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How the Clover Coffee Maker Works

Starbucks and Clover
A Clover might soon be in a Starbucks near you.
A Clover might soon be in a Starbucks near you.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In early 2008, Starbucks conducted a test run of Clover machines. Starbucks priced a cup of Clover coffee at $2.50 in Seattle stores, compared to $1.55 for the traditional drip [source: Robison]. The company must have liked the results; just a short time later, Starbucks announced it had purchased the Coffee Equipment Company for an undisclosed price. All future Clovers will appear in Starbucks stores.

For Starbucks, buying Clover is a step toward restoring a more authentic coffee shop experience. A memo from CEO Howard Schulz in 2007 admitted that Starbucks was lacking the "romance and theater" of coffee in recent times [source: Robison], but that's not the only thing lacking: Starbucks' stock had lost about half its value in the 15 months before the Clover announcement [source: Stone]. The deal came at the same time as a few other deals meant to improve Starbucks' standings, including a new flavorful coffee blend and improved espresso machines [source: Stone].

It's not clear yet how many stores will get Clovers, but for someone desperate to try this flavorful coffee, greater exposure can only be a plus. However, to the small, independent stores who adopted the Clover early on, there is a sense that the Coffee Equipment Company sold out to a corporation that causes many coffee connoisseurs to turn up their noses.

Clover fans worry that the emphasis that this machine provides to the individual and to each cup of coffee will be lost in busy stores, despite Schulz's desire to bring back romance and theater. While the Clover can be programmed to deliver a consistent cup of coffee, it's still a barista-managed machine, and changing the programming of some brews requires some know-how. Will the coffee scientists that love tinkering with Clover specifications still have the chance?

One independent coffee shop, Stumptown Coffee in Portland, Ore., announced that it would get rid of its Clovers rather than cut a check to Starbucks for repairs [source: Gunderson]. There's even some speculation that existing owners might not be able to get much more than that out of Starbucks. While Starbucks will honor existing warranties and provide parts, it's uncertain how long that will last, and there will not be any further training for existing owners [source: Price].

Most important to a coffee shop that was using the Clover to track sales and earnings, CloverNet also became the property of Starbucks. Existing Clover owners were scheduled as of press time to lose access to the software in mid-May 2008, though Clover promised to back up the store's data and provide them with a copy.

One coffee analyst saw Starbucks' purchase of Clovers as less about competing with independent coffee shops and more about striking out at McDonald's and Dunkin' Donuts, who have increased their coffee and espresso offerings in recent months. Using Clovers allows Starbucks to corner the market on "fresh coffee," since it's made a cup at a time and on the spot. Since "freshness" is a powerful marketing concept (indeed, it'd be difficult to find someone who desired something stale), Starbucks has a lock on being able to guarantee this desired trait to its customers [source: Price].

In an e-mail to the New York Times, one of the founders of the Coffee Equipment Company acknowledged that frustration and resentment are to be expected on the part of the early adopters of the Clover. At the same time, he said that he's also sensed excitement from people for what a Clover in every Starbucks could mean for coffee lovers [source: Meehan]. So if you're serious about coffee, it might be worth keeping an eye out for Clovers in Starbucks…it might just be a luckier find than a four-leaf clover.

More links about the Clover and coffee are brewing on the next page.