“Mystery” solved. As one of our readers commented on a previous post, Starbucks recently purchased two $11,000 Clover brewers for who knows what unholy purposes. However, today Bloomberg reported that Starbucks is testing them in at least one of their Seattle retail stores: Bloomberg.com: Exclusive – Starbucks Tests $2.50 Premium Coffee to Boost Sales.

Between this and recent news of their new “dollar days” promotion, you really do have to wonder if their recent corporate shake-up included replacing their executive VP of corporate strategy with a Magic 8-ball. But whereas the $1 bottomless cup of coffee strategy seems aligned with Starbucks’ continued downmarket spiral, the $2.50 Clover-brewed coffee experiment is quite an anomaly.

Unclear on the Concept: Starbucks Beans…in a Clover?!

There’s been a lot of media coverage and squawk over coffee brewing technology these days. But a big reason why we’re even talking about brewing technology is because the coffee itself is making it relevant. We can use siphon bars and Clovers and notice the difference in our cups because of vast improvements in bean sourcing (Cup of Excellence coffees, etc.) and a more rigorous commitment to quality roasting and to keeping the inventory of the roasted beans as fresh as possible. Without the advancements made in the bean, the roast, and its freshness, the whole exercise of these high-end brewing machines is rather pointless.

Thus it’s not clear that Starbucks even comprehends any of this. Starbucks still sources their beans from mammoth-sized suppliers (to ensure consistency and an appropriate volume to supply their over 15,000 cafés) and uses roasts that they do not dare date stamp. Even Starbucks’ “Black Apron Exclusives” beans aren’t held to the standards that most Clover-using cafés have. This makes Starbucks’ use of the Clover a bit like playing AM talk radio through a $30,000 sound system. What’s the point?

After a decade of relentless focus on growth at all costs, Starbucks is clearly experimenting with quality and other long-ignored factors in the hopes of finding something that sticks with consumers — to revive their flagging brand. We still haven’t ruled out the possibility of Starbucks re-launching some of their cafés as “Starbucks Select” (think “Target Greatland”, etc.) to allow them to focus more on quality at some of their cafés and help buoy the impression of quality at the rest.

UPDATE: Dec. 6, 2014
Well it took nearly seven years since we predicted it here. Starbucks has come out not with “Starbucks Select” but “Starbucks Reserve”: Starbucks, Facing a Saturated Market, Looks to the High End – NYTimes.com.