Coffee Talk

Clover Coffee: The Holy Grail of Caffeine?

The cutting-edge in coffee technology is now available in Houston, but you'll have to go to Starbucks.

By Nick Panzarella December 16, 2013

A Clover Coffee machine at work in a Seattle Starbucks | Photo by Daniel Norwood

It can be daunting how coffee brewing methods seem to develop and change as quickly as social media. A few years ago, using a French press was cutting edge; now V60s and Chemex set-ups are the hot new things. But coffee science was bound to produce the ultimate (for now) mechanized brewing device at some point, and this pinnacle of coffee technology appears to have arrived in the Clover Coffee machine. This mechanical Holy Grail of caffeine can be found here in Houston, but before we divulge where, let's go into the specifics of what makes it so special.

Designed by the Seattle based Coffee Equipment Company in 2006, the Clover machine uses patented Vacuum-Press coffee brewing technology: a mixture of French press and vacuum pot (otherwise known as siphon) brew. When a bean and drink size are selected, the barista will set the machine accordingly, choosing a brew time and water temperature specific to each bean.

The beans are measured and ground immediately prior to brewing, then placed in the chamber in the top of the Clover device. A water spigot above the brew chamber spits hot water into the hole, while the barista stirs the water and coffee ground mixture to ensure even distribution and extraction of the coffee. The brew chamber, which is heated from all sides to maintain brewing temperatures within 1 degree Fahrenheit of the desired heat, is simultaneously a piston which sits over the waiting coffee cup. The piston rises up like an inverted French press, exposing the coffee grounds to the waiting customer and creating a vacuum underneath. The coffee then drops through a 70-micron filter into the cup and is ready to be served.

The magic of the Clover is its ability to perform with consistency. A barista might get darn near robotic when doing a Chemex pour-over—but, being human, there will always be a slight difference with each cup that they make. They are not able to keep the timing exactly the same, or the water temperature homogeneous throughout. The Clover's ability to produce identical cups of outstanding coffee at a fast pace make it a marvel of coffee science, and the perfect instrument for a chain coffee shop.

After being sold on the market for two years, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz tasted a cup of Clover coffee and swooped in to buy the company and all rights to the technology. Not to waste the Clover machine's ability to bring out flavor notes on their over-roasted beans, Starbucks has begun carrying a series of Reserve single-origin coffees to be brewed with the Clover coffee maker, and they've even begun to list some tasting notes for each bean.

Despite being a part of the Starbucks Empire, the machines are still rare. Three of the machines can be found here in Houston: one in Midtown, one in the Med Center, and one in Meyerland. More are allegedly on their way.

But my fellow Houstonians and coffee connoisseurs, this is not a call for a return to chain coffee! The Clover machine makes a great cup of coffee, yes. I would even say it's the best cup of black drip that one can get from a machine. But as for nuance in flavor and bringing out distinctive notes, it does not trump the pour-overs that can be had at our local coffee houses. However, if the discerning coffee drinker has to make a stop at a Starbucks here, here, or here, they have the fortune of having Clover coffee as an option.

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