A Clever Morning Ritual

Clever Dripper, Boiling Water, Hario Mini Mill, Good Beans

There is something magical in moving an everyday act from a rushed job into a ritual. Coffee is the kind of thing most people want to get to as quickly as possible. Pop in a pod. Push a button. Or, better yet, pull up to a drive-through and have them hand over the completed cup. While I’m no aficionado, but I do prefer something slightly more labor intensive, not to mention cost effective. At home, I’ve been using either a French press or a semi-automatic espresso machine with pretty good, but definitely not optimal, results. But I knew it was time for a change. Time to ramp up the ritual in my coffee making.

Variations on the pourover/drip/Chemex cup of coffee are popping up at a lot of the more progressive coffee shops here in Atlanta and in other cities, which is kinda funny since it is a bit of a step back to more simpler methods. Of course, everything comes down to attention to detail – what type of filter, how fine a grind, how hot the water, grams of coffee to ounces of water, etc. – but it’s nice to see the focus on the ingredients and method rather than technology per se. The Clever Coffee Dripper ($20 on Amazon) manages to be fairly innovative and very basic all at once. It’s a conical drip cup that requires a filter, but it also has a mechanism that holds the water in the cone until you’re ready to let it drip on through. So it’s basically a combo drip/French press.  I recently bought one and have been enjoying playing it with – it makes a great cup of coffee, one cup at a time. The combination of steeping in the cone and dripping through the filter manages to produce a cup that’s both deep and “clean” at once. It’s definitely not as “muddy” as a French press cup, and definitely more nuanced than a basic drip. I personally find that it works best with brighter coffees that have a nice acidic edge rather than deep, dark roasts. But to each his own. I’ve posted some basic instructions below, but the fun in this is playing around with the different steps and variables until you find what suits you best.

Also, when I ordered the Clever, I knew I had to step up to a better grinder. My espresso machine has a built-in burr grinder, but I can’t really use that outside the machine. I knew I wanted quality, but wasn’t ready to drop a couple hundred bucks. My solution? The generally lauded Hario Mini Mill ($30 on Amazon) burr grinder from Japan. It’s compact. It’s manual. The instructions are only in Japanese, which makes for an intriguing challenge. And, yes, you actually are hand grinding your beans each morning, which is a nice little workout and a good reminder of the work that goes into a great cup of coffee. Check out a comparison of the same beans ground in the Hario (on the left) and in a Cuisinart blade coffee grinder (on the right). The Hario produces a more consistent grind. The color is even substantially different – I’m guessing because the Cuisinart just hacks away from the outside rather than actually crushing the bean through a grinder. Pros say it makes a world of difference, and I definitely prefer the Hario grind to the Cuisinart. In any case, the Clever + Hario + good freshly roasted beans combo is a great way to get started on your own morning coffee ritual. Some basic instructions below the photo…

(Thanks to Bold Bean Coffee Roasters for posting the basis for these instructions, which I have plagiarized heavily since I liked them so much!) 

What you’ll need:

Scale, grinder (preferably burr grinder), coffee, filtered water, timer or watch, water kettle or other heating method, Clever coffee dripper, stirring spoon, coffee cup.

Preheat and rinse filter – Get your water boiling, insert a filter into the Clever, then fill Clever within one inch of the top with water just off the boil. Let sit for five or so seconds and then place the Clever on top of your coffee mug and let the water drain into the mug. Keep the hot water in the mug until you are ready to let the coffee drip on in.

Grind – Grind your coffee as close to brewing time as possible. The Hario, if you’re using that, will take a minute or so for once cup’s worth. I like to do this after the rinse. Start with 2 grams of coffee for every ounce of water. I tend to go with a 10 oz cup, so that means 20 grams or about two and a half rounded tablespoons of beans. I’ve heard some folks say to use up to 30 grams for that amount, but I don’t see a need to use that much. The coffee needs to be ground to a medium grind, about the same as for an automatic drip coffee machine. You can play both with the amount of coffee and the fineness of the grind, so these are just starting points.

Water – To ensure great results you need to use filtered water heated to about 200 degrees. Get it boiling and then let it set for a 20 seconds or so off the stove, that should be pretty close. If you’re a real fanatic, you can play with water between 195 and 205 degrees or so and see what works for you. I mainly just get the kettle to a good boil, then let it sit for a bit before pouring in.  Make sure you put your ground coffee into the filter just before your water is ready to go.

Pre-infusion and begin to brew – Once the water is at the correct temperature, measure it out the desired number of ounces and begin brewing immediately. Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll probably be able to do it without measuring since you’ll know it by sight. Set timer for four minutes and hit start just as you pour the first water on your grounds. The first step in brewing is the pre-infusion step. You want to pour just enough water on the grounds to soak them all evenly and completely. This will cause your coffee grounds to bloom. Once the bloom has settled some, 30 seconds or so, pour the remainder of your water on to the grounds taking care to saturate all grounds evenly.

Continue brewing and draw down – Place the lid on the Clever as soon as all water has been added to the brewing chamber to keep heat in and help regulate the brewing temperature. Once the timer is down to about a minute, remove the lid and give the coffee a few gentle stirs so all of the grounds will be evenly extracted during the draw down. After you stir, replace the lid, pour any water that may still be in your mug from preheating out, then go ahead and put the Clever onto your mug (yes, we know the timer is not up yet). Placeing the Clever on top of your coffee mug automatically starts the drip going, so just let it run its course. This should take less than a minute, and if the grind is set right and everything has been timed correctly, the last of your coffee should leave the brew chamber just as your four minute timer expires.

Enjoy your coffee!!!

Clean up – Clean up is very easy with the Clever. Simply remove and dispose of the filter. Rinse the brewer with hot water, drain and repeat

We would love to hear all of your suggestions for brewing a better cup of coffee in the comments section below, as well as any Clever-specific methods you use at home.

About Thirsty South

Dedicated to all things drinking well in the South.
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12 Responses to A Clever Morning Ritual

  1. Chris says:

    My wife got me a Technivorm Moccamaster last year (specifically, this one: http://www.technivorm.com/products/kbt741.html). In addition to being the one of the best drip machines on the market (in terms of coffee produced, just google it), it has many manual options. If it’s morning and I want to make a pot for me and the wife, lickity-split, I grind/measure the beans, add the water, turn it on, and I’ve got 1.25L of coffee in about five minutes. I suspect this machine could double as a hot water heater for my house…

    However, if I want to play around, the filter holder has a throttle: you can set it to half open, for more extraction; or you can set it to fully closed, in order to allow the grinds to steep. If I’m just making a cup for myself, I’ll do that: add 12 ounces of water, an appropriate amount of coffee, lock the throttle to closed, turn it on. This is about the maximum that the filter/holder can take without risking overflow. I’ll give it a stir, let it steep, and then open the throttle and let it drain directly into my cup. When I’m done, I dump the filter/grains. Easier than French Press; equivalent to the pour-over, without needing a kettle.

    The whole machine comes apart for easy cleaning. I love it. Once you get past the aesthetics and the price tag, it’s a great machine (and hopefully, the last I’ll ever buy.)

  2. Joe Herrig says:

    We got to taste through some coffees made with the clever dripper at Batdorf & Bronson earlier this year. Really is amazing how a good cup of coffee can almost have the nuances and body of tea.

    I bought the wife a French Press for Christmas last year (we, too, like the ritual of a good cup… at least on the weekend), and now she wants a Clever Dripper.

    • Joe – it’s luckily a relatively modest investment for (many) good cups of coffee. “Tea? Tea??? Tea I hate. It’s dirt in a bag.” – Gilbert Gottfried sometime back in the 80′s when he was funny

  3. David LaMont says:

    Glad to see the review and especially the fact that you’ve kept the brewing simple! As a “professional” coffee community, we are often masters of making simple devices seem impossibly complicated and unapproachable. I love the Clever for its simplicity and love to see it kept that way. My biggest beef with it is the plastic construction. If they ever launch a glass version, it will immediately climb to the top of my brewer rankings.

    I wish I had more to contribute to the discussion, but you’ve nailed all the majors. Just for kicks, I would recommend an experiment to see what the final stir does to the draw-down time. We find that a vigorous stir at any point in the brew tends to cause the “fines” (dust-like small grind particles) to sink to the bottom and often clog the filter. Try brewing two keeping all the parameters the same with the exception of the final stir. I tend to like a bit longer steep time and the fact that it drains more quickly without the stir. But luckily, there are a million ways to skin that cat, so to speak.

  4. David LaMont says:

    P.S. Where does one go to get a Thirsty South mug? :)

  5. I am morning person, my most important morning ritual is to go to balcony and enjoy the morning air. Close my eyes and feel the morning breeze. (5 a.m.)

    How about you?

  6. Pete says:

    out of interest, how many ‘clicks’ do you have your hario set to?

Comments welcome, y'all!