The Clover was a nerd's way to make coffee. Every parameter precisely, digitally controlled, for the most of tweaky of experimentation - or you can make the exact same cup over and over. Then Starbucks bought the company.
What happened next: Waves of independent coffee shops ditched their $US10,000 Clover machines for practical and philosophical reasons. Starbucks rolled them out to 50 or so stores across the Northeast, Seattle and San Francisco. Then expansion stopped. That was almost two years ago.
Starbucks' first Clover showed up in New York around two months ago in a nearly 20-year-old location that's been converted into a concept store. The thaw is beginning. Starbucks plans to finally expand the Clover's footprint gradually over the next 6-8 months, as they figure out how to integrate the machine into the natural rhythm of stores - which is basically dominated by Frappuccinos these days, not coffee.
In a way, it's a hard sell. The kind of people who would be most interested in coffee made via Clover, designed to pull the most out of a coffee - so shitty coffee would taste shittier - don't go to Starbucks. Starbucks is so reviled by people who actually like coffee that they've experimented with burying the Starbucks name two pilot stores in Seattle which are designed to look more like the kind of place that serves Intelligentsia or Stumptown coffee. So it's heartening to see them try to live up a bit more to the ideals of caring about coffee and how it's served.
For instance, while 30 days is what Starbucks considers the expiration date on beans in a store - 16 days longer than any self-conscious shop would serve them - if you order a cup made with Clover, you're far more likely to get beans roasted within the two-week mark. (In part because there are limited quantities of some coffees served using Clover, like the Jamaica Blue Mountain they're offering starting tomorrow.)
They're also making use of their spin on Clovernet, which was one of the big hype points of the machine: Shops and their baristas could share, upload and download recipes for coffees made via Clover. Starbucks pushes recipes for each coffee it serves on the Clover - around 4-6 - to stores via a similar network, so there are custom parameters for each coffee. African coffees get a different treatment versus South American ones, as they should.
For all the technology in the Clover, though, it ultimately comes down to the guy (or girl) handling it. Hopefully it's someone nerdy enough to know what the Clover was before it landed in front of them at Starbucks.