of H2O. I weigh both the water and the grinds. For the clever, I pour the water over the grounds on a scale until it hits 425g. I use anywhere from 27–32g of grounds.
Over the last few years of “lab” time, there has been one rather constant variable in my brewing regimen. Weather it was a press-pot, the Chemex, cone drip or now, the Clever one variable among all others has remained relatively constant: time. For almost every single preparation, if the water and coffee were in contact with each other for much more than three minutes the result was less than optimal. It’s now what I shoot for when I’m brewing up a Chemex. The grind revolves around weather it is fine or coarse enough to allow all of the water to travel through the grinds in a little over (but not much over) 3:00. Any less, no matter which preparation I’ve used, and the brew was under-extracted. Any more: over-extraction.
So, with the clever, I bring the water juuuust up to a boil and then let it sit for anywhere form :30 to :45. I’ve already rinsed my filter, ground my coffee and placed it into the cone. After that :30 to :45 I pour the water very briskly over the grounds. For me, it’s all about getting enough velocity to make sure all the grounds are wet (wetting the grounds first, by the way and allowing for bloom has never brought me much success while using the Clever). If I am going to stir, I personally only want to do it once and very shortly before I set the Clever down on a vessel to drain. I still-steep (H2O with grinds, sitting on the counter) for 1:30. If I’m going to stir it’s at around the 1:00 mark. At 1:30 I set it down on whatever I’ve chosen to use as the receiving vessel and by the 3:00 mark most, if not all the H2O should have made its way through the Clever and into transfer container/mug. If I stir, I get a nice, flat collection of spent grounds. If I don’t, I get a cone of grounds that coat the sides with a thick layer.
And that’s it. Success, I’d say, a good 95% of the time.