A Clover quandry

Currently sitting on the bench at Square Mile HQ is a Clover. It was lent to us for the barista party and had stayed there for a while longer for us to play with.

SQM Clover

Clover at Square Mile HQ

The internet has been all a flutter with the news that Starbucks have acquired Coffee Equipment Company who make the Clover. It is so ubiquitous that I am not even going to link to any sort of articles about. Tempting as it is to post smugly about one of my five predictions sort of coming true something else is on my mind.

It seems that Starbucks has intentions of withdrawing the machine from the market and retaining complete control. Clover currently pledge on their website that all machines currently deployed will be supported.

I had come back from the States intent on spending some quality time with the machine and trying to get a better understanding of it before I had to give it back or buy it. I like the fact that you have control and repeatability in one cup brewing in a way that is currently unrivaled (be interesting to see how Starbucks use their ownership of the Clover patents to keep other manufacturers out of the market). However I’ve had quite a lot of coffee from it, and I wasn’t sure if I didn’t like the cups I didn’t like because of the brewer or the way it was being used. Hence wanting to get to grips with it in a bigger way.

Still – I need to think more on whether I want it. I don’t think the fact that Starbucks own it now devalues it for me. The people who have them now (approx 300 machines I think) are the only people outside of Starbucks with access to this technology. I was always against selling the brewer above the coffee, but if the brewer can do what people feel it can then it is an undoubtedly a great tool.

However the worries about support (machinery is machinery after all) are still pressing, and seeing a big company devalue a device and lower expectations and pricing of by the cup brewing is also a concern. That said – I think I would be very surprised if Clover rolled out with the 1s model as is. With that whole team/company on board I expect to see a machine based on the 1s designed much more specifically for Starbucks. (do you smell another prediction?)

I suppose that I will I could just ignore all the news/media/hype/hate and decide if it brews coffee like I’d like to present coffee. Though I suspect that the ongoing disconnection from Clover/CoEqCo will remain the largest obstacle.

17 Comments

  1. I agree with you that the 1s will be modified for Starbucks. I’m thinking grinder attachment and whisking attachment, since it is keeping in line with their whole “hands-off” approach to coffee preparation. If they uploaded specs from a central location, then all the PBTC would have to do is select the beans and push a button.

  2. If you look at it as a standalone brewer with no baseline for comparison, it’s wonderfully complicated and unknown. If you use vac pot (as I do) as a baseline, there are multiple flaws in the design.

    The brew chamber designed for multiple brew sizes and an attractive counter profile, the declining brew temp affected by ambient room temp, the poor filtration which often lets an amount of sediment into the cup… among others.

    The irony is, the Starbucks coffees will taste better in this simply due to the fact that a lot of the roast notes will not extract but I wouldn’t pay 3 bucks a cup for it either.

    Regardless of how pwned the 3wavers feel or the hype starbucks will pander in the media with this brewer, the question will be A) can you make money off it B) At the end of the day, does it produce a quality enough cup to warrant your most expensive coffees represented by it.

    good luck.

  3. For Starbucks the way to fix something is to throw money at it. They have a history of going out and buying the best machine money can buy. Remember when every Starbucks had a 4 port linea? They even opened a north american factory to do this. Did this make there espresso good? After that they threw money at Saeco to develop a superauto for them to attach the problem of consistency. In my market experience the majority of customers taste with their eyes and ears. People seek out and hold onto certain brands based on nothing more than trendy logos and catch phrases. Coffee shops now are like punk rock in the 80’s, they seem to be more about stye and elitism than the actual coffee. I have served what i know to be terrible coffee on a clover, and have people tell me it is amazing. To prevent from being to negative, I would also like to say that I love the clover, and I have had many a fantastic coffee from it. The elegance of the clover lied in its minimalist design and build quality. You should keep that one james. When will one come your way again?

  4. Don’t be so hard on Monteverde El Dos JT =P

    Jim, if you can figure out how to achieve a 20% yield on the Clover (which I guarantee is not possible in 40 seconds) then you may be very happy with the cup profiles. Keep in mind every coffee you’ve tried from a Clover to date was probably around 12%-14% yield with a 1.5% or higher concentration.

    To me, the advantage all along was in getting the market excited for the coffee that is available in the coffee house. Granted the excitement is more for the machine than it is for the coffee, but once the fancy show is over they still have a cup to enjoy and remember. This advantage is really quite strengthened now that Starbucks is about to normalize the prepared-to-order coffee… or at least that’s my prediction. Essentially I’m thinking that if you thought buying a Clover made sense before, it makes far more sense now.

  5. I’d been really hoping to see a clover here in Western Australia but as things stand it doesn’t look like that will happen.

    There are only a few in Australia and I think if production ends the speciality coffee world will be poorer for it.

  6. mr. jim, it won’t help to be spiteful toward a machine: not very rewarding, all one-way. i just can’t see the clover in a starbucks. clover: love the idea, rarely thrilled with the coffee (and never truly blown away with a clover brew). but i’ve seen the people lining up for them, seen the endorsements of people i respect in the coffee trade, and wonder how they all feel now. how can you not feel burned? you have a good point about this making existing clovers rare, not cheap. but what will be the cache of being a small independent with “the original clover” when starbucks has their robot clover down the street, or across the way, or next door? it makes the idea of investing in the $11k brewer to differentiate oneself against big green seem as foolish as … well, as foolish as it might have been to start with. hmmm… maybe that’s what has been missing from my clover experience; i only tasted top tier coffees from the clover. what if it truly was a miracle device than turned iffy roasts of mediocre greens into great cups? hence there is more to the starbucks buyout then simply ingesting the competition. okay, being obtuse. it’s late. -t

  7. “Jim, if you can figure out how to achieve a 20% yield on the Clover (which I guarantee is not possible in 40 seconds) then you may be very happy with the cup profiles. Keep in mind every coffee you’ve tried from a Clover to date was probably around 12%-14% yield with a 1.5% or higher concentration.”

    Ian, Could you give an example (numbers) of how you arrive at the above?

    Thanks gt

  8. Simply from playing around in different experiments, I haven’t been able to get over 14.5% yield in 40 seconds even with grind settings fine enough to leave a muddy cup. I’ve played with a wide range of ‘standard’ recipes that come nowhere close to Golden Cup. Mind you, they still taste good – it’s just that they lack a certain something compared to a higher yield brew.

    Perhaps my statement was a bit bold, but everyone does seem to follow the basic recipe of “tons of coffee in a short amount of time” for Clovers which I find invariably results in high concentrations and low yields.

  9. Whose to say golden cup is the only way to drink coffee? I thought the point was to push the envelope and develop new ideas and discover new taste profiles? Coffee to me is a balance of science and art. Is it always necessary to have a quantitative value?

  10. american way of business… no comments on that…

    the coffee machine is great, but their market strategy seem to forget their customers…

  11. Well its back to “just” relying on good coffee and not the marketing benifits of a machine… I am disapointed though as some folk in Oz (including myself) were really hoping this could spark some interest in the dark empty void that is the brewed coffee culture. That being said Australia really needs to get over some other obsticles directly relating to greens first.

    Now that the Clover buzz is over its just pushed little old Oz even further behind in developing a filter culture. I’ll make myself another espresso…

  12. On the bright side it’ll leave a few of us with a spare £6,000 or two this year…and we can all just say that we were never totally convinced anyway.

  13. I’m not saying Golden Cup is the only way to drink coffee, I’m simply pointing how that many coffee professionals have been disappointed in their clover experiences and that I suspect this is due to low yield brewing.

  14. > Simply from playing around in different experiments, I haven’t been
    > able to get over 14.5% yield in 40 seconds even with grind settings
    > fine enough to leave a muddy cup. I’ve played with a wide range
    > of ’standard’ recipes that come nowhere close to Golden Cup.

    I’m very surprised to hear that. I had the same question, ran a “Clover simulation,” and was easily convinced that 20% yields are possible (sorry for the long url):

    http://www.home-barista.com/forums/solubles-yield-as-function-of-grind-and-dwell-time-t5729.html#p68991

  15. I’d like to withdraw my earlier comments. I’ve now found one can achieve high yields (well, 18%) on the clover in 40 seconds using traditional doses of ~60g/l if using a very fine/”espresso” grind.

    I never imagined the clover could handle such a fine grind as everyone seems to hover between paper filter and above.

    It tastes quite nice, with little sediment. Very cool.

  16. As I have contemplated Starbucks owning The Coffee Equipment Company, I have started to wonder if it isn’t a good thing. What I have heard a lot of, is people being dissatisfied with the Clover. That means that Starbucks has purchased something that the industry might not even want. With their purchasing of the Clover we can only hope that it will provoke someone in the industry to push even harder forward and invent something that is competitively superior to the Clover. Starbucks will either have to put money into developing the Clover or the will simply be out invented. I agree that Starbucks owning the Clover is not the greatest thing for the industry, but who is to say that it won’t lead to something greater.

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