The gemstone industry created the Kimberly Process to prevent the marketing of conflict diamonds (blood diamonds to DiCaprio fans). The coffee world has Direct Trade Certified (DTC), guaranteeing quality standards that ensure strict economic, social and environmental accountability. With all the energy expended in bringing North Carolina's Counter Culture DTC organic coffee to Richmond, Ellwood's Coffee (612-1827 or ellwoodscoffee.com) believes that fixing a cup by some willy-nilly method is akin to drinking a 50-year-old Bordeaux vintage out of, well, a coffee mug. Hence, the rise of crystal stemware ... and the Clover Brewing System.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, whilst in NYC and in need of a kick, I hit Cafe Grumpy in Chelsea, where I'd previously had a gorgeous spot of aromatic white tea. On this visit, I saw a machine rendering handfuls of coffee into magic rivaling Jack and the Beanstalk. Yes, the coffee itself was special, but it was the process that made my cup so redolent, so smooth, so much more expressive than anything I'd had before. Upon returning to Virginia, I learned that Virginia is for Clovers ... three, in fact. I sniffed out one at Grape + Bean in Old Town Alexandria, and when I found out one was coming to Richmond, I nearly wept Yirgacheffe.
The Coffee Equipment Company is the Seattle-based manufacturer of the Clover Brewing System. "Invented by two Stanford students, it's a reverse French press with a vacuum," explained Ellwood Thompson's Cyndi Watkins over a cup of Kuta from Papua New Guinea. "The CEO of Starbucks went into Grumpy, had the best cup of coffee in his life and then bought the company making Clover. Ellwood's got the last one on the open market."
For my birthday last year, I treated myself to an Illy Francis Francis X7 iperEspresso Machine, which is just as well because otherwise I'd have had to write a rubber check to purchase a Clover for $11,000. Just as fine wine isn't about satisfying thirst or a straight-up jones for alcohol, savoring coffee goes far beyond the delivery method of caffeine or a substrate for mocha, mint and whipped cream. A Clover cup begins with micro-lot beans, the hand-selected apex of coffee's quality pyramid, ground to order.
Coffee-shop manager Heather Wagner recalibrates the caffeine experience with a philosophical shift: "Hand-crafted drinks instead of a robotic action. My whole point was to bring coffee culture to Richmond and put art back into coffee."
For my 8-ounce cup, Emily Peele measured out 28 grams. She's one of the handful of baristas training since last summer on everything from proper Clover mechanics to latte art. Next, the grinds were placed onto the Clover's ultra-fine mesh screen and bathed in 205-degree water. Forty-nine seconds later, the Clover's vacuum chamber sucked the hot water through the grinds, reducing the acid and leaving tannins behind to produce a cup of singular smoothness and unadulterated flavor. "Fill it up or leave room?" she asked. Typically, I'm a milk-or-cream-no-sugar guy, but when I'm Clovering, I go all the way black. Emily smiled as I told her to top it off.