Listen… Hear that?

. . . . . .

That’s the sound of thousands of coffee retailers gasping for air, reeling from a sucker-punch. These are folks who’d aspired to get themselves a Clover… the commercial, cup-at-a-time coffee brewer that’s been described as the signal development to usher in the age of brewed coffee, the way to change how we think about brewed coffee, and — most earnestly — as a major point of differentiation between independent coffee shops and the behemoth that is Starbucks. Clover Coffee BrewerThese are folks who’ve just found out that Starbucks has decided to acquire the company that makes the Clover brewer. That’s right… Goliath just bought David’s slingshot.

And that odd tap-tappity-tap noise you hear? That’s the sound of every single coffee retailer who has a Clover on order speed-dialing Seattle to see if they’ll still get theirs.

But honestly, how could Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz resist? After all, it was Howard who issued the much-leaked clarion call that railed against the commoditization of the “Starbucks experience.” Howard wanted romance; Howard wanted theatre; Howard wanted the smell of ground coffee to once again permeate Starbucks stores. And most recently, Howard showed us all he wanted a consistent experience, by shuttering every single retail Starbucks for a day to retrain its barista staff. The Clover brewer delivers all that — and most importantly — it delivers a really, really great cup of brewed coffee.

Provided, that is, that you start with really great coffee beans. So far, the couple hundred Clover brewers in the market today can be found at boutique (call ’em Third Wave if you insist) coffee retailers that offer only the best of the best — Cup of Excellence auction lots, micro-lots of beans from extraordinary growers — and who roast their coffee with the same extraordinary care as they source it. Starbucks has been no slouch in sourcing some pretty good beans, themselves… but when it comes to the roaster, can they lighten up?

Starbucks could no more likely change its signature roast style than a leopard shed its spots. They could, however, extend their line with a new crop of lighter-roasted fare… beans that remain true to the character of their origins. And that — at least as much as Starbucks’ acquisition of Clover — could prove a real blow to indy coffee shops.

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