You Can’t Afford This Coffee Maker

The high-tech Clover, and two affordable alternatives

An $11,000 coffee maker—and a drip brewer at that—sounds like Exhibit A in a congressional hearing on criminally inflated military spending.It’s the Clover, a commercial machine that has gained a cult following for the heavenly coffee it produces. It precisely makes one cup of coffee at a time, letting you select brewing time and temperature to coax the best flavor out of the particular bean you’re using. The barista pours ground coffee onto an extremely fine filter atop a piston that descends into the machine. After the coffee steeps, the piston rises, creating a vacuum that pulls water through the grounds. The finished coffee flows through a spout into a waiting cup. Despite its price tag, a Clover can increase café owners’ profits by allowing them to charge more per cup according to the bean.

To date, only a smattering of roasters and cafés have the machine. I tracked one down at Intelligentsia’s Millennium Park location, near my home in Chicago, to see if it was really worth it. Intelligentsia charges anywhere from a few bucks to $22 per 12-ounce cup of Clover-brewed java.

The Clover 1s

How the Clover works

  • 1. Hot water from the Clover’s boiler is added to the grounds.
  • 2. After steeping, the piston is forced upward, creating a vacuum beneath it.
  • 3. The vacuum draws the brewed coffee down through the screen and the valves of the piston, straining out the grounds.
  • 4. The drain valve opens and the piston moves down, pushing the fresh coffee out into an awaiting cup.
  • 5. The piston moves to the top of the brewing cylinder, where the spent grounds can be easily wiped off into the nearby receptacle.
The sleek, 110-pound apparatus looked like an unassuming espresso maker. Although it is fully automated, it still requires some moves, which in-store trainer Chris Kornman showed me.

WATCH A VIDEO
The best coffee maker

After weighing and grinding the beans—the coveted Hacienda La Esmeralda Geisha from Panama—I adjusted the Clover’s settings for cup size, time, and temperature. Intelligentsia’s quality-control team at its central roasting works in the city determines the settings for its top five beans every week. A cheat sheet is taped to the side of the Clover to aid baristas. After I poured the ground coffee onto the filter screen just below the attached hot-water spigot and pressed the start button, the pistoned screen descended into the brewing chamber and hot water flowed in. I gently agitated the mixture with a flat silicone whisk.

In 42 seconds, the filter screen rose up, bringing with it a patty of coffee grounds, which I squeegeed into the waste slot, leaving an amateur’s sloppy trail I had to wipe down.

The finished coffee streamed out automatically from a spout underneath the control panel. Even before my initial sip, the deep chocolate color and rich aroma drew me close. I suddenly remembered my first whiff of ground coffee as a kid. My introduction to Clover-made coffee was exactly what I’d wished for from that childhood scent. It had full body, remarkable clarity, and bright acidity. I thought, “This has ruined me for all other coffee.”

You probably can’t afford a Clover, nor could you fit one in your kitchen. Not all is lost, though, if you don’t live near one of the few cafés that use a Clover. Baristas I talked to recommended that home brewers buy one of the coffee makers on the next page.

Illustrations by Bryan Christie Design

Next page: Two coffee makers you can actually afford
1 2 >>

See more articles