This Robot Hand-Pours Coffee Better Than Most Humans

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The nerd-standard in your average nerdy coffee shop is regular coffee, brewed by hand. A pourover: A barista slowly whirls a kettle over a Hario V60 cone or a Chemex, in neatly orchestrated concentric circles. I've had some amazing pourovers, but I'd had even more shitty ones.

The coffee's often underextracted, even in typically great shops—and that's not surprising when you've got one barista trying to handle five hand-crafted coffees simultaneously with only his two hands. Consistency is hard. It requires care, man. Unless you're a robot. Like Starbucks' Clover Precision Pourover machine.

Right now, there is only one of these machines in the whole world. It's at Roy St. Coffee & Tea in Seattle, which is actually a Starbucks coffee lab hidden in plain sight. (It is, very seriously, the best Starbucks in the whole world, perhaps the only one that is a legitimately good coffee shop.) The Clover Precision Pourover machine was built by the dudes who developed the Clover, a $12,000 precision coffee-brewing machine. It, like the original Clover, is designed to solve one of the hardest problems in brewing coffee: You guessed it, consistency.


There are a lot of things that go into attempting to produce a consistent, perfect pourover every single brew: dealing with water temperature stability; precisely timing each step of the pouring process; replicating the same pour motions every time. Perfect production isn't something humans are great at, though skilled baristas come close. (Here's how an Intelligentsia barista does a V60 pourover, along with Wrecking Ball Coffee's Nick Cho, for comparison.)

A robot, on the other hand, is very good at doing things the exact same way every single time. The Clover Pourover's circles are unwaveringly identical. Its timing is ultra-precise, the metered rhythm determined by countless experiments in Starbucks' development labs. The water temperature is accurate and stable to a tenth of a degree. All the barista has to do is provide the correct dose of freshly ground coffee, ensure it's properly distributed in the filter, and press a button. The machine does the rest. And while it's using a single brew profile for every coffee right now, because it's a networked device, Starbucks could produce and upload extremely tailored programming for coffees based on their origin or roast date or whatever.

As much as I hate the way Starbucks has systematically removed the human element, craft, from making coffee in virtually all of its 10,000+ stores, replacing them with pure technology and engineering, the simple fact is that the the El Salvador Pacamara Montecarlos Estate in my cup brewed by the Clover Precision Pourover was more delicious and better-balanced than a lot of the pourovers produced for me by humans.


Much to my surprise, I had a better pourover a week later at Sweetleaf in Long Island City. It's the best one I've had in a long time, in fact. It was made by a guy who's made a ton of pourovers. But he was so invested in that one cup, he bordered on nerve-wracked, like he was about to kiss a girl for the first time. Even though the cup was perfect, moments later, he consulted a machine to make even more sure he was making them correctly.


Not everybody's going to do that. Especially not every barista in every Starbucks. Which is what makes the Clover Pourover a potentially revolutionary piece of equipment, and a twinkle in Starbucks Senior Design Project Manager Major Cohen's eye. (A weird Starbucks contradiction: The people who run the place, like Cohen, really do love coffee, even if the guy blending your Frappuccino at the local ‘bucks doesn't.)

So, take a machine that produces legit good, individually brewed coffee, every single time. Now imagine a wall of three or four or five of these in every Starbucks. Mass produced, manually brewed coffee that's actually good. (At least as long as the coffee dumped in them is good; and that may be stretch at the average Starbucks, considering many of their coffees are charred to death by hellfire and delivered many weeks after roasting. But anyway.) It's a wild thought, that one day soon you might be able to walk into any Starbucks and get a seriously decent cup of coffee, brewed to order. But robots have done crazier things. [Roy St. Coffee and Tea, Starbucks]