We really hate doing Starbucks posts if we don’t have to. After all, Starbucks hasn’t been relevant to quality espresso in over a decade. But if you’ve been following some of the Clover brewer posts here, you may be surprised to learn that Starbucks liked them enough to buy the company: Aroma comeback: Starbucks to start grinding coffee in stores. (More details here: Starbucks to Acquire The Coffee Equipment Company, Maker of the Clover – HispanicBusiness.com.)

OK, so the rest of the world seems to be “oohing” and “aahing” over news that Starbucks is returning to grinding beans fresh at their locations — reversing a move to pre-ground, packaged beans from 10 years ago. The media also seem curious about Starbucks’ announced replacement for their horrid Verismo machines: an even more dismal-sounding contraption from the same manufacturer, Swiss-based Thermoplan, called the Mastrena. (More on that in a minute.)

But the news most relevant to quality coffee is their purchase of the fledgling Coffee Equipment Company, makers of the (oft-cited-$11,000-a-pop) Clover brewer. This after Starbucks tried out the device in a couple of Seattle-area cafés for a couple months. For chocolate lovers, this is akin to Hershey’s buying out Scharffen Berger in 2005. (It’s entirely fitting that Starbucks announced Hershey’s as their chocolate partner earlier this month.)

Starbucks coffee in a Clover machine? Who buys a $30,000 sound system to listen to AM talk radio?

But back to the Mastrena, a device that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described as “a new machine designed to leave a smaller margin for error in pulling shots and steaming milk.” Apparently Starbucks will now be able to hire employees with less skills than trained monkeys — to produce consistently underwhelming and “safe” espresso beverages that taste like they were squirted out of a coin-operated vending machine.

“It’s an unbelievable tool that will provide us with the highest-quality, consistent shot of espresso that will be second to none,” said Starbucks’ chairman, Howard Schultz. However, we’re wondering if by “unbelievable tool” he meant the Mastrena…or if he was referring to himself.

UPDATE: March 20, 2008
If you envy those at The Coffee Equipment Company, who cashed in big with their Starbucks acquisition success, here’s a story for you from today’s Post-Intelligencer: Starbucks deal ‘dream come true’ for manufacturer of coffee maker.

UPDATE: March 26, 2008
The New York Times kicked the tires of a Clover machine in a Starbucks, bringing along George Howell of Acton, MA’s Terroir Coffee as their expert taster: Tasting the Future of Starbucks Coffee From a New Machine – New York Times. His findings? Most of the coffee Starbucks roasted for their Clover machines was over-roasted and destroyed the flavor, reducing the Clover to something no better than a $20 French press could produce with the same beans.

UPDATE: March 28, 2008
And here’s a version of the story today from the Associated Press, highlighting some of the independent cafés that are disowning their Clover machines in response to the buyout: Starbucks acquires pricey coffee maker … and the indies are upset – SGVTribune.com.