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Expertly Ignorant

Written by Admin99, published 03-28-14


You promise not to be an obnoxious purist, but still reel at the request for a half shot- decaf-mocha with Soya milk.  As the words ‘you sure you want coffee’ bleed sarcastically in your narrowed mind. Why shouldn’t somebody order the thing they want? They’re the ones paying for it. And it is just a coffee.

But then, you might protest and claim how this service includes some expert knowledge that the customer does not possess (or desire). So it’s not their fault. They just don’t know what they want. they simply want what they assume they should get. It’s those few, in control of the shining, steaming machines that people come to for coffee. With hopeful eyes lifted to the heavens/indecipherable menu board. Those “Baristas.”

Unfortunately the only thing more tedious than an expert is someone pretending to be an expert.

So when I was asked: Which is better the Clever Dripper or the Hario V60? And would there be a discernible difference in taste? I caught myself basing my answer on assumption. I fall all too easily into the trap of the pretend-expert .

 (Clever Coffee Dripper on the left.  Hario V60 cone on the right.)

(Clever Coffee Dripper on the left.  Hario V60 cone on the right.)

In my defense, I’d say most people don’t have an hour to kill whilst somebody grabs a set of scales and a kettle to try and answer a question which was probably asked for nothing more than the sake of polite conversation. But assumptions are dangerous. so I decided to be prepared next time.

They are both paper filter methods, the main difference being the coffee is fully immersed in the Clever Dripper until it is placed onto the cup and the valve opens. Whereas the V60 has water drawing through the coffee continually as it drips through.

At a guess, the full immersion should produce a more even extraction, a more balanced brew, because all the coffee is extracting at roughly the same rate. Using the v60 runs the risk of extracting more from part of the coffee bed, whilst missing other parts. But then there is water temperature- once you’ve added all the water to the Clever, it sits there gradually losing heat, whereas the V60 is effectively being topped up with hot water for most of the brew time.

 Dom concentrates hard.

Dom concentrates hard.

So we did some side by side comparisons using 17g of our Mexican Roast- Finca Muxbal. The results were two surprisingly different brews. I imagined the difference would have been so small we’d have a hard time telling them apart but it seems the methods pull different tastes;

The Clever brew was brighter and sharper with a little more initial sweetness. And the V60 brought more bass notes and those smoother, rounder cocoa flavours. In effect they polarised the coffee. Which is no bad thing, but it does make you strive for the perfect balance.  As for ‘Which is better?’ that is a more complex question. Personally I enjoyed the fresher brightness of the Clever, but it could be a little under-extracted, possibly because of the temperature drop off. It lacked the depth that Dom enjoyed in the V60 brew

 Small circles, slow pour. Extra control.

Small circles, slow pour. Extra control.

So the test wasn’t exactly conclusive and created more questions than answers. But at least we haven’t arrived at the purist’s notion that V60s are better simply because they give you the most control. Or at least, it requires more input from the brewer… (and we’re not exactly infallible.)

Certainly in a busy coffee-shop the Clever Dripper offers consistency and an ability to walk away during the brew without sacrificing any quality. So for now they’ll remain on the counter in place of the V60s. 

Of course, there is a lot to be said for being more involved in an experience, driving a car at 90mph, inches from the tarmac will give a greater sense of speed than sitting on a train traveling at 100mph. Gently pouring hot water over ground coffee in tightly controlled circles, feeling the water shift in the kettle, watching the coffee bloom as the CO2 escapes, smelling all those aromas; All of this adds up to an event which primes you for the sip.

And yes, it’s still just coffee. But It’s not about ‘coffee’, its about the roasted, ground fruit of a high altitude crop. And the respect it demands. The respect for an ingredient that takes time to grow. The respect for the person that picked it, and the person that roasts it. The respect for the person who’ll drink it. It’s dedicating some focus to a craft. Like the Luchador that never removes his mask or the tautly executed movements of a Japanese tea ceremony- they have little to do with the end product, they are just expressions of respect. The physical symptom of a state of mind.

And you could easily dismiss it all as pomp and ceremony and taking things a little too seriously. But it’s a big scary world and we like to know our hard-fought cash is in the hands of professionals, surely? That the doctor will diagnose that rash.

These are the minor assumptions that safeguard us from an overwhelming amount of doubt; just hand over the money and you can get back to the more important thing you were doing. Harmless little assumptions, because we don’t have the time to question everything- that’s why there are experts. We can only focus on some things, the rest has to be generalised; Wine becomes the reason Board-of-Directors Dave is no longer invited to dinner parties. And cocaine is a party in the 80s. And Lager the buttoned-up polo-shirt football chant, lit by a flat screen at Wetherspoons. This abrupt identification is applied to coffee too. Once it used to be a looming deadline and a blank word-doc.  Now it’s the preposterously fashionable beard and the reason New-Media-Guru Sam is no longer invited to bike-polo. 

It’s understandable though. A small group of people getting very serious about something that is seemingly inconsequential is a cult. Tell them they’re missing the point and they’ll grow those beards thicker, write blogs and make up some rituals to prove just how serious they are. Before you know it nobody is questioning anything and the coffee congregation are reciting brew guides, dressed in robes whilst someone who really likes tea is buying fertilizer and nails.  Blinded by these assumptions we end up divided.

(If you’d like to repeat our wholly unscientific experiments we have some V60s and Clever Drippers available to purchase in shop.)

Words and Pictures from Shaun. @SJLillustration

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