After reading ManSeekingCoffee's informative and extensive posts (part 1 and part 2) on his experience trying coffee made from the Clover Machine in Starbucks, I decided to head over today during lunch and sample it myself.
Background - the Clover is a super expensive, super precise machine created a few years ago to help better prepare a cup of coffee. Users of the $10,000-$15,000 machine could control the exact brew temperature and the exact time the grounds brewed to make a single cup. The goal was to give baristas total control over the brew process so they could ferret out the best way to exhibit each coffee's characteristics. In comparison, coffee brewed in a big pot that sits on a heater all day long seems barbaric.
Many specialty coffee shops loved the Clover and sang its praises....until Starbucks bought the company, and suddenly the Clover was a hated machine created by capitalist sellouts who used and preyed upon the loyalties of the specialty cafes so they could build up their company to the point where Starbucks had no choice to buy it (if you think I'm being dramatic, you should check out some of the comments on coffeed.com - actually, that comments page is locked now to outsiders. But trust me, some of it was vicious.)
Starbucks recently started selling select coffees from the Clover in some of its shops, and the big question has been whether the company would brew overroasted beans in the machine, thus negating the whole point of a device meant to highlight subtle characteristics of lightly (and freshly) roasted beans.
In terms of style, Starbucks seems to be going in the right direction. Customers order from a menu of limited micro-lot coffees with flavor descriptors. All coffees were the same price, except for one Kenyan that was a dollar more. The Clover device itself (at their cafe on California & Battery) was set off from the rest of the machines with its own grinder.
I ordered the Tanzania Blackburn Estate, which the menu said tasted like currants, cherries, with a citrus sweetness in the finish.
My server seemed to be glancing down at a cheat sheet to operate the Clover, and she was a little sloppy with it - spilling some grounds on top of the device when she went to dump them into the brewing crater. I asked her if she had tried any of the coffees from the device, and she said she had two of the five offered, with the Guatemalan Antigua Medina being her favorite. Looking at the board description, I asked her "So, did you really taste `silky coco and floral' when you drank it?" She looked back at the board, and said, "Um....sure."
I got my coffee (in a mug, to avoid it absorbing any flavors from the paper cup) and sat down on a comfy couch to take it for a test spin.
First impression was that it lacked the bitterness I usually associate with Starbucks coffee. Instead I got...pencil shavings. I've read in other sites that the flavor is an indication of beans that are aging, but there wasn't a roast date anywhere that I could see to check. Currants and cherries? Sort of. Very slight, with the cherries coming through in the after taste. As the coffee cooled, the cherry came through more on the nose.
When the cup was warm (as opposed to hot) this coffee grew more complex, as the acidity was more evident, although the body was much bigger. The cooler the coffee got, the more char I tasted. Not at any level close to their other coffees, but it was still there.
Overall, I thought this was a nice step for Starbucks. The coffee I tried won't blow anyone away, but if you're used to their regular stuff, you might notice some interesting things going on in the cup if you look hard enough. It's certainly the most expressive cup I've had from them.
Got to give the company kudos as well for putting together a nice site specifically for their Clover offerings, which gives some detail about where and how the coffees were grown and processed. Check it out here.