An amazing cup of coffee with no electricity, no expensive pods and it's easy to clean. The Clever Dripper is the perfect boondocking coffee maker!
Growing up in England, the hot beverage choices were typically tea (obviously) or instant coffee. It wasn't until I moved to the US that I really appreciated good, fresh coffee.
Not that I'm a coffee connoisseur you understand. I'm not the kind of person who needs to grind their own beans in order to have a quaffable cup of coffee.
For some people, coffee isn't a beverage. It's a mechanism for enduring social encounters before lunch. Or a way to stay awake late into the evening.
Not me. For better or worse, I'm completely insensitive to caffeine. I can drain two carafes full of fresh coffee in an evening and sleep like a baby (yup, done it) and Diana has even caught me reading my book in bed one evening while drinking a 20oz can of Red Bull (I was thirsty, and it was on hand!).
I drink coffee because I enjoy it. It tastes nice. Sometimes I drink tea and sometimes I drink coffee. Whatever takes my fancy.
Back in our "sticks-and-bricks" house, I had a Nespresso machine. It was quick, compact and simple. But also power hungry. And as compact as it felt in the house, it was far too big for the RV. So it didn't make the cut.
Our plan? An AeroPress that my brother bought me a couple years back - it's pretty compact, requires no electricity and makes a decent cup of Joe. Bit of a fiddle to use and clean though.
For my birthday back in 2017, Diana bought me a coffee tasting experience, and as the time grew closer for us to hit the road in 2018, we realized we hadn't done it yet. And where better to do coffee tasting than the hipster-hub that is San Francisco, CA.
So a couple weeks before we were due to hit the road, Diana and I went along to the highly regarded San Francisco coffee house, Four Barrel Coffee for an evening of coffee tasting.
Along with several other couples, the barista took us on a journey of coffee discovery. The premise was simple: he would use a single batch of beans, roasted the same, but prepare the coffee multiple different ways, varying only the brew method.
During the event, we were treated to coffee from the fancy coffee shop machine (I'm sure it has a posh-sounding name), a Chemex, an AeroPress, a French press, a pour-over, and one nobody in the group had ever seen before…called a Clever Dripper.
I'm going to be honest, the Clever Dripper looks terrible. It looks like a cheap piece of "as seen on TV" rubbish. Clear plastic, no markings. Eurgh.
Yet, at the end of the coffee tasting, when we were all asked which was the best tasting coffee, every single person voted for the Clever Dripper. According to the barista, that's not unusual - many people feel the same way.
But why? Why would this unassuming piece of plastic produce such a good coffee?
I refer you here to my earlier disclaimer: I am not a coffee connoisseur. One suggestion is that the Clever Dripper combines aspects of both percolation and immersion for a more rounded taste. Whatever the reason, it was a very good coffee!
How does it work?
At a glance, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the Clever Dripper for a pour-over - it looks much the same. And actually, you could use it that way if you were so inclined.
But what differentiates the Clever Dripper from a pour-over funnel is a valve in the bottom. When the Clever Dripper is sitting on a flat surface, the valve is closed. But when you place the Clever Dripper on top of your cup, the rim of the cup pushes up on a plastic plate underneath, opening the valve.
Much like a pour-over, the Clever Dripper uses paper filters. They make the Clever Dripper in different sizes, and for ours, #2 filters work great. Although they don't fill the funnel entirely, we know that filling the filter with water makes one cup of coffee without overflowing the cup.
Once you've put the filter in, you pour in your coarse ground coffee - a 1:18 ratio of coffee to water is supposedly the target. Or in my case, you just shake the bag of coffee grounds to pour some in until you say "that looks about right".
Then, pour in your hot (but not quite boiling - around 195-200ºF) water - trying to cover all of the grounds. Leave it to brew for 4 minutes (or until you remember you were making a cup of coffee and just hope it hasn't gone cold). I don't bother stirring, but you can if it makes you feel better.
As an aside, we have two water kettles in our RV - an electric kettle and a stove top kettle. If we have shore power, or plenty of solar then we use the electric kettle. It's quicker, saves propane, and it has adjustable temperature. For us, the temperature adjustment is most useful because as we travel with our RV, we change elevation, and the water boils at different temperatures. If we're at 7,000ft elevation, a standard electric kettle will sit there boiling away, producing loads of steam and wasting power. We simple set it to a slightly lower temperature and it's all good.
We did a lot of research to find this particular kettle. We didn't want one with a large base, or that had a fancy pouring spout that would get damaged during travel. It's also particularly hard to find one without bright lights inside - not what we want when you can see our kitchen from the bed! As a bonus, it remembers the last temperature setting you had, even if it loses power - since we keep our inverter off most of the time, this is very useful. This Epica electric kettle works really well for us.
The final step is the clever part - I guess this is where it acquired its name. Lift the Clever Dripper and place it on top of your cup. This will automatically open the valve and the coffee will drip through. I find it usually takes a minute or two.
When it's all drained through, you can lift it off (the valve will close automatically when lift it up) and that's it - one fresh, hot cup of Joe!
When you live in an RV, and especially when you boondock or dry camp a lot, a big consideration is how difficult something is to clean - and particularly, how much water will it use? We often joke that there's "clean" and there's "boondocking clean". Good enough.
By way of example, cleaning the AeroPress isn't too bad (albeit a little fiddly if the coffee grounds get under the rubber seal), but a French Press is a pain in the...! Yeah, you know.
What really sold us on the Clever Dripper is how easy it is to clean. Remove and discard the paper filter with coffee grounds. If you're aiming for "boondocking clean", then you're done. If you want to be posh, then a quick rinse with water (there are no grounds to clean off, just coffee) and it's even cleaner.
It really is as simple as that.
The Clever Dripper only makes a single cup at a time, and if you're a fan of espresso-based coffees then it's not the one for you. But if you just want a great tasting cup of coffee without requiring electricity, big appliances or creating lots of mess, then the Clever Dripper might be for you.
In case you are (quite reasonably) doubting my authority on great tasting coffee, a little while ago I invited some Xscaper friends over for morning coffee while we were boondocking. All who were present agreed that it was a great tasting coffee, and a couple of people were even inspired to buy a Clever Dripper for themselves!
Lastly, as well as coffee, it can also be used to make other infusions - Diana has used it several times to make herbal teas. Now that our mint is growing well in the AeroGarden, perhaps we'll have to make some mint tea with it too.