Starbucks tests a revolutionary new kind of single cup brew system

Starbucks is testing a new single-cup brewer.  This new auto brewer is NOT designed for home use, but rather is completely designed to make the store experience better.  I found this test product while out  and about today, and I ordered Italian Roast, which was the bold pick of the day.  I saw that the machine has 5 whole bean hoppers atop of it, and I could see that they were labeled “Pike,” “Bold,” and “Decaf.”  I really apologize for the very poor quality of this photo.  I really had only one moment to get a picture, and I was literally moving my phone back into my purse as I was taking it.  This machine is clearly still in the test phase, and as far as I know, this is only  single store that has it.

This auto single cup brewer produces a single cup of coffee in about 15 to thirty seconds, by my estimate.  The beans are ground, and the coffee is produced that quickly.  It tastes exactly like the filter-brewed profile that many customers are used to.  The barista at the register had a small device in her hand about the size of an iphone, or other smart phone.  The device had lit up buttons that indicated the four standard Starbucks sizes – short, tall, grande, and venti.  It appeared as if the barista could start the machine brewing without even turning around and pressing a button on it.  That puzzles me a bit because someone is going to need to put a cup under the dispenser.  Again, I totally wish I had a better photo of this machine, but the circumstances at this store just wouldn’t allow it.  I apologize that all you really are seeing here is an an image of the top half of the machine.  There is small dispenser and shelf for a cup to be placed and coffee brewed directly into.  Coffee can be brewed into a paper cup, or a porcelain for-here mug.

I would note, it seems as though that if Starbucks ever decides to do a wide-scale launch of this auto brewer then it would be a fit primarily for those stores that do not have a Clover brewer.

I can think of many advantages of a perfect single cup auto brewer:  There is no coffee thrown out at the end of a thirty minute “hold time.”  Starbucks partners are liberated from having to worry about any kind of coffee cadence.  Customers can easily get bold, decaf, or Pike Place Roast all day long. It’s very quick – this is much quicker than the “Pour Over” brew method.  The flavor profile is exactly the same as the filter-brewed flavor of coffee brewed in batches and held in urns.  The coffee is much fresher for the customer since it hasn’t been sitting already brewed for ten minutes or some other period of time.

There are only a few possible negatives to this (that I can think of):  There is a small risk that this machine will perpetuate the Starbucks image of ‘push button’ coffee, since it does appear to be coffee at the push of a button.  For those customers who want a flavor profile closer to a French press, than the answer would still be get a French press of coffee, or find a Clover Starbucks.  The Clover coffee brewer is closer to a French press’ flavor profile rather than a filter-brew system.  And the machine is a bit large and bulky in terms of its aesthetics.  Lastly, the customer is limited to 3 coffee choices (bold, Pike or other lighter option, and decaf), whereas with a French press, pour over, or Clover, any whole bean coffee may be brewed for the customer.

I have a whole category of “test products” that I’ve talked about on this blog – everything from the pink lime Frappuccino, to Refreshers, to the Apple Crumble Frappuccino.  It is always important to remember that Starbucks tests many many more things than actually get launched nation-wide.  Just because there is a “test” going on does not mean that you might see this item soon at your local store.

I am very curious to know what my readers think of this.  Would partners want this at their store?  It looks like you would have to give up some counter-top space to add this machine.

By the way, I also discovered a few test snacks at this store, but that will be covered later in a future blog post – and really that’s not nearly as exciting as what I saw today here!  This machine could revolutionize coffee at Starbucks.  Goodbye pour over.  Welcome big auto brew machine.


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  • Diele

    This sounds so intriguing! I love the idea of reducing the coffee waste. I would say most of my customers do not like the flavor profile, or lack there of, of pour-over; this could provide a quick comparible cup of bold and decaf for customers who would normally be forced to wait for pour-over. Reminds me of a Keurig in a way; perhaps this is a byproduct of partnering with them to produce Starbucks kcups?

  • Melody

    Hi Diele – I don’t think this has anything to do with the k-cups partnership. When I saw it – and those bulky big bean hoppers – I thought a bit of the old Verismos that a few store still have. I think is truly a Starbucks innovation. And I love that the baristas can start a cup of coffee brewing without leaving the register!

  • Rebecca

    Oooh! Love it! Like, a LOT. From the looks of it, it doesn’t look like it would take up as much room as the brewer + two docking stations we have at our store, but I don’t know for sure…

    I would totally be interested in what the feedback on customer perception is though, you’re right. Because, the average customer is not going to know or care that the flavour profile is the same as before. They’ll just see the button. And I’d also be curious as to the speed of this system with the morning brewed rush – my customers are used to waiting, like, NO time for their coffees, so 30 seconds could be annoying to them… I’m curious to see what happens with these!

  • Rebecca

    Oh, and Melody – I don’t think French press or pour over would go away. Well, definitely not French press anyways, so your choices would still be wide open :) Well, as wide open as the whole bean selection in the store anyway!

  • DadCooks

    Does not look like a true innovation to me.

    For years there have been coffee vending machines that produce a cup coffee from fresh beans, ground, and then rapid brewed. Some of the machines even have a choice of beans and can produce a pseudo latte or cappuccino. This implementation has just taken the guts out of a vending machine and made it pretty for the counter top.

    Regarding the remote control that you saw. There are McDonalds in my area that have totally automated soda dispensing for the drive-thru. It is integrated with the register so that when a drink is ordered the proper size cup falls onto a conveyor, gets a measure of ice, then goes to the proper spigot for soda dispensing, and finally to a waiting queue where it gets a lid (manually installed) and out with the order.

    I do not consider this progress.

  • Melody

    @DadCooks – This is innovation to me! I’ve had weak awful cups of coffee from vending machines, and this is NOT that! To be fair, I’ve seen a Peet’s that had a machine that was conceptually close to this – It was whole bean to coffee, and produced a very quality cup of coffee, but it was much slower than this machine. I need to stop back into the Peet’s on Elliot (15th NW) in Seattle – Their machine took like three to four minutes which is too long of a wait in a morning rush.

  • DadCooks

    @Melody — sorry, did not mean to be blunt with you. I am an old engineer and have seen and done things that the public will not see for years, if ever.

    I agree that the vast majority of coffee vending machines produce coffee on par with McDonalds and Burger King 😉 .

    Recently I was at our local Amtrak Station waiting for my Kids’ to get back from an expedition to Seattle (train 2-hours late). There was a new high tech coffee machine, (sort of like what I described in my previous post) I gave it a try and was amazed at how good the coffee was. So I had to play around and tried a latte and a cappuccino, both better than McCafe.

    I do appreciate your observant eye that continues to bring us new adventures. :-)

  • Hayley

    That is so so cool!! I am intrigues by that…and more excited that the profile is closer to a traditional brewed cup of coffee over a press. Unfortunately, I don’t have the experience of having a Clover made cup of coffee to add into the comparison. But this still look really cool. Thanks for finding it!

  • Chgo.

    15 – 30 seconds could seem like a lifetime to customers waiting in line if this were to replace the drip method. Especially the rush rush rush crowd. This could work great during non peak hours though. Since it is in the testing phase, one could only guess how this would work. It would be better if you could choose any coffee choice just like the Clover. It will be interesting to see how this tests out. Since I am interested in more choice, I would welcome something like this if it offered greater choice, without compromising taste.

    @Melody….. Since you got me hooked on the OSGM on the Clover, I was wondering. It has disappeared from most store shelves, and it’s no surprise. Since I was expecting it to be discontinued, I was surprised to see that Starbucks is still selling it, and has redesigned the bag (as seen on their website). I’m guessing they have no plan to discontinue selling it. Is the plan to stop selling it only in Starbucks stores? I figured you would know. Perhaps I missed something and was confused about the future of OSGM. I miss it on the Clover already. What’s the story if you don’t mind me asking?

  • Dustin

    In regards to the cup issue, I know something used at McDonalds (at least in high volume drive-thrus) is an automated pop machine. As soon as the order is tendered, the machine dispenses the correct cup size, places it into a secure cup holder of sorts, the machine rotates the cup to the proper pop type, where the drink is filled until full. The employee then throws on a lid and away we go!

    Could this be something utilized in DT locations?!

  • calwatch

    Yeah, this needs to be better than the machine at my car dealer that can dispense Starbucks bean coffee on demand.

  • Chase

    This sounds fantastic. The clover is such a great machine, but being able to brew on demand without having to rebrew every 8 minutes and worry myself about over brewing / under brewing just sounds so nice.

  • CD

    I think I recall hearing something about this previously. Was it mentioned on a investor call or did Howard say something about single brew during an interview over the past few months?

    I’d welcome a machine like this if it meant getting something better quality than the pour overs I often get. I’m not a big fan of the pour-over at Starbucks. Many baristas do not seem too thrilled to do the extra it takes to offer a pour-over and many times the drink itself is lukewarm. And Pike has never been an option for me.

    P.S. I do think you need to go back and get some better pictures (and perhaps hear from the baristas how the machines are performing)

  • Melody

    @Calwatch – I think your comment highlights the image problem that this machine has. Even though this machine produces an incredible cup of coffee, lots of people won’t believe it when they see this machine. Reminds me of the sorbetto problem – I loved the taste of Sorbetto but it was a problem that the machines looked sooo much like a 7-11 slurpee machine!

  • Diele

    I still have verismos at my store. I forgot to look at the picture!

  • purple1

    I think this might be a nice addition to the stores that do not have a clover and especially if you can choose the type of coffee you want. Another possible nice touch? It would be neat if they could do this with loose tea? Brew loose tea on demand! How wonderful.

  • Chris W.

    I think this type of brewer would work well in medium volume locations, or extremely low drip coffee sales stores. We are fairly high brewed coffee store in the mornings, and I have multiple customers who come in to get 2-3 coffees at a time. Not to mention the coffee travelers that go out on a daily basis, this couldn’t handle the volume for those.
    According to your picture and the story, it looks like there are only 3 hoppers on the machine. That will already be outdated starting in January when we start brewing 4 varieties of coffee at a time.
    So at first glance, a great thing to try, but definitely not for every store.

  • denise r

    Thanx for the info. Melody! Am not so sure what I think of this and agree with DadC…that I don’t think it’s totally ‘new’. Better than a pour-over would be a good thing…I still think of that as a last ditch (PPR is not in the running, ever) effort for a cup of coffee.
    I don’t know….just not sure how I feel about it. (from what you’ve said)
    @Chris W: 4 coffees brewed at a time? ???

  • Melody

    Chris – I can’t imagine the chaos of brewing 4 coffees in store. I know airpots are coming but are hold times still 30 minutes?

  • DadCooks

    Four brews at a time? Air pots?

    How are the air pots going to be filled? No way they will fit under the spigots of the urns.

    Where is the extra back counter space going to come from?

    This may be a good concept, but I see many many problems in execution.

    The January free coffee in the special tumbler may not be that special of a deal.

    I see a great possibility for a decrease in quality and service.

  • Melody

    @Chris W – Take a look at the photo – Count the hoppers. There are 5 beans hoppers. However it was brewing just the 3 coffees, and had 2 Pike hoppers, and I think 2 Italian Roast. I have no doubt, the machine can do four coffees.

    I think when Starbucks bought the Coffee Equipment Company, they acquired a lot of precision technology. It would not surprise me at all to learn that this machine uses some coffee technology created by the experiences of the Clover – in terms of grinding, pistons, and so on and so forth.

  • Melody

    @ChrisW – I should have written IN the blog post that I saw 5 hoppers, and they were labeled “Pike,” “Bold,” and “Decaf.” – My bad. I wrote this in a rush, and perhaps I’ll still edit to clarify that. Sorry!

  • purple1

    Dad Cooks I got the January tumbler for my husband and am curious why you think the promotion of free coffee in Jan may not be such a deal.

  • Mike Gilks

    this seems very interesting, can’t wait to find out more!! would be awesome to see 4 (5 including decaf) blends being offered at once here in the UK! ~mike – fleetSCM

  • Chris W.

    Surprise! After the Holiday promotion ends, we go into our ‘Winter’ promotion. When this begins, we will be brewing 4 coffees per day: 1 Blonde, Pike (Medium), 1 Dark (neé Bold), and Decaf Pike. There’s a lot to the promotion, but the easiest way to explain it is during the mornings, we’re just adding in another coffee, boosting the rotation from 3 to 4.
    And yes @DadCooks, we are brewing Decaf Pike directly into airpots that fit under the brew baskets on the Bunn brewers. I’m sorry that you have such low expectations of our partners that brewing coffee will be too difficult, and your service will suffer. We’ll all have our own learning curve, but this is one of the simplest items we’ve ever added, IMO.
    P.S. After noon will still be the same, Pike brewed with the Bunn, other choices done via (pardon the pun) pour-over.
    @Melody thanks for the clarification about the number of hoppers. Again, the biggest reason I can’t see this as a mass installation is if the yield / pound of this machine is worse than the current brewers. Adding that up over thousands of stores would be a huge expense.
    Great chat all!

  • Lisa C.

    Decaf all day, I hope we get one of these.

  • DadCooks

    @purple1 — I too have a “special” tumbler, and what I meant was is that it looks like while we may be getting “free coffee” I consider it small compensation for the new process we customers are going to have to help Starbucks work out the kinks out of 😉 .

    @Chris W — I have high admiration for most of the Baristas (the dedicated 110% effort ones who earn a capital B, not the just doing their time baristas), from my observations you are dumped on and expected to figure it out with inadequate training or resources. Some stores may have plenty of counter space to accommodate the new air pots, they must be pretty squatty 😉 .

    @Melody — Starbucks made a big investment in the Coffee Equipment Company, they are sure slow in rolling out the fruits of that investment. Wow Melody, leave it to you to find a topic to stimulate a conversation 😉 .

  • Chris

    This is great Melody! Thanks for sharing!

  • Karl Dahlquist

    I understand where @DadCooks is coming from. There are some stores that run like a well-oiled clock, and seem to always have their two drip choices at hand. And there are other stores where they never have bold drip. (And I don’t even order it! I just overhear customers)

    Of course, some will lament the huge cost of these machines ($10,000?), but that really isn’t a lot of money considering the labor it would be replacing!

  • Melody

    @Karl – Oh I think you’re totally right that the efficiency in labor would outweigh a high expense to the machine. I have heard some more gossip about this machine – essentially it is born out of Clover technology. I’ve heard really loose gossip about one more store getting this machine…
    @DadCooks – I can see how it seems like it has been slow to roll in all the benefits of buying the coffee equipment company. I prefer slow and cautious as being the standard – But Starbucks announced in March 2008 the purchase of the Coffee Equipment Company, and now at Dec 2011, there are about 230 Clover stores (and that number needs to stay very very very small to accomodate the supply of Reserve coffee), one prototype for an autopour over (not likely anything will ever happen with that), and one (or two?) prototypes of this very very super-fast auto-coffee brewer.

    Honestly though, I want this to expand, It was an amazing cup of coffee! I don’t care that it looks big and bulky, and the barista just pushes a button. If I were a partner, I’d be happy to not have to worry about a brew cadence, and to always always be able to have bold all day, or decaf all day, in 15 seconds or so.

  • Julianne

    I alluded to this on Twitter, where 140 characters weren’t enough, so I’m dropping on in to elaborate on my thoughts –

    I think this single cup brew system is incredibly intriguing. As a barista in a Financial District store in downtown Boston though, in many of our stores with layouts that have less flow or space to them, this would probably make baristas scream bloody murder. Even with an expediting system, taking 15-30 seconds to pour a coffee would cause a backup because of the percentage of drip coffee customers we take and the volume of it that we do. Until about 8:15 in the morning, the vast majority of our customers are drip coffee, and our very uniquely and inconveniently small queue area/lobby space would cause the coffee line to back up so badly that handing off coffee at the counter would cause the queue line get confused. In fact, we used to expedite coffee pretty far back, and even when taking names on the cups, people would still get confused and take the wrong coffee, causing delays. We, at the advising of our old district manager, have gotten the register partners to pull the coffee as the customer orders it (as the brewers are directly behind them) to make sure it stays as hot as possible and so that the customer gets the correct coffee. Overexpediting the line causes confusion and depletes flow and the customer experience, as there will be a pool of people at the register waiting for their cup of coffee if the cup is not sleeved, pulled, and handed off in less than 10 seconds.

    We were one of the test regions for Grind and Brew a few years ago, and the vast majority of the stores in the area (including the one I work at) handle two separate cadences of drip coffees, 5-6 urns total… and still have to start the brews ahead of the cadence schedule because we simply go through too much coffee at the height of our busiest rushes. It’s easier-handled at some other stores in our region with larger spaces (I’ve worked at every FiDi store in Boston at least once in the last five years I’ve been a partner), but a few of us business district stores just simply have too little of a queue area/waiting area/handoff plane area to find a solution to it. I’m not opposed to single cup brewing in the slightest, because I appreciate a quality cup of coffee. However, as this system is piloting, and if this is going to be a company-wide rollout, they have to take metro-area stores in heavy foot-traffic areas into consideration when tweaking out the nuances of the system. I’ll be excited if this comes to Starbucks as a whole, though!

  • Melody

    @Julianne – That is an intriguing comment. I hadn’t thought too much about the hazards of over experditing a line that is mostly brewed coffee. But at the register, by the time someone pays for their coffee, doesn’t it work out about right? Using the expeditor ipod, I would think that a coffee might almost be done by the time someone pays. ? I’ve heard rumor (though very unsubstantiated right now) that one of these machines is going in to a store with an extremely busy and high volume of drip coffee, I would assume similar to your Financial District area. I think that will be the real test of it.

  • chillman

    Sounds interesting! At which store are these being tested?

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