The Other Monstrous “Clover,” a $20k Coffee Brewing Vacuum Siphon

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The Times profiles the “Clover,” a $20,000 coffee brewing device that uses siphons and vacuum and the powered dreams of Colombian urchins to produce an apparently stupendous cup of Joseph.

Designed by three Stanford graduates, it lets the user program every feature of the brewing process, including temperature, water dose and extraction time. (It even has an Ethernet connection that can feed a complete record of its configurations to a Web database.) Not only is each cup brewed to order, but the way each cup is brewed can be tailored to a particular bean – light or dark roast, acidic or sweet, and so on.

The Clover works something like an inverted French press: coffee grounds go into a brew chamber, hot water shoots in and a powerful piston slowly lifts and plunges a filter, forcing the coffee out through a nozzle in the front. The final step, when a cake of spent grounds rises majestically to the top, is so titillating to coffee fanatics that one of them posted a clip of it on YouTube. [Of course the Times doesn't actually link to the Youtube vid and I can't find it. - Ed.]

A siphon pot has two stacked glass globes, and works a little like a macchinetta, that stove-top gadget wrongly called an espresso maker by generations of graduate students. As water vapor forces water into the upper globe the coffee grounds are stirred by hand with a bamboo paddle. (In Japan, siphon coffee masters carve their own paddles to fit the shape of their palms.)

The goal is to create a deep whirlpool in no more than four turns without touching the glass. Posture is important. So is timing: siphon coffee has a brewing cycle of 45 to 90 seconds.

Paging Tonx to the discussion.

At Last, a $20,000 Cup of Coffee [NYTimes.com via Core77] (What a shit headline, too. Sheesh.)

Update: Serious Eats points out that the company has a map showing all the locations of the machines in the US. [CloverEquipment.com]

Update 2: As many of you pointed out in the comments, I am a dumb. The picture above is a crazy Japanese thing mentioned in the article, but not the Clover. There are two distinct machines!

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18 Responses to The Other Monstrous “Clover,” a $20k Coffee Brewing Vacuum Siphon

  1. calanan says:

    Either I am or Joel is confused – that steampunk monster above looks nothing like this Clover.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It seems like the Clover works a lot like the Aeropress (first brought to my attention on Mark Freunfelder’s site, Mad Scientist), though by pulling the coffee through a microfilter, rather than by pushing it through as with the Aeropress.

    As for youtube videos, my naive search this morning for “clover coffee” yielded several as the first results. The mound of coffee grounds at the final stage is quite visible in almost all of them.

    -Joe Ardent

  3. Zuhaib says:

    Eh, like others mention that is not the Clover but its called a siphon bar. And the coffee is great as i was there to try it out. I took some photos with my iPhone while there, not the best and maybe i will go back with my G9 later on. You can take a look at my photos on my flickr feed http://www.flickr.com/photos/zuhaib/sets/72157603781751074/ .
    And if any is wonder what do they charge for a cup of coffee from this $20k machine, it is around $10 with the one that i ordered costing $11 ( http://www.flickr.com/photos/zuhaib/2214450807/in/set-72157603781751074/ ). Its worth about 3 cups of coffee and comes with toffee. Its pricey but worth a once in a month or maybe to share with two.

  4. Anonymous says:

    A $20 french press is better than the Clover. The extracted coffee contains oils with much of the flavor. A french press extract the oils because they float on top and are the first part of the liquid that is forced out through the mesh when the plunger is depressed. Because the clover extracts from the bottom, the coffee grinds act as a filter that trap the oils. It removes the best part of the coffee – the oil froth. The Clover also doesn’t accurately measure the temperature of the brew. It sets the temp of the hot water before it goes through its large metal spout and the stainless plunger, allowing an inconsistent brew temp based how heat is lost through these components when they are cold. A french press can easily be preheated with hot water so that the temp of the brew is maintained accurately.

    This machine is built for the convenience of clean-up, not for the highest quality extraction.

  5. a random John says:

    I lived across the hall from one of the Clover guys (Randy) for two years. He’s very bright and an excellent Ultimate player to boot. They’ve been working on the coffee idea for a long time now. I’m glad it has taken off. Couldn’t have happened to nicer people.

  6. Halloween Jack says:

    Showing your coffepot’s status on the internet is so 1993.

  7. Dan Wineman says:

    @dillenger69: which vacuum pot do you have? If it’s the Bodum electric one, well, no kidding. If it’s one of the manual glass models, then the problem is almost assuredly in your grind.

    You sound like the kind of guy who might have a burr grinder, but if you don’t, get one (unfortunately not a cheap proposition, although there are $100 models that aren’t so bad). You’ll be amazed at the difference.

    If you do have a burr grinder, you might have to adjust either coarseness of grind or brewing time. If your brew is too weak, you’re under-extracting your beans and need a finer grind or a longer brew time. If it’s bitter, you’re over-extracting. It’s possible to brew coffee that is very strong yet not at all bitter; in fact, the best brews are actually regarded as sweet. Those vacuum brewers allow so much variation in the brew that unless something is physically wrong with your equipment or ingredients, you should be able to solve any problem by experimentation.

    Then again, if you have to add sugar and salt and let your beans sit for a day after roasting, chances are you’re burning them, or else you’re not working with very good beans to begin with. Or maybe you just don’t like coffee very much?

  8. bellgong says:

    The best coffee is simply freshly roasted and freshly ground. Like, less than a month since roast and ground before brewing with some clean water. Simplicity is part of the enjoyment.

    Of course, if you get yourself an espresso machine, find out you need a fancy grinder, find out you need fresh beans and maybe you should roastoyurownandconverthatoldpopcornpopperintoacoffeeroaster…

    …well, by all means, complexity too can be part of the enjoyment.


    :)

  9. absolutetrust says:

    I’ve sampled a few cups of coffee from Stumptown Coffee’s Clovers here in Portland, OR.

    They tasted great. None of the gritty heavy bodied-ness of french press, but fuller flavor than drip process due to the grounds steeping in the water. But like a french press each cup is made to order so you can select your bean, which at Stumptown is a great way to try a cup of the $30/lb wonderbean without buying a pound.

    And it’s fun to watch the machine work.

  10. Dillenger69 says:

    I’ve got a vacuum coffee pot that I call “the super awesome coffee bong”.
    I got it for my birthday about two years ago after expressing interest in it to my wife.

    It turns out to make a surprisingly mediocre cup of coffee.

    I’ve perfected my coffee making technique to give me exactly the pot of coffee I like.
    1. Roast green coffee beans past second crack until they get a nice and dark oily sheen.
    2. Let the beans rest for at least a day.
    3. Add together one pot worth of beans, 2 Tbsp of sugar, and a pinch of salt.
    4. Grind the dry mix to a fine powder
    5. Combine mix and one pot of cold water in a large sauce pan.
    6. Bring to a boil while stirring.
    7. As soon as it boils, turn off the heat.
    8. Let hot bean broth stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
    9. Stir and pour through cone filter into coffee pot to remove grit.

    Sometimes I skip step 9, but I’ve found I actually like not having the grit at the bottom of my cup.

  11. tiviander says:

    I think you guys are conflating the machines in the article. The Clover is an crazily customizable machine that costs $11,000 and brews like a reverse french press. The Japanese siphon machine costs $20,000 and apparently you have to be qualified by a Zen Master to run one.

  12. jtg says:

    Exactly what tviander said.

  13. Dillenger69 says:

    @Dan Wineman, Thanks for the tips.
    The vacuum pot I have is one of the manual glass ones.
    I don’t have a burr grinder. I’d love one but can’t really justify the expense. I have a plain old blade grinder right now.
    As to the coffee … yes, the beans are crap and I’m just trying to make the best of a bad situation. It is old, stale, and wasn’t really that good to begin with. I wouldn’t serve it to guests, but it’s not too bad for daily drinking. It’s still beats the free office coffee. I’m just to cheap to throw it out. The salt was a trick I picked up in the Navy trying to stomach that stuff. The sugar I just add ahead of time because I know how much I like and it means I don’t have to add it later.

    With the process above I can definitely see how I’m over-extracting. All of this has pretty much been trial and error for me. I like to experiment to learn rather than reading up too much on a subject first.

    I think I’ll go home and try a lighter roast and a finer grind to see what the super awesome coffee bong can give me.

  14. tonx says:

    #15 – I’ve been a part of several bench tests of the clover and I have to say your presumptions about it and your underlying theory are off the mark.

    There is PID temperature control on the brew chamber and water temp at the inlet is set to account for the differential of heat loss. The vacuum extraction is more akin to a reverse espresso than any french press and takes 1/5th the time of total immersion brewing.

    Like any brewing method, there are plenty of ways to screw up even the best beans (precise dose, precise grind, proper temperature, correct agitation). In the right hands the clover delivers a cup with a depth and clarity of flavor that you’d be very hard pressed to match with other methods.

    And as for visible oils – if you see oil floating at the top of your brew, you can be pretty certain its rancid.

  15. mrmcd says:

    “Mr. Freeman keeps pictures of his domes on his iPhone. “It’s active, sucking out the air and foam,” he said about one of them. “I love the kinetic energy, the aliveness. That’s my best dome.” ”

    Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a yuppie stereotype!

  16. tonx says:

    because I was paged…

    I’ll echo many of my coffeenerd colleagues in lamenting that this is yet another article that focuses more on the supposedly high price tags of commercial coffee equipment than on coffee itself. Just about any specialized tool in a commercial kitchen or coffeebar is going to set you back – this shit isn’t made in the tens of thousands by Sunbeam.

    As others have pointed out, vac-pots aren’t really very expensive and what Blue Bottle has here is a custom 5 head halogen burner whose steep ticket price probably has as much to do with the declining value of the dollar as anything else. Considering all the costs that go into opening a coffeebar, $20k is not really that obscene.

    Ultimately the brew from any device is only ever as good as the coffee you begin with.

  17. dculberson says:

    @Dillenger69: I would absolutely love to try a cup of that coffee. But it sounds like it would come out tasting wretched. Boiling? 10-15 minutes? It goes against everything I thought I knew about making coffee. But who knows!? It could be amazing.

    Email me a cup of it.

  18. dculberson says:

    There’s a Clover in my town! I’m outta here.

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