You’ve read the review on Ritual Coffee Roasters’ new Bayview location. But at long last, I finally got to sample one of the few Clover brewer machines in the Bay Area while visiting. Word has it that the Clover brewer was probably the most talked about subject at last week’s SCAA conference. Given how long it’s been since non-espresso, brewed coffee got some serious love and attention, and given the resulting cup the Clover produces, I’d say the buzz is warranted.

Presented with a Clover-brewed menu of six different single origin coffees (which can cost up to $8 a cup!), Ritual barista Pele was recommending their washed Kenya Gethumbwini ($4) that they roasted three days prior.

Deep inside the Flora Grubb Gardens, Ritual runs one of their Clover brewers Ritual's Clover-brewed menu

I know what some of you are probably thinking: “What?! Wasn’t the $4 cup of coffee supposed to be some running Starbucks joke in the popular media? Except here you’re not even getting a double-tall, four-pump vanilla caramel macchiato!”

Point taken. A $4 cup of coffee is certainly not for everyone. But if you love the stuff, you really must try it. I found the Clover brewer to bring out complex flavors often inherent in top quality, medium-to-light roast coffees — not entirely unlike what you might experience with vacuum pot coffee. Pele, Flying Goat Coffee buyer Phil Anacker, and I wondered if anyone has ever tried using a darker roast in a Clover. But then darker roast coffee is often like ordering your steak “well done” — not only does it hide imperfections, but it also deadens most of what’s interesting in its flavor.

I purchased some of their Kenya Gethumbwini beans for the home version — to try in a vac pot tomorrow morning for comparison. But the Clover seemed to really add something of a textured mouthfeel to the cup (think “drinking velvet” in wine terminology) in addition to accentuating the brightness of the coffee. Flavorwise, you could notice citrus-like brighter notes mixed in with a typical Kenyan chocolate flavor.

Water is added to the grinds The grinds are whisked with the resulting mixture (nice thumb, eh?)

“So how does this whole Clover thing work?,” you might ask. It’s not nearly as much of a show as you get from vacuum pot coffee. But there are some deliberate steps involved with these $11,000, custom-to-the-cup brewers:

  1. Measure out the whole coffee beans out on a scale.
  2. Grind the beans.
  3. Dump the grinds into the top reservoir of the Clover.
  4. Once the hot water enters the reservoir, swirl the mix with a whisk.
  5. Let the Clover brew its thing. Serve in a Ritual mug.
  6. Once finished brewing, the Clover reservoir will have pushed the spent grinds to the top of the machine. From there, you squeegee the grinds into another top-mounted reservoir towards the front of the machine — this muck then gets pumped out.
  7. Smell the fresh coffee and drink up.

When finished, the grinds are forced to the top for squeegee-ing off into the front reservoir for disposal A $4 cup of coffee that was worth every penny

UPDATE: May 12, 2007
The vac pot home version of the Kenya Gethumbwini was quite a success. It has excellent brightness with floral and tangerine-like notes. But what it didn’t have was the mouthfeel that the Clover offered.

Was that enough of a difference to justify a $4 cup over vac pot? Probably not on a regular basis. But vac pot isn’t cheap — nor practical for most cafés. So the Clover-brewed option is definitely worth the occasional treat.
The home vac pot version tasted great though not quite as good as the Clover-brewed