My first sip of Clover

I first heard of the Clover coffee machine when The Coffee Ethic opened just off the downtown square of my hometown, Springfield, Missouri. This $11,000 coffee brewing machine was supposed to make the best coffee ever, one cup at a time, through some fancy weighing, heating, and water distribution processes. Coffee Ethic had managed to grab one of these machines before Starbucks bought the company that made them, preventing anyone else from getting a Clover machine, but I still hadn’t tried any Clover coffee despite Coffee Ethic opening well over a year ago.

Since I had some time to kill before April’s class ended, I thought I would come try a cup. I have to say, the difference is quite remarkable.

I’m not really much of a coffee snob. I avoid a number of different coffee blends (Folgers chief among these) because they really upset my stomach. I don’t know if it’s the high acidity or the poor quality of ingredients, but the lower-end coffees really screw me up. Most days I drink 8 O’Clock Coffee, which is very cheap and available from Wal-Mart, yet was rated #1 by Consumer Reports several years ago. Most of what I get from our local coffee shops is safe for me to drink as well.

I usually grind my own beans, though most of the time I don’t think this is to much benefit, and we have a relatively expensive and very nice drip coffee pot at home. Coffee is good, and I enjoy it, and I can note differences in its flavour based on temperature, type of coffee, acidity, body, etc. However, it all tastes pretty much like “coffee” to me, and there is little subtlety to it.

This cup of coffee, made with a Clover machine, progressed through four different flavours in my first sip. It is far more robust than I am used to coffee being, far more complex, and far more enjoyable to drink. This cup of coffee is an experience in and of itself, similar to smoking a pipe, and I think I could enjoy just sitting here and doing nothing other than drinking it just for the joy and challenge of tasting the coffee.

I’m not actually a fan of this coffee, ((I tried a dark Sumatra roast. It is a little more earthy in the middle than I like, but I asked the young man assisting me to describe the different coffees and, of the two available, this seemed like the one I’d most like)) but I can say without a doubt that I am not fond of the coffee, rather than having my opinion tainted by the brewing. This is clearly a superior brew, giving far better insight into the beans and the roast (which was perhaps a slight bit too much, I think) than other coffee pots can grant.

At almost $3 a cup, I certainly won’t be drinking Clover coffee every day, nor am I ready to give up my coffee pot at home or the office. Maybe my Dunkin Donuts blend via the Mr. Coffee at work isn’t as complex or wonderful, but it’s still hot, satisfying, and good. Most of the time I’m drinking coffee as a beverage and for the caffeine, with only about 30-40% of my desire being for good taste. ((It has to taste good, but if good taste was my primary requirement, I’d be Clovering it up every day)) During most days, I want coffee in mass quantities, and that’s not feasible with Clover at this time.

But it is delicious, and the next time I’m going out for coffee with someone, I think The Coffee Ethic is where we shall go. The Mudhouse shall certainly remain the place for fancy coffee drinks and longer-term work (writing and studying), and I love Hebrews when I can get there on a weekend, but for a great brewed coffee experience, I don’t think anywhere will beat Coffee Ethic’s Clover.

Amateur Coffee Connoisseur

Though modern grinders are electric, they rarely do a better job.
Though modern grinders are electric, they rarely do a better job.

I recognize that there are a great many people in the world who know more about coffee than I do, but I like to think that I’m fairly well versed in the topic. I know something of the history of coffee, the explanations behind its many names, and have brewed thousands of pots over the years with close attention to boldness, acidity, grind, water temperature, etc. I’ve also had coffee from a variety of shops, countries, and brewers.

That being said, I don’t have the best of tools for brewing coffee, and I know that this makes all the difference. If you’re making coffee with a $10 grinder and a $20 pot, you’re simply not going to get the best brew. But most of us have only these tools at our disposal, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to invest in better ones.

A lot of people, regardless of the quality of their tools, believe that grinding their own coffee will produce better results than purchasing ground coffee from the store. The common wisdom is that fresh-ground beans produce better flavour, but having ground my own coffee for years and compared it with pre-ground, I am coming to the conclusion that this is patently false, and potentially just a marketing pitch by coffee companies and those who make coffee grinders.

The problem is that cheap coffee grinders don’t produce the consistent grind needed for a good cup of coffee (let’s not even start discussing drip vs. other coffee makers). Either your grounds end up still having whole or split beans, rather than ground up coffee, or they over-grind, so that your coffee isn’t coarse enough to produce a good brew.

Coffee companies have industrial coffee grinders that produce a consistent blend and grind every time, so your coffee grounds are homogeneous and produce the best results with drip coffee makers (which, let’s face it, are what most of us use). These pre-ground bags of coffee, in my opinion, therefore produce better flavour than grinding one’s own coffee.

It’s a terrible pre-emptive argument to make, but I do suppose that people who think their personally ground coffee is better than pre-ground are probably fooling themselves. Because they’ve spent the extra time and effort, they think it tastes better. I think they’ve bought into the marketing pitch and are trying to justify to themselves the extra expense.

Of course, you still have to buy good coffee for pre-ground to be delicious, and to that end I always recommend Eight O’Clock. Rated #1 by Consumer Reports a few years ago, it’s both cheap (which is what the majority of us are looking for) and fantastically good. I also had Dunkin Donuts’ grocery-store offering recently, and it was as fantastic as I recalled DD’s coffee to be when I was younger (and there was still a DD here in Springfield). Sadly, recent experience with their chain’s coffee has been rather lackluster, but the bag of coffee I bought was really delicious.

Image Credit: Hisks