Intelligentsia Goes Back to Basics for Brewed Coffee

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Wed, Apr 28, 2010 at 6:30 AM
click to enlarge New Hario Brew Bar - INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE

If you're an Intelligentsia regular and drink brewed coffee, you're familiar with the unique process the baristas goes through to make your cup: freshly grinding a single cup's worth of beans, then dumping them into a machine, pressing a few buttons, running a squeegee across the top, then pouring out your coffee. That machine is a Clover, a technological coffee-brewing revolution of a product, its unique design envisioned by Stanford-educated engineers boosting its price tag up to $11,000.

A rare sight outside of Intelligentsia stores, the Clover was somewhat of a headline attraction when the Chicago-based company came to Los Angeles, allowing for single cups to be brewed perfectly and quickly, allowing for each cup to be made to order. And they're now being phased out, starting at Intelligentsia Venice, and replaced by a simple ceramic pourover device from Hario which costs all of $10,977 less.

Squid Ink spoke with Intelligentsia's Doug Zell about the change, and he reported that the major impetus behind the move to drippers was "because we wanted something that wasn't necessarily mechanical, brews a delicious cup and, finally, was something that people can take home and use at home. The idea has been that you need an expensive device to brew something, now the fact of the matter is, if its used right, you can get a great cup just like at our coffeebars at home."

Intelligentsia sells the Hario dripper in two sizes at its stores. Zell emphasized that any customers interested in making coffee at home with one can ask their barista about the best way to use the pourover brewer--grind, water temperature, pouring techniques, etc. However, if you're dying to know how to pour a clover or heart or leaf in your latte, a more in-depth class will be in order, which the ever-educating company offers at their L.A. roasting works in Glassell Park.

click to enlarge Hario Ceramic Coffee Dripper - INTELLIGENTSIA COFFEE

Like espresso-based drinks, the Hario brewing systems also allow for guests to watch their cup of coffee come into being in close quarters--something important to Intelligentsia, according to Zell, which couldn't be achieved with the push-button operated Clover. And while its logical to believe that the pricier, tech-empowered machine would offer more settings and ways to differentiate for styles of roasts, types of beans, etc., the simplicity of the Hario trumps all in practice. As explained in a post on the flagship Chicago store's blog, "the one thing the Clover doesn't offer is direct control over extraction. With the brew bar [the new pourover setup], we can control the rate of extraction by how fast or slow we pour, and are able to adjust on the fly. The brew bar also brings the focus back to the coffee instead of the technology of the brew method. You don't have to coax different intricate flavor profiles out of the coffee; it does the work itself with a slight assist from gravity and your pouring speed."

Since switching over at the Venice store, Zell reports that there has been no drop in sales, nor any kind of resistance to the new brewing method. Silver Lake is still operating the Clover, but will soon be switching over to the brew bar. The upcoming Pasadena branch of Intelligentsia--which will be located at 55 E Colorado Blvd and has applied for a beer and wine license--will use the Hario setup for single cups when it opens.

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