Opening the door to manual coffee can be a tad scary. All the “no, not like that” and the “this is how you do it” you’ll read can be a quick turn-off and leave you running back to the safety of your auto drip.
With manual coffee, there is a hard way to get going, and there is an easy way. The Clever Dripper is that easy way.
In this Clever Coffee Dripper review, I’m going to break it all down to help you decide if the Clever Coffee maker is the manual coffee introduction you’ve been waiting for.
The Clever Coffee Dripper ‘In A Nutshell’
The Clever Dripper is the coffee maker that was created to make manual coffee easy and entertaining. Spoiler alert: it worked. For that reason, it’s one of our favorite pour over brewers; it’s easy to use but still makes a killer cup of pour over coffee. It’s shaped just like a standard pour over brewer, but a valve on the bottom allows you to hold hot water in the brew cone. Because of this, the Clever is considered an immersion style brewer, meaning you can produce something like French press coffee but without the muddy layer of fine coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup. Clever, indeed.
It is an uncomplicated tool to use and allows even the newbie to brew coffee with minimal effort. It works well with dark roasts and it creates a full-bodied cup that feels strong and highlights rich, chocolatey flavors.
Things to Consider Before Buying an Immersion Style Coffee Maker
Though you may not recognize the name, you’ve almost certainly tried an immersion style coffee before. There are a number of such coffee makers, the most popular of which is the French press.
Immersion style coffee is all about full contact. Unlike drip coffee, with immersion coffee the hot water and the grounds are in in complete contact throughout the entire brew. Filtering comes at the very end once your slurry has had plenty of time to steep.
It isn’t always as efficient (1) at extracting all the solubles from your beans as drip brewing, but it produces a much fuller-feeling, stronger-tasting cup of coffee. If you love savoring the delicate coffee oils locked in your beans (which are often the fruitier and more acidic flavors), immersion isn’t the best way to brew coffee.
Immersion is more like bathing your beans, whereas drip coffee is like washing, which does a better job of “pulling” the oils out.
However, if you prefer coffee beans that yield richer, more chocolatey flavors, then this style is right up your alley. Letting your coffee grounds steep allows them to infuse with the water, creating a more full bodied cup of coffee.
A few things you should keep in mind before buying an immersion brewer are:
- Does it require much skill to use?
- Is it made from cheap or durable materials?
- How well does it filter out the grounds (aka “fines”)?
The Clever Pour Over Coffee Dripper Review
Using the Clever is one of the easiest, most hassle-free ways to make manual coffee. It uses a special locking feature which allows you to effortlessly control steeping time and filtering the coffee.
This coffee maker is made entirely out of clear plastic; not the most durable material, but at least it won’t break if you drop it. It comes with a plate to rest it on and a lid to help retain heat while steeping.
Because it is so easy to use, the Clever is a great place to start for someone looking to try out manual brewing. It is a forgiving brewer that allows you to be as meticulous (or lazy) as you want.
If you are looking for a manual coffee maker that is going to give you a lot of flexibility, then you’d be better off searching somewhere else. Though this brewer can satisfy the pour over lover (more on that later), it’s not as open to experimentation as something like the Hario V60.
- Easy to use
- Creates coffee similar to French press, but without the mess.
- It doesn’t only do immersion brewing.
- Not the best for extracting the oils from your coffee beans.
- The all-plastic body can wear down and crack over time.
Aesthetic Appeal: 3/5
Let’s face it: there’s a reason the Clever Dripper isn’t in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art. The levers, springs, valves and vanes give it a visually indistinct look that can’t compare with the clean lines of something like the Chemex or a ceramic Hario V60. And it’s not quite funky enough to carry off an industrial-loft vibe. As a design statement, the Clever Dripper is like a comfy chair – it’s all about the utility, baby.
Does that affect the way your coffee tastes? Only in that it helps extract all those lush, full flavors from the immersion part of the brewing cycle, then strains out the fines and grit with the filter. But if you’re about the timeless visual effect as much as the awesome extraction, the Clever Dripper isn’t an A-lister, design-wise.
Ease of Use: 4.5/5
It wasn’t an exaggeration when I said that brewing with the Clever is just about as easy as it gets. You can try different techniques, but all you need to do to brew great coffee with the Clever is pour in the grounds, fill the cone with water, keep an eye on the steeping time, and then drain.
You can let your grounds steep as long as you want. When you’re ready, filtering the grounds is as simple as setting it on your cup.
Fresh coffee will immediately begin pouring through once you release the valve. This unique feature is what makes the Clever an immersion style brewer.
We deducted half a point because it’s just barely possible for the valve to open if you’re careless about where and how you place the Clever Dripper while it’s in immersion mode. Yes, there’s only a very modest chance that you’ll end up with coffee all over the kitchen counter and floor… but some of us still bear the emotional scars of misaligning the carafe in the drip pot. (The perils of having to make coffee before you’ve consumed any.)
Brew Control Ability: 5/5
There is a bit of engineering that makes this coffee dripper clever. It may look like the standard Melitta et al. pour over cone, but at the bottom of the Clever is a locking mechanism that keeps your slurry inside the brew cone until you release it. This gives you an added measure of control by putting you in charge of how long your coffee steeps in the hot water.
Just as with any coffee maker, you can get super meticulous by weighing and measuring each step, but it isn’t as necessary with this brewer as it is with a very particular coffee maker, such as the Hario V60. Eye-balling and “that’s about right” works just as well. Similarly, the Clever Dripper will give you some leeway with your burr grinder: it’s not going to be as sensitive to grind size as brewing coffee in a filter drip coffee maker.
As for the immersion portion, the longer you leave your grounds in the hot water before releasing the brew, the more flavor you’ll extract in the finished product. The instructions with the Clever Dripper recommend three minutes, and that’s certainly a good starting point; adjust up or down to make it taste the way you want it.
This de-emphasis on perfectionism is what allows the Clever to be such an approachable coffee maker. It takes just as little effort to set up as it does to brew with, so you can go about cooking your breakfast tacos or slamming through one more chapter in your book without having to hover about with kettle in hand.
Because of the way the release valve works, you can also make drip coffee with the Clever brewer. Leave the bottom valve open and the Clever becomes a pour over or filter drip brewer (2).
“Drip brewing lends itself well to highlighting the complexity of a coffee. It tends to accentuate delicate flavors and aromas.” -Perfect Daily Grind
A quick note on switching this coffee maker over to manual drip: pay close attention to your grind and your pouring technique. You will need to pour slowly, let your coffee grounds bloom, and do some fine tuning with your grind size as with other pour over brewers. But this contributes to the full marks for brew control.
Finally, immersion lets you control the intensity of flavor, meaning that the Clever Dripper and easily produce a brew that works as iced coffee.
If you travel a lot, the Clever Dripper is a great choice for several reasons. First, it’s made of lightweight BPA-free plastic (not ceramic or metal), so it’s not going to throw your back out if you have to lug it all over an airport or a hike in your suitcase or backpack. It’s also more resistant to breakage than a glass pour over maker.
We deducted half a point because it’s possible to lose the little retaining cup/base that the filter cone sits on while brewing. (We all have that one friend who leaves something behind on every trip, right?) And you do need to pack paper filters for it, unlike a French press or Moka pot (though those aren’t pour over coffee makers, of course).
Pricewise, the Clever Dripper falls into the upper-middle of our pack of pour over coffee makers, no doubt due to the complexity of manufacturing the valve and release mechanism. And since even the larger size only makes 16 oz. of coffee at a time, it’s essentially a one-person brewer. (Yes, the larger size is rated at 18 oz., but look closely – that’s the volume of coffee AND water in the filter cone. The brewed coffee yield is 16 oz.)
However, the Clever Dripper fits nicely on most travel mugs, with several owners calling out our choice for best insulated travel mug, the Contigo West Loop (which holds 16 oz. of liquid). If your morning starts by making coffee for your commute, the Clever Dripper and the Contigo could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Considering running costs, the Clever Dripper fits a standard #4 paper filter. These paper filters are inexpensive and readily available. You aren’t going to have to have special filters shipped from Japan.
One final note: you might see one of several brands of stainless steel filter cones that contain the word “clever” in their names. These aren’t the Clever Dripper we’re talking about here – they’re simple filter cones without the locking mechanism that makes them a hybrid immersion/pour over coffee maker.
Who Should NOT Buy the Clever Dripper
It’s hard not to like the Clever Dripper’s neat automatic shutoff feature that holds water against your grounds till you release, and the way you can time your infusion for just the extraction you want. But here are a few reasons the Clever Dripper might not be for you:
- You don’t like the flavor produced by full-immersion coffee makers. Immersion brewers (think French press) can sometimes mask the more aromatic, fruity components from your coffee beans, and tend to produce a fuller, stronger-tasting – even somewhat bitter – cup of coffee.
- You love espresso. The Clever Dripper can certainly make strong coffee, somewhere between pour over and French press, but it can’t get the extraction rate and complexity of espresso.
- You want to brew many cups at a time. The Clever Dripper is available in two sizes, the larger of which holds 18 ounces (and yields 16). If you have thirsty roommates, or you like to drink multiple cups without having to stop and brew each time, consider a coffee maker with more volume like the Chemex.
Alternatives to the Clever Pour Over Dripper
Being one of the most straightforward styles means immersion coffee is open to variation. There are a few different ways to go about this style, each of them just as unique as the other (3).
Three other immersion brewers worth taking a look at:
The French Press – French press coffee is usually the first thing people think of when they hear “immersion coffee,” and that’s because it has been around a lot longer than any other. Making French press coffee is just as easy as with the Clever, but a French press will produce a much fuller-bodied coffee.
The Aerobie AeroPress – The AeroPress is a mix between immersion and pump-driven coffee. As with espresso, hot water is forced through a puck of grounds, but with the AeroPress you let it steep for a while first. I would call the AeroPress the ‘traveller’ version of the Clever Dripper.
The Hario Technica – Though it looks completely different and (technically) belongs in a different category, at its core, the Hario Technica is an immersion brewer. To be more specific, this coffee maker is what’s referred to as a vacuum pot or siphon.
If you’re ready to take your first steps into the delicious world of manual coffee, then the Clever Dripper is one of the best coffee makers you can choose.
Its novel design allows for easy brewing without placing too much emphasis on technique.
You can use the Clever Coffee maker either as an immersion brewer for a no-hassle cup, or as a pour over to practice and experiment.
If this Clever Coffee Dripper review has you convinced, click here to check it out.
- MacDonald, M. (2014, December 7). Understanding Coffee Brewing Dynamics. Retrieved from https://medium.com/@mmdsl28/understanding-coffee-brewing-dynamics-f2c81d62c05a#.lx65dolt5
- Fernando. (2019, March 26). Drip vs Immersion: The Battle Of The Coffee Brew Methods. Retrieved from https://www.perfectdailygrind.com/2019/03/drip-pour-over-vs-immersion-the-battle-of-the-coffee-brew-methods/
- A coffee lovers’ guide to 7 home brewers. (2015, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/food/dailydish/la-dd-coffee-brewers-20150514-story.html