Starbucks Reserve Coffees and the Clover Brewing Machine

29 Dec

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Starbucks is quietly upping its coffee game, introducing a Reserve line of single-origin coffees and changing how it’s made and served. Starbucks has for years tried out concept restaurants to see how far they could push the high end of the brand. In the late 1990s in San Francisco’s Mission District, Starbucks secretly launched a plush cafe called Circadia, to see what all that hipster fuss was all about. It didn’t really go anywhere. Recently, they paid an obscene amount of money for a middling pastry brand and rolled out a full service restaurant with alcohol under the La Boulange name. And now they have rolled out a Reserve cafe, trying to throw money at the Blue Bottle/Stumptown problem.

In addition to criticism that it is America’s largest milkshake purveyor, these third wave coffee roasters stand as a rebuke to Starbucks and what America used to think of as premium coffee. Now, total Coffeedouches turn their noses up at the thought of paying $5 for a mediocre latte at Starbucks, and instead are giving that $5 for a hand-dripped/siphon brewed/etc. cup at small (and not so small) third wave roasters that emphasize lighter roasts and the actual flavor of coffee.

Into this problem Starbucks has quietly expanded its Reserve line of coffees and started rolling out its Clover brewer. Just a few months ago, there were only a handful of Starbucks in the LA area that had this machine, but now they are all over. Not quite everywhere, but enough that it’s not hard to find if you look.

The Clover brewer made some waves a few years back for 1) costing north of $10,000, 2) offering Internet-connected precision and repeatability, and then 3) being bought out by Starbucks. The story went that Howard Schultz was so impressed when he tried coffee made on the Clover that he pulled a Victor Kiam and bought the company.

So could Skynet playing for Team Green save Starbucks?

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The short answer is no.

The machine is described as a kind of reverse French press. Coffee is placed in a well on top of the machine, which is lowered like Han Solo into perfectly heated water for a timed steep. The result is pretty good, definitely richer and more interesting than the usual batch brewed sludge you get from their pots. The fatal flaw is that the coffee itself is still roasted far too dark. I got what was described as one of their milder roasts and it was still two shades too dark, obliterating any acidity or fruit notes the coffee may have had.

I am going to try the Clover a few more times before deciding there is no hope. Will report back if anything changes my mind.

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