Jenny Famewhore

Starbuck’s Clover coffee

Posted in Boston by Jenny Famewhore on January 30, 2010

Tokyo, April 2009

I will admit that I have this shameful habit of ducking into a Starbucks to sip a saccharine, spicy chai latte, with foamy whole milk or a creamy caramel macchiato on the occasion. I should feel twinges of guilty when I go, “wee,” when the red holiday cups make its seasonal debut, or when I walked into a Starbucks in Tokyo in March and April to find sakura pastries and strawberry frappes with pink and white swirls. Pretty.

Starbucks is so prevalent in the landscape of big cities, that sometimes, I miss it when I don’t find a store across from a store, cannibalizing each other. I even get angry when I really, really, REALLY need to pee, and I can’t find one within a block and I have to resort to using the restroom at, ugh, a McDonalds. Their job is to be everywhere, isn’t it?

It’s frustrating how it’s always crowded no matter how many stores there are in the city, and when Starbucks announced that it would close a few hundred stores in NYC a few years ago, the Times sarcastically wrote, “Now, New Yorkers will ONLY have 10,000 branches to choose from.” These stores never kick anyone out either, which serves as a great procrastination space to gossip with friends, cut class, and beg the barista for free whipped cream.

Yet, the company is so evil and so sinister, that it has conditioned college students to associate their brand with the delights of coffee, caffeine, and class by embedding themselves in the dining halls (“we serve Starbucks coffee”) and using whatever currency system the university accepts. Then, when everyone graduates, they will naturally gravitate towards the same provider of liquid stimulant that they have relied on for the last four years.

In New York, with tactical brilliance, Starbucks is most densely located in Midtown, seconded by Wall Street downtown, correlating to the high concentration of financial and banking corporations. Nothing is more yuppie than a young  investment banking analyst cranking away on the Excel at midnight and making frequent runs to the 24 hour Starbucks located at the bottom of their shiny skyscraper.

The coffee isn’t even that great, and their beans taste burnt and unfiltered most of the time.  “Skinny” lattes are so demeaning. The amount of customization that one drink can undergo is perfect for those type A assholes– but irritating for everyone else standing behind them waiting for the laundry-list monologue to end.

Yesterday morning, I walked into the Starbucks on Newbury St. and discovered that they had the new Clover coffee, which is currently only available in in Boston, Miami, Seattle, and San Francisco. It costs about 60 cents more than the drip brew coffee, but it looked really futuristic and oozed snobbery. I had to try it.

I went for a Guatemala Antigua Medina, mid price range, and in a half-awake fascination, I watched the barista first pulse the beans in a grinder, and then put the grounds into the cylinder on top of the Clover machine. Hot water rushed out of the shiny faucet from above into the cylinder, and like a  reverse french press, the resulting liquid was sucked into a bottom compartment while the grounds were pushed upwards and out the top, resulting in a round cake of grounds (like a coffee quiche), which was scraped off by a squeegee and discarded. The coffee then came out of the spout at the front of the machine into the cup.

The “clover” technique is supposed to be superior to the brew technique because in the brew technique, the water isn’t in contact with the beans long enough to produce the subtle nuances in the flavor that this method does.

The Guatemala antigua I had tasted of a delicious, full, dark cocoa– what I think good coffee should taste like, though I am no connoisseur. My imagination had to stretch a bit to recognize the “hints of cherry” it supposedly contains. I spoiled it a bit with a splash of milk and raw cane sugar, but forgive me.

When I told my editor at Loudbus.com, Chris, to try a bit from the cup I had trekked through the icy subzero Boston weather with, he just muttered, “it’s cold.” Ultimately, even a $11,000 Clover machine can’t make cold coffee great.

I’d like to go back to try the other blends, like the Organic Timor-leste, which promises the flavor sensation of dark chocolate and roasted figs, but I am hesitant about paying the price premium because when it comes down to it, I’m still an espresso kind of girl.

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