What the .... Starbucks buys Clover?!

As someone who is on the fence about the Clover (love the idea, like the people, have some reservations about the cup) ... I am shocked. A lot of respectable people have been cheerleaders for the Clover , and I imagine they feel really burned. But think of all those small places that coughed up $11k per machine (or a bit more). What's it worth to them now if Starbucks will have one just across the street. Clover was part of a quality initiative to elevate the level of brewed coffee, to give the independent a better chance against the chains. Of course, it's a very savvy move by Starbucks, something called "recuperation" in culture studies. But it's a sad day for specialty coffee (it that term still means anything). Now what the hell is the Mastrena? Just another robot espresso machine ... Tom

I'd guess that the Clover

I'd guess that the Clover would be a way to generate a more expensive single cup than they have currently, but if they're losing market share to Dunkin Donuts it wouldn't make sense to expand that way.

Perhaps more important, though, is that:

all Starbucks company-operated stores in the U.S. will ... begin to scoop and grind the beans they use for brewed coffee... [and] will brew smaller batches with a hold time of no more than 30 minutes.

They still need a fresher, lighter roast, but it's a step...

Kopplin's, the best coffee

Kopplin's, the best coffee shop in the Twin Cities, has a clover, and I think they've used it to great effect in building a customer base interested in appreciating single-origin beans and roasting craft (and yes, making a cup with the Clover is an attention intensive process). They also pull exquisite espresso shots, with an emphasis on variations from bean and blend and on the art of craft the shot. Starbucks is simply not set up to do this. Maybe they'll sell a lot of mediocre Clover cups to Starbucks regulars interested in a "premium product," but Starbucks is always going to be about velocity, volume (of business and liquid) and extending the Starbucks lifestyle. I work in book publishing and I lose a lot more sleep thinking about Starbucks influence on bookselling than I do about their influence on high-quality, craft-based coffee.

So now that they own the

So now that they own the company, they can 'fix' what's broken about the design, that it doesn't have a mechanical stirrer that swings down and agitates the coffee or a mechanical squeegee arm that sweeps the puck out of the way (oversights if you ask me, or an excuse to keep a human in the loop so it seems as if a skilled coffee person always needs to be there). From what I understand, these machines are networked and networkable, and to me, that means once one store dials in a coffee, that profile is immediately available to every store. So I've never tasted Clover coffee and honestly will probably never bother unless I am in a dire emergency (forgot to make coffee, forgot to bring coffee, forgot to roast coffee, and am over 30 minutes from my house, all at the same time). I think the real reason for this purchase is that one expensive machine plus some amount of relatively cheap labor will result in a consistently decent cup of coffee (provided they get the roast right) at lower cost and greater availability than any other realistic solution. It's simply not possible for an organization of Starbuck's size to have enough skilled baristas to put 2 per store per shift, ever, any more than it's possible to have a great cook in every Appleby's or Ruby Tuesday in the nation. Decent cooks, maybe. I am not really sure this changes much for people pursuing great coffee. I'm no more likely to go to Starbucks now, except as novelty, than a foodie is to visit Outback Steakhouse rather than say, Bobby Flay's restaurant!

I agree with you about 75%,

I agree with you about 75%, and I take that same hard line ... if you can't make better coffee than Starbucks then you shouldn't be in the business. And it's not that I have deep sympathy for those who thought throwing down $11k for a Clover would be an easy fix. If you don't start with great green coffee and then roast it well, a Clover won't save you. In fact (and this is where I disagree) the Clover takes a LOT of fiddling to make good coffee. You need to experiment and dial in different temperatures for each coffee. You need an operator to attend to each cup, stir the brew from the top to agitate the grounds/water mix, and clean out the spent grinds. Frankly, I don't see how this machine will fit in a Starbucks - all I can think is that they will have a new generation "Superauto" clover of some kind. -Tom

It may be a bad thing for

It may be a bad thing for specialty coffee, but I don't think it's a bad thing for quality coffee. If Starbucks feels they can drive profits by commoditizing quality coffee, at least in their stores, and remove human error from the equation, then why not pursue it? I think it's probably a bad thing for those seeking to make a living at specialty coffee, at least those that are not skilled past the level of a clover or a superauto. For specialty coffee houses, if they are truly skilled purveyors and brewers of coffee, why did they need a Clover to begin with? Granted, if someone can walk into any Starbucks and get a consistently great cup of coffee, why bother to look for the mom and pop shops that specialize in great coffee? It will certainly provide a barrier to entry, I suppose, but that's fine with me - there's too many coffee shops out there that claim specialty coffee status and are no better than a Starbucks now. I'd rather not have to sift through them all to find great coffee!