[1/30/17] At San Francisco’s new Cafe X, the barista doesn’t make small talk or sport a hip mustache. But its industrial-strength claw sure knows espresso drinks.
Cafe X is a new breed of coffee shop pushing the boundaries of automation both to make food and to serve it.
It is mesmerizing efficiency. Tap your desired beverage, flavor and artisanal bean on a phone or kiosk screen. That beams the order to the robot, which uses a Mitsubishi six-axis arm to grab a cup, pump in some syrup and pop it in front of one of its coffee-brewing cores, which grind beans and foam milk into an espresso confection. In 22 to 55 seconds, depending on the order, the arm lowers the cup on a hydraulic pedestal, revealing your coffee like the Batmobile heading out of the Batcave.
An 8-ounce robot latte runs $2.95, 40 cents less than a short latte at the Starbucks around the corner.
How is it taste? I’d give the first U.S. Cafe X, a kiosk in San Francisco’s Metreon mall, a solid A-. Its makers say their tech’s advantage is consistency. Their robot uses recipes and ingredients tweaked by local roasters, and can prepare them the same way every time. (It helps that there are only a half-dozen drinks to choose from.) There is no algorithm for experience, but like a human barista, the Cafe X robot can adjust recipes on the fly based on temperature and humidity.
“The art part of coffee is the expertise in creating the beverage, not how well you can repeatedly do it,” says Cafe X founder Henry Hu. “That is repetition a robot can do.”