The $11,000 Coffee Machine

Coffee by Clover. A step by step post only for coffee geeks.

It was in Seattle that I had my first encounter with a Clover machine. It was disappointing: the resultant brew under-extracted and tea-like in flavor.

Still, with a tag price of roughly under half a million pesos at today’s currency exchange and weighing 110-pounds, hope is high that coffee brewed in this machine will be beyond celestial.

The Clover coffee machine was hand-built in 2005 by Stanford engineers whose company, The Coffee Equipment Co., was shortly thereafter bought out by Starbucks. It’s eye-wateringly pricey because each unit is made by hand.

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Its brewing process is similar to a French press but exponentially more precise, and dramatic to witness. Starbucks Philippines has brought in the country’s only Clover machine and installed it in their latest Starbucks Reserve store at Signa Designer Residences in Salcedo Village. I’ve been to all of the Reserve stores in Manila and to my mind, the Signa store is in a class by itself. The small space accentuates the industrial look highlighted by high ceilings. There are elevated shelves that seem to stretch to infinity lined with glass jars filled with coffee beans.

The Reserve stores feature noteworthy beans, and today we’ve chosen the Brazil Bourbon Rio Verde and the Malawi Peaberry Sable Farms.

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Here’s how the Clover works:

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Beans are ground to a predetermined fineness to which hot water from the Clover’s boiler is added. (Not seen here is the huge black knob that the barista handles to configure each cup’s specifications – i.e., cup size, time, and temperature). The barista gives the mixture a brief but thorough stir with a flat whisk to incorporate everything. The Clover is fully automated but there are some things like this whisking step that the barista has to do.

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Once the Brew button is pressed, a circular platform descends into a now-hot cylindrical operating chamber. I admit to a sinking feeling of anticipation not unlike dread – I half-expect the piston to come blasting up through the cylinder…

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After the grounds have steeped, the piston is propelled back up creating a vacuum beneath it.

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It’s this vacuum that drains the brewed coffee through a micro-perforated filter, effectively straining out the coffee grounds. Afterwards, the piston pushes the freshly brewed coffee into a cup.

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Finally, the piston returns to the top of the brewing cylinder to push out the spent grounds, which look like an oversized (chocolate) puck. The barista uses a “squeegee” to sweep the watery grounds into a trash receptacle.

The whole process lasts less than a minute and I’m transfixed. It’s a good show, but let’s be straight, it’s also mighty pricey. A Tall size of Reserve coffee brewed by the Clover costs anywhere from P130-P210 per cup, and ascends accordingly as the cup size increases to Venti. Is it worth it? If you’re a coffee geek like me, I say yes, experience it twice or thrice. I was thrilled to discover that this coffee brewed by a Clover machine was better than the one I had in Seattle. Why so? Ah, the mysteries of coffee!

An occasional treat, this one.


Starbucks Reserve at Signa Designer Residences
Valero corner Rufino Street, Makati

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