I couldn’t possibly visit one Starbucks and write a Spotlight that would honestly assess a global fast-food chain. So, when I ended up lost, confused, and inside a Starbucks in my home town of Prescott Valley, AZ, I decided to write about my experience with their Clover Brewer. It came about like this:
I’d been trying to meet up with a football coach for some time. He hadn’t made it to any of the clinics our team had hosted, so it was important to meet up whenever and wherever his busy schedule would allow us to talk ball and the upcoming Spring season. He suggested we meet at Starbucks. You know, me being ‘the coffee guy’ and all, I must love Starbucks. I don’t go to Starbucks. But for him? No problem. I’d go to just about any coffee house on the planet.
The Service. Very rarely have I ever had a poor experience at Starbucks. I’ve made lots of great friends at Starbucks over the years that I still keep in touch with. They train their employees to smile all day, even if not every hire can pull it off. What never ceases to surprise me, though, is how often their menu changes and how little the employees actually know what’s on the menu. So, I had good service. But, the counter clerk didn’t know much about Starbucks’ Special Reserve, single origin coffees. They’re on the menu, but no idea what they were. No biggie, he was cool.
The Coffee. I had never been to a Starbucks where they offered their Special Reserve. They offered it on the Clover Brewer. Coffee Equipment Co. started selling Clover machines in 2005 and were bought by the ‘bucks in 2008. Business was going presumably well for the company, as they were making sales of the $11,000 machine. But at the time, the Seattle Times reported the owner, Zander Nosler, considered it good news not to have to chase investors for his machines any more. But investors was not the only thing he was chasing. They also quoted him as saying “It was so disappointing that coffee never tasted as good as it smelled.” The quest to find coffee that tasted as good as it smells has driven many of us in our coffee journey.
Starbucks claims the Clover is the answer: “If you want a truly special cup of coffee, prepared just for you, made to order with carefully selected single-origin coffees or interesting blends – then you simply must try a cup of Clover® brewed coffee. It’s every bit as wonderful as you’ve heard. This innovative brewing system reveals the wonderful aroma and flavorful nuances within a coffee like nothing else that has ever come before. It’s like ‘high-definition coffee’ – when you experience a cup of Clover® brewed coffee, a whole new world unfolds on your palate.” That’s straight from the Starbucks Website.
Presumably, their regular coffee is then just coffee in regular definition. But whatever, that’s not what this is about. I tried the Clover with an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. After searching for a Barista that knew how to operate the machine, I got to see it in action. My Barista was gracious, but didn’t know how the machine worked, what a single origin was, or how to say Yirgacheffe. That was her least favorite due to the pronunciation. I can’t really say that I blame her. She also wanted me to know that it would take three to five minutes to make. I appreciated her letting me know the time investment, because I can totally see many impatient people not wanting to wait around to deviate from their standard fare. That Grande Pike Place is a lot faster to hand across the counter.
Even though she didn’t know, Stabucks’ 1912 Pike site knows how the Clover works. They describe the process as follows: 1. Weigh and grind beans. 2. Pour grounds into the chamber. 3. Fold grounds and water. 4. Steaming puck pushes up then down. 5. Perfectly brewed coffee fills cup. 6. Grounds squeegeed off. It was fairly simple and quite entertaining to watch.
The Conclusion. The coffee was surprisingly good. It tasted like a single origin Ethiopian that could’ve come from any other pour-over on the planet. It was a little hotter than most pour-overs are served, but had remarkable fruity flavors. But for real, it wasn’t $11,000 good. I’m quite certain that most baristas with a day training on a $30 V60 could deliver just as good a cup. But maybe putting the Clover in stores is cheaper than training all their baristas. Yeah, I’m pretty sure it is. And to give credit where credit is due, it’s also a darn good cup of Specialty Coffee.