Starbucks New $11,000 Coffee Machine Can't Make Up For Burnt Beans

To perk up tepid sales, Starbucks purchased Clover, a company that makes $11,000 coffee machines, machines that make one cup of coffee at a time, but are the results worth the price? The NYT hooked up with a legendary coffee connoisseur and according to his taste test, not even 11g’s can make up for burnt beans. Starbucks is often accused by caffeine snobs of over-roasting its beans, which they say destroys most of the subtle aromatics. When the Clover made cups using lighter, non-burnt beans, the coffee came out great. You know, $11,000 could probably buy you a lot of non-burned beans.

Tasting the Future of Starbucks Coffee From a New Machine [NYT]

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  1. DeepFriar says:

    I’m begging you fellow commentariat – please no “Why not make it at home?!” comments.
    Can we not just debate the topic presented?

  2. FLConsumer says:

    I wouldn’t even come close to being a coffee snob (I’ll settle for instant coffee), but Starf*ck’s coffee does taste terribly burnt and acidic compared to real coffee.

    Garbage in = Garbage out. Add a little bit of marketing spin on it and suddenly you’ve got a product Americans can’t seem to stay away from, no matter how bad it is.

  3. Jetts says:

    I always hated Starbucks, but thought I just had wussy taste buds. Until I left a pot of coffee on a little too long at home and magically made my own Starbucks!

    Yeccchh!

  4. Manok says:

    I travel the the philippines once or twice a year and I always bring back those 3 in one coffee packets. SanMiguel makes a nice brand, tastes much better than starbucks in my opinion and cheap too.

  5. TakingItSeriously is a Technopile says:

    Been reading for about 6 months now, and finally a topic I feel strongly enough about to bother registering … I can NOT believe this ID was available!!! XD

    I am also of the opinion that Starbucks coffee tastes like it was roasted on the launchpad of the space shuttle. I’ve even bought their beans, and made them at home. Terrible even out of a french press. I also don’t care for Pete’s, but have far less experience with them so cannot really comment on them from an objective standpoint.

    I’ve always been able to find a small local roaster that makes excellent coffee where-ever I have lived. One of them even sells on the internet, and I highly recommend them:

    bluemooncoffee . com

  6. Heresy Of Truth says:

    I just never do Starbucks, but I sure wouldn’t mind having one of those nice machines.

  7. thufir_hawat says:

    “Back when I was picking beans in Guatemala, we used to make fresh coffee, right off the trees I mean. That was good. This is s**t but, hey, I’m in a police station.”

    Slate did a take on the Clover machine as well.
    [www.slate.com]

  8. sleze69 says:

    I once had a coffee-addict friend visit from Portugal. She had turned me onto their shot-glass coffee when I was visiting over there. Having gone a few days without coffee, she excitedly took her first drink of Starbucks, spit it back into the cup and didn’t drink coffee for the rest of her visit.

    I would probably drink coffee if I lived in Portugal. No wonder I never touch the stuff here.

  9. pastabatman says:

    @DeepFriar:

    I second that emotion.

    Either you like their coffee or you don’t. Coffee “snobs” opinions are kinda irrelevant with the exception of their own mouth.

  10. Narockstar says:

    Wait, so everyone in line will now have to wait while each cup is individually brewed? That’s…stupid.

    I hate on Starbucks, but I have a dirty little secret. I crave their iced coffee on a hot summer morning, so strong and dirty tasting, it’s like licking an ashtray and I LOVE it.

  11. AcidReign says:

        Oh, please tell me you did NOT take a western European guest to STARBUCKS?!?

        I suppose that’s one way to get rid of an overseas guest that has overstayed their welcome…

  12. Beerad says:

    Okay, I know squat about coffee. Drink it occasionally, but I’m no connoisseur. But here’s my question: Why would Starbucks possibly be over-roasting its beans? It doesn’t seem like it would be cheaper or more efficient for them in any way. And frankly, given their staggering takeover of the American coffeeshop market, I’m inclined to think that they know exactly what they’re doing.

    So some people don’t like the taste. I can dig that, people have all sorts of likes and dislikes. But to dish on Starbucks that “coffee — ur doin’ it wrong” seems a bit silly. It’s like complaining that McDonald’s makes hamburgers wrong. You might not care for it, but billions and billions served think otherwise.

  13. farcast says:

    I feel it is my duty to mention Intelligentsia every time a Starbucks post comes up – delicious beens that are flavorful and usually roasted a week ago or less. Believe it or not, having fresh beans makes a huge difference, who would have thought! I don’t work there or anything, just a happy customer. Oh, and they have been using the Clover for a while now.

  14. felixgolden says:

    I’ve got a single cup coffee maker at home that lets me control the size of the cup and only takes a couple of minutes to brew. I can use pods, ground coffee or even tea, so I can choose the exact style I’m in the mood for – mild roast, dark roast, flavored,etc. It cost me $25.

  15. farcast says:

    PS, a Julius Meinl is coming to my neighborhood – talk about lucky!!! :-)

  16. GearheadGeek says:

    Hmm… I love coffee. I need coffee, friends and colleagues will avoid me if I’m coffee deprived early in the day, I make plans to avoid coffee deprivation. I have several different coffee-producing devices in my home. That said, I’d give up coffee before I spent the cost of a cheap NEW car (or a very decent used one) on a coffee machine.

    Yes, I realize this is intended to be a commercial device. From reading the Slate article, someone operating the machine would probably be able to screw up a cup pretty easily by choosing the wrong settings… and it sounds complex as hell in its internal operation, with vacuum pumps and powered moving platforms and such.

    And I thought a Technivorm was a little pricey…

  17. jesseraub says:

    Clover machines are awesome. Starbucks is darker roasted – they have a wide variety of roasts, all slightly a shade darker. It works for some people.

    STARBUCKS BOUGHT THE COMPANY, NOT THE MACHINES.

    It’s a business investment, we won’t see these things roll out in stores more than likely.

  18. philipbarrett2003 says:

    Beerad – Coffe is a very imprecise crop, noticeable taste differences can be detected not merely from one crop to another but even from different areas of the same farm. As pointed out in the NYT article, a lighter roast preserves more of the individual characteristics & a a darker roast tends to smear these flavors together.

    Since Starbucks has to provide a highly consistent product to a huge number of outlets (without the use of the “flavor enhancers” employed by Folgers & the like) they have to dark roast to cover the natural inconsistencies in the product. They no doubt employ some of the best blenders & tasters around as achieving such an even mediocrity is no mean feat!

  19. balthisar says:

    @AcidReign: To be honest, the coffee in all of France, Germany, and Belgium were a huge disappointment. I take mine black with no adulterants, and as such I found most of the European coffees to be quite lacking in any taste/strength. Of course the shorts were quite excellent, but I don’t want to have a single shot of coffee with my breakfast; I want a mug. Notice I’m not comparing the European coffees with American commercially-available coffees (which have their own disappointments) but rather to what I actually like to drink regardless of source. My apologies to DeepFriar, but to get what I like best, I make it at home. It requires good beans (not gourmet, just “decent” is good enough); the degree of roast that you like; that they not have dried out (lost their essential oils); and and adequate amount of beans (which you grind yourself). Snobs are snobs, but even with Sam’s Club beans and your GE drip machine, you can get superiour coffee.

    I prefer a dark to French roast, which to a lot of people can taste burnt. Starbucks goes even beyond that, is it almost always tastes burnt to me! I sometimes wonder if they overroast their coffee and use less of it to brew with, i.e., try to add flavor by burning their beans rather than using an adequate amount of coffee.

    I also do consider that most people that are Starbucks fans aren’t really black-coffee fans. By time you aldulterate the coffee with all that other crap, it doesn’t really matter much what you started with.

  20. ChuckECheese says:

    @DeepFriar: Coffee of the Day: Maxwell House.

  21. ChuckECheese says:

    @FLConsumer: A Starbucks coffee tasting would be like comparing the slough of water-soaked Marlboro ashes with the dregs of a half-full Tab can with a Winston butt in it, with the….

  22. RokMartian says:

    I discovered a cold-brew system called Toddy Coffee. Once a week, I make concentrate of coffee by (basically) steeping a pound of coffee with 9 cups of water.

    Then with 1 part concentrate and 2 parts water, it is the best coffee I have ever made at home. The cold brew removes most of the acidity, so it is so smooth.
    You do end up spending a little more, but it is worth it.

  23. smitty1123 says:

    @Beerad: Speaking purely on personal preference, I think a darker (burnt to some) roast tastes better with milk than a lighter roast. I’ll totally agree that a plain cup of Starbucks Sumatra tastes terrible, but add a little milk to that same cup and I’ll drink it all day long. So, given the amount of milk, sugar, syrup, whipped cream, etc, that gets slung around Starbucks, it’s not really surprising that they roast a darker bean.

  24. nequam says:

    @jesseraub: The article is about a selective rollout of the machines to stores. The author tasted Clover-brewed coffee at a Starbucks in Cambridge, MA.

    RTFA FTW!

  25. katylostherart says:

    “But the overwhelming majority asked for drinks that sound like punch lines: a tall honey latte with whipped cream, a venti caramel macchiato. Those customers seemed unlikely candidates for Clover coffee, but some day they might order off the menu, and ask for a short fresh pressed Guatemalan Antigua.”

    because those customers have already learned ordering drip coffee at starbucks is a slow agonizing death to your tastebuds.

  26. legotech says:

    @AcidReign: I worked for a guy who asked me to make reservations at Outback…he was going to take his clients from Australia. To Outback. I stopped him right after lowering my respect several notches :)

  27. RobinB says:

    The reasons I heard for their burnt beans–
    1) they can overroast already stale (cheaper) beans
    2) the strong, bitter taste encourages customers to order the fancier, sweeter, more costly drink concotions

  28. rjhiggins says:

    God, these Starbucks-burns-its-beans postings get old. So the millions of people who drink Starbucks every day are just sheep who, prompted by clever marketing, troop in and drink this horrible-tasting sludge — because they just don’t know any better.

    Meanwhile we have to listen the coffee intelligentsia speak lovingly of the coffee in Europe. What a crock. Yes, if you go to the right cafes in certain countries, the coffee is wonderful (as is true here). But there is a lot of coffee in Europe that is worse than anything you’ll get at Starbucks.

    I swear, I’d rather listen to wine snobs than coffee snobs.

  29. No excuse for burnt beans. Dunkin Donuts doesn’t burn their beans, and their coffee rocks. Neither does Tim Horton’s. I had (not even a whole) cup of Starbucks a couple of weeks ago, and it upset my stomach for the next two days. There is no reason to burn the beans or to make coffee so strong as to be undrinkable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it gave me an ulcer. I should have gone to the ER for an upper GI so I could sue the crap out of them.

  30. econobiker says:

    Are these burnt coffee snobs the same as imported beer snobs? You know the ones who bitch about taste and then cannot, in a blind taste test, choose between their A+++ Brand and the cheapest,loosest, garbage swill stuff available?

    Maybe the coffee in China, with included cardboard chunks, rat feet, and toxic plastic offal, will be alot better?

  31. Beerad says:

    @philipbarrett2003: That actually makes a lot of sense — if you’re trying to achieve a uniform cup, longer roasting may help smooth out some of the variation. Thanks for the insight!

    @RobinB: Those are interesting ideas, but I’d be surprised if their profit margin on the espresso drinks is a lot higher; brewing a large pot of coffee is pretty cheap and there’s no extra cost for milk, syrup, chocolate, etc. added in. Don’t know if extra roasting can compensate for staleness, but maybe.

  32. shiftless says:

    Starbucks just isn’t good coffee but if it’s all you have on the go, then that’s all you have. I like making my own at home. Keurig K-cups do the job just fine. I’ve tried so many other methods and those seem to be the best in taste and ease of use.

  33. karlrove says:

    I shall be the lone Consumerist reader who says that he likes Starbucks coffee and doesn’t think it tastes terribly burnt. I hate Dunkin Donuts coffee. go figure

  34. Hamm Beerger says:

    @Beerad: I’ve always heard it was so every cup tasted the same.

    @econobiker: If you’d said wine instead of beer maybe I’d trust you. But I think telling beers apart would be easy. Expensive beers have more alcohol, more hops, and much more complex flavors. It’s not like wine, where every wine is essentially the same (grapes, yeast, and time).

    So if you’ve seen studies to a taste test that shows beer snobs can’t tell Miller from Sam Adams, please link it up.

  35. modenastradale says:

    Studies have shown that people who have a highly perceptive sense of taste are usually very sensitive to bitterness. Since a lot of the people being mislabeled as “snobs” are interested in delicate flavors and aromatics, I’d say those people have extra-sensitive tastebuds and are therefore bothered more by Starbucks’s bitter charred ashes than most folks are.

  36. LintySoul says:

    I don’t drink Starbucks, it is crap.
    The Clover is a pretty nifty machine, though I think it is a lot of bells and whistles. You can get more or less the same brew from a well measured french press. The idea of individually brewed Starbucks is pretty nasty.

    This also makes me think of the fact that Starbucks is paying the coffee farmer’s some ridiculous price, like 4 cents per pound, and most coffee farmers live in what we would call ‘slums’. Instead of buying Clover, couldn’t they have put some money towards paying coffee farmers a decent price?

  37. karlrove says:

    @LintySoul: Then we should first get rid of the tariffs/subsidies governments give their farmers that force so many into selling coffee beans. Seriously, because there are so many dang coffee growers, the price is forced down. if these farmers could get into other crops, we would have a more efficient world system and better prices for the poor coffee growers.

  38. karlrove says:

    then cut all world government subsidies for farmers. fewer farmers would grow coffee, prices would go up. food production would be more efficient. everyone wins.

  39. bbagdan says:

    @AcidReign:

    Actually, when I was in Vienna, the Starbucks was the busiest cafe there. It even had 3 tills and was still lined up out the door. Mind you, in Vienna they like coffee with whipped cream, so Starbucks is probably a little more natural for them.

    I just got back from Dominican Republic, where the locals claim their beans rank highly, yet the coffee everywhere was revolting. Go figure. They probably brew with crappy water or something.

    In italy every coffee i had was magic.

    Why not just use a French Press? This expensive Clover machine is simply an automated french press.

  40. johnva says:

    @econobiker: There is a HUGE difference, objectively, between good beer and bad beer. Yes, I can tell the difference, and yes, I can tell you what major style a beer is by looking at, smelling, and tasting it. Do you perceive all beer that isn’t domestic macrobrewed crap as snobby?

    And yes, there is a difference between different wines too. Granted, I think I would have a harder time telling some of those apart in a blind taste test. But beer? You can’t be serious.

  41. ludwigk says:

    @Jim Thome’s Self-Cleaning Oven: Brian Wansink’s ‘Mindless Eating’ specifically mentioned that, according to their studies, most beer drinkers, even enthusiastic ones, could not discern their favorite exotic beers from the major american brands in blind taste tests. The book is about food psychology, and how we determine things like taste, satiety, and food preferences based on external cues and information.

    So, a beer expert, or expert taster, can obviously tell a lot about the beer that their drinking, and discern one beer from another. But the vast majority of consumers cannot, and make their preference based on external cues, such as brand, color, price, etc. which affect their perception of quality, satisfaction, taste, etc.

    The two things I really know by taste are chocolate and cola. I was watching America’s Test Kitchen, and they had the host do a blind taste test of 3 brands of chocolate, selected from a pool of about 10 brands, and I freaked every one out by correctly guessing the three brands based on the taster’s descriptions.

  42. Her Grace says:

    @modenastradale: Agreed, I’ve heard the same thing.

    I don’t care for excessively bitter notes in my food, whether it’s coffee or chocolate or veggies. I like a moderately bitter taste (dark chocolate around 65-75% cacao, medium roast coffees, and many bright green veggies), but deeper bitters just taste bad to me. I love lattes, because the milkiness counters the strong bitter of the espresso roast, and if I’m going to drink Starbucks (under duress–if for no other reason than price), I get something frilly and possibly sweetened to balance the ultra bitter-burnt coffee roast.

    I fail to see how a fancy machine can make up for problems in the roasting process. Uniformly overroasted beans are, at best, boring.

  43. swagv says:

    While the Clover machine is much more than just an automated French press (it’s more like a mathematically precise, single serving vacuum pot), this was going to be the lunacy in Starbucks purchase all along.

    Their beans are sourced from massive suppliers in order to avoid a headache of one-off roast batches and a chaotic inventory in all their stores. That limits them to the biggest of the big, but not necessarily the best and elite. Add to that Starbucks doesn’t dare put a roast date on their beans (if consumers knew how stale they were since the roast date) and how they roast the beans, the Clover purchase is more an exercise in PR than anything else.

    You can play AM talk radio in a $30,000 sound system, and the audio fidelity is still going to sound like crap. This makes the Clover a pointless expense where much cheaper alternatives will do the same.

    What Starbucks clearly didn’t recognize is that it’s the high-end coffee and roast quality available in boutique roasters and cafes these days that make Clover machines even relevant.

  44. Her Grace says:

    @bbagdan: On the French press: I have been struggling to find a coffee that is suitable in the US. I’m not rich and I don’t like to spend much on my beans if possible. I’m not sure if it’s the water difference or what, but I was making awesome plunger coffee in Melbourne with everything from their big name-brand coffee to the home-roasted stuff to stuff from the ikea grocery mart. Here, every single pot is scummy, watery, and oily. I’ve tried a few different coffees, now, and it’s always the same. This city has icky chlorinated water, though, so my next step is to try distilled water.

  45. ChuckECheese says:

    @Her Grace: If you have access to latin markets, you might like the brands Yocono, or La Llave. They are also available online, and are tasty and not expensive. However, they are usually ground more finely than one would want for a French press.

  46. Ciao_Bambina says:

    Some of the best coffee I’ve had for a while has been at MacDonald’s, black w/ a little sugar. Seriously. I won’t eat any of their food, but the java is worth going through the drive-thru.

    And if you’re in Prague, Czech Republic, stop in at Ebel Coffee House, another good place.

  47. AcidReign says:

        To clarify, my main gripes on Starbucks are overroasting, AND lousy filters/sloppy processing. There’s always a layer of grit in the bottom of the cup. Yeah, you expect that out of the office machine, or even at the diner. But NOT paying upwards of $4 for a cuppa… I’m certainly no purist, and I use a drip machine at home. And I do love a little chickory, or at least sassafras; and I like a little steamed half ‘n’ half with it, too!

  48. cerbie says:

    @econobiker: no, the imported beer snobs don’t know that there is good domestic beer (well, maybe not where they are, since a lot of it here is in-state). Burnt coffee folks like coffee, and wish Starbucks didn’t have it, because Starbucks is everywhere, and you know, it would be so nice to be able to walk in and just get a nice cup of coffee…

  49. katoninetales says:

    I actually like some of the Starbucks roasts (I have an intense dislike of a couple of them–the Sumatra does taste burnt to me, and a couple others have other flavors I don’t like). Starbucks gets exactly the same kind of press that Hershey did when he invented his chocolate bar–other chocolatiers pooh-poohed him, complaining that the chocolate was burnt, bitter and had a different mouthfeel compared to other milk chocolates. Hershey is going strong after more than a century, and I don’t see Starbucks losing business over its supposedly burnt coffee, either. In both cases, the flavor is intended to be that way, and the fact that you don’t like it doesn’t make other people who *do* like it sheep.

  50. redheadedstepchild says:

    Is it possible that the roasting blends will change with the installation of the clovers?

    (Full disclosure: Frequent starbucks customer.Medium with a splash of milk. Good coffee gets no dairy. Given the choice between AM/PM and starbucks? well. Starbucks is consistently ok. Never great)