My experience with immersion brewing methods has so far consisted of my beloved French presses and my AeroPress. I know there are a lot of AeroPress fans out there (there’s even a World AeroPress Championship tournament coming up next week!), but after owning and using mine for many years, I’ve finally accepted that we’re just not right for each other. Comparing the results I get out of it vs. the results I get out of my other brewing methods, the AeroPress coffee is very rarely my favorite of the lot, and while it does make good coffee, the mechanics of the method make it the one brewing method I least look forward to trying out in every coffee bean review.
Conversely, my French presses are probably my favorite brewing method of them all. I love the rich, full-bodied, creamy, silky texture of French press/cafetière coffee. The main drawback to this method is the bit of silt that lives at the bottom of your cup; the final sips of French press coffee often are muddy and gritty. Of course, it’s simple to just not drink the last bit of your coffee to avoid drinking the coffee silt, but it does feel wasteful.
I’ve been aware of the Clever Dripper for close to a decade now. In fact, I included some information about it in my post from 2015 regarding how to choose the right manual coffee maker for you. I did seriously consider getting one, but I figured two immersion methods (French press, AeroPress) and two pourover methods (Chemex, Hario V60) were plenty, and would give me the right balance of ‘contestants’ to face off in my coffee bean reviews. But, since I’ve now decided to retire my AeroPress from these ‘match-ups,’ I thought it would be interesting to test out the Clever Dripper as a possible replacement.
The Clever Dripper is made of BPA-free plastic and uses filters interchangeable with the Melitta #4. Instructions for use are pretty simple (and I quote my old post from 2015 for these instructions):
Clever Dripper: Wet the filter, discard water, pour the grounds in, fill with water and stir, steep, place dripper on mug to RELEASE THE KRAKEN (uh, I mean release the coffee).
It’s a pretty ingenious design – the water poured into the Clever will remain inside it, with no leaks, as long as the Clever is resting on a flat surface (which is what the included coaster is for). To release the coffee, you rest the base onto a mug or other receptacle, and the coffee flows freely.
Pretty easy, right? Well, I admit, I was a little intimidated to try this at first because my bit of Google research came up with markedly different advice re: brewing parameters. Water first or coffee first? What’s draw-down time? How long should total brewing time take? Should you use fine ground coffee? Medium? Medium-fine? Medium-coarse? Agghhh!!
For anyone (like me earlier today) who doesn’t know what draw-down time is, it refers to the time it takes for the coffee to flow down from the Clever Dripper into the mug or carafe. Draw-down time is included in the total brew time recommendations, as the coffee is in contact with the water during this period.
This is a pretty easy method once you get things dialed in. Like the French press, I think it’s a pretty forgiving method and you’ll end up with a decent cup of coffee even if your grind size or brew time isn’t “perfect,” but it is worth experimenting a bit to find what you think tastes best. I used Tweed’s Two-Step decaf for this test, and I will outline the four cups I made below. For all tests, I used water heated to 200 degrees Fahrenheit, and my usual ratio of 25 grams of coffee to 400 grams of water. This makes about 12 ounces of coffee, and the Clever is quite full. Even though this is sold as an 18 ounce brewer, I wouldn’t feel comfortable brewing more than 12 ounces at a time.
Attempt #1: Set my Baratza Virtuoso grinder to 20/40 (so, medium in my eyes). After rinsing the filter and discarding the filter water, I poured the ground coffee into the Clever, then added fresh water. Let the mixture sit for 2 minutes, gave it a quick stir, let it sit for an additional 1 minute. Moved the Clever to my mason jar to begin the draw-down process. Draw-down time: 2 minutes 15 seconds (!!). Total brew time: 5:15.
End result: Weirdly bland and watered-down tasting. I know this is decaf, but I’ve had much better flavor from it in other methods. Let’s go again.
Attempt #2: Left the grinder at the same setting and kept everything the same as Attempt #1, except this time, after rinsing the filter, I poured the 400 grams of water in first and THEN added the ground coffee. Stirred it in, let it brew for 2 minutes, stirred again, waited 1 more min, then began draw-down. This time, the draw-down time was only 1 minute and 35 seconds. Total brew time: 4:35.
End result: Better flavor and mouthfeel. Still wanting a bit more flavor though. I will keep doing water first, coffee second, as I think it contributes to better flavor and less clogging of the filter.
Attempt #3: Virtuoso at 25/40 (verging on medium-coarse). With all other factors the same, draw-down time was only 55 seconds. Total brew time: 3:55.
End result: Not quite strong enough of a flavor for my taste. Maybe if I let it steep for longer, it would help, but I would be afraid of the coffee cooling off too much if I left it in for much longer. Going to go for a finer grind.
Attempt #4: Virtuoso at 14/40 (medium-fine). This was a surprise to me as I figured with a finer grind the draw-down time would take longer, but it in fact only took 1 minute 20 seconds. Total brew time: 4:20.
End result: Best cup so far by far, in my opinion. This was the only cup of the four in which I could see some coffee oils at the surface (not as much as you’d see in a French press cup, but it was present). The mouthfeel and flavor was reminiscent of what I like about French press coffee, but just a little ‘cleaner’ — and there was absolutely no grit at the bottom of my cup. This was a pleasure to drink.
Summary: I’ve only been using the Clever Dripper for a day, but so far, I’m a fan. It’s markedly less unwieldy to use than the AeroPress, it doesn’t require a fancy gooseneck kettle, it uses easily available paper filters, and despite NOT being dishwasher safe, it’s easy to clean with a bit of hot soapy water. The design is inventive and fun to use, and the Clever Dripper does come in multiple colors so that you can choose one to fit your aesthetic. It’s an affordable, unfussy way to make really good coffee. Going forward, all of my coffee bean reviews will now feature the Clever Dripper as my immersion method for testing along with the French press. Let the games begin!
Side note: In my research before buying a Clever Dripper, I did come across the Hario Switch, and if I didn’t already have a Hario V60, I probably would have bought a Hario Switch 03, as that way you can have a pourover AND an immersion brewing device in one! But for my needs, the Clever just made more sense. However, if you are starting from scratch equipment-wise, the Hario Switch might be a nice way to go if you’d like to dabble in multiple brewing methods.
You can buy the Clever Dripper directly from the company at Clever Coffee Brewers, or find them on Amazon and other online retailers.