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Feb 20, 2008 11:18 AM

Starbucks testing in Boston (like, really long)

I know that this is clearly a topic about a fairly well-known national chain, but since they're only running this test in Seattle and Boston, I'm going to try it out here. I invite moderators to move it to Chain-ville if they deem it to be appropriate.

I don't know how well reported it's been, but Starbucks, as part of their recent corporate shuffling, has started testing something called "fresh-pressed" coffee, which is made with the ever-controversial (and crazy expensive) Clover coffeemaker. When I discovered that one of the Harvard Square Starbuckses (in the Garage) had gotten themselves a Clover, I ran--I did not walk.

The short version is that it's, by far, the best Starbucks coffee I've ever had. The long version is that the cash register girl gave me the big sigh when I asked for the silly, "fresh-pressed" coffee ("we're short-staffed" etc.). They offer a choice of beans, including Kona, Aged Sumatra etc., that aren't in their general rotation. I got the Aged Sumatra because that's what I had at the Emeryville, CA, test Peet's and I knew it would be a dark roast. They grind the beans to order, and they come out of tiny little bags, ensuring relative freshness, I'd imagine.

The machine was as cool as advertised (find the video--it's entrancing), and the ensuing coffee had the look of French-pressed coffee, with a touch of brown foam around the rim. And the kicker was that it was silky-smooth, deep and dark, and entirely unrecognizable as a Starbucks product. Better still, it came with a postcard with a link to fill out a survey...and then receive a $5 Starbucks card. Price: $2.25 for a small, $2.50 for a medium (plus tax--this is Taxachusetts, after all). A normal large in the Bay State would be $2.05 after tax, so it's not really a HUGE difference, though the medium obviously gets closer to $3 than one might feel comfortable with.

And that's my story. I feel the burning need to go try the Kona, having never actually had that before. I honestly can't see corporate Starbucks going for this unless they're really serious about quality over quantity. It took a solid 5 minutes to make, and they said they've added staff just for the machine. An extra barista per shift? I just can't see the numbers adding up. Anyway, yum.

The main reason I want this to appear on the Boston board is that, despite a recent (and virtually endless) thread about Boston-area coffee, I find, along with a lot of people, I suspect, the coffee in Boston to really come up short. Yes, I've recently moved back here from the deliriously delicious coffee mayhem of San Francisco (dreaming of Blue Bottle), but still. Anyway, the testing is still going at the Harvard Square, Charles St., and (I think) one of the downtown locations.

Flame on!

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  1. Well on the same subject, I heard that in April Starbucks is going to recalibrate their machines to make their espresso drinks stronger. Since they overhauled all their stores with automatic espresso machines, people have been complaining about the weakness of their shot and a lot have been buying an extra shot to make up for the lack of taste in their lattes, mochas, etc.

    It will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    6 Replies
    1. re: joebelt

      Thank you both -- original post and first reply. This was extremely informative. Any word on any downtown locations for the Clover? I have not seen anything about this, but I take it that it's not literally a French press method (which I used to adore at the original Coffee Connection) -- Thanks Joebelt for explaining to me about the Starbucks espresso shots being weak -- I had to change how I order my lattes but now I know why (not that it makes me happy).

      1. re: Lucymax

        Exactly, I think a lot of complaints came in as it was explained to me because people had to pay $.55 extra for an additional shot to regain the taste they used to like.

        1. re: joebelt

          A-ha! I've always gotten my grande latte with a single shot (instead of the usual two) and recently that's turned up weak. Now I know why!

        2. re: Lucymax

          From (believe it or not) the Starbucks Gossip website, the locations are 75-101 Federal (Downtown) 1 Charles (Beacon Hill) and Harvard Square (The Garage).

          Here's a link to explain (and watch--seriously, do watch the video) the silly joy that is the Clover:

          1. re: jkv

            I assume 1 Charles is the one on the corner.

            1. re: jkv

              Thanks for this post!! I made the many block trek through the snowstorm to give the 75-101 Clover a try -- I was NOT disappointed!

              In fact, this cup of Aged Sumatra the very nice and helpful barista ground and brewed as I watched may very well be the BEST cup of brewed coffee I've ever purchased in the Boston area -- and these particular beans are dark roasted, but not burnt, full of flavor and subtlety.

              It's worth every penny of the $2.63 I paid for the grande (which is not a full cup, by the way, but left room for the milk I wanted anyway). This is going to be good exercise walking there regulary to try some of the other varietals. Thanks again!

        3. Hm. I think I'll have to try it. I love annoyed barista sighs :)

          1. As aside FYI - I had Clover-machine coffee this morning from Velouria Cafe in JP (Hyde Square, across from the Behan), if anyone would care to have a comparison between Starbucks' Clover-coffee and an independent.

            1. Yah, the term is called 'drawing a shot', Sbucks is moving with the trend for not only a great shot but, IMO the most important part of the shot, the 'crema', that's not cream but rather the light brown (tan) ending from drawing an expresso shot, it's the creamy tasting part of the coffee. No double lattee hoo.. chi.. coo.. fru fru stuff, just pure coffee. Oh, and none of those cheap black beans you find in the green cans at your local food mega mart.

              1. I hightailed it to Harvard Garage after reading your report; after seeing the Clover in action I HAD to try this coffee.

                Surprisingly (despite being relatively busy), the baristas were all smiles when I ordered a cup. They made recommendations on coffee/food pairings, thanked me repeatedly, and seemed genuinely excited about brewing with the Clover, saying "this is the best coffee we have here, it's so cool." I had the 100% Kona with a toffee almond bar (their recommendation) and they kept saying "good choice sir!". This was not a typical Starbucks experience :)

                The coffee was excellent. It still had some of the over-roasted quality that their beans tend to have, but the cup was sweet and nutty. I drank half of it black, then added cream; it was very good both ways.

                All in all, definitely worth a trip to a participating Starbucks, and try to go during off hours for the "concierge" experience!

                1 Reply
                1. re: Boston_Otter

                  I just had a similarly nice experience there and really enjoyed the Kona (no toffee bar though, but I can see how they would pair nicely). I am actually still enjoying it now that it is lukewarm.

                  If they keep the price like this, I may become something of a Starbucks guy [shudder]. The flavour is great, doesn't need cream and it definitely delivers. The very nice barista explained that the reason the machine is so expensive is that they're currently handmade. I wonder if it was the kinda saccharine happy that some of the baristas at Starbucks do or if they actually enjoy using the machine and delivering a wicked good product, but I was happy when I left.