Baristas beware: A robot that makes gourmet coffee has arrived

|    Peter Holley    |

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) – In the food industry, it seems, the robot revolution is well underway, with machines mastering skilled tasks that have always been performed by people.

In Boston, robots have replaced chefs and are creating complex bowls of food for customers. In Prague, machines are displacing servers using an app. In Denver, they’re taking orders at a fast food drive through.

Robots are even making the perfect loaf of bread these days, taking charge of an art that has remained in human hands for thousands of years.

Now comes Briggo, a company that has created a fully automated, robotic brewing machine that that can push out 100 cups of coffee in a single hour – equalling the output of three to four baristas, according to the company.

Using a blend of Latin American beans, the machine – known as a “coffee haus” – creates customised cups of gourmet coffee that can be ordered via an app, giving customers control over ingredients, espresso shots, flavourings and temperature without any human interaction. The company says no other business in the world has applied as much technology to “specialty coffee”.

Removing the human element from ordering a cup of coffee is one of the company’s primary selling points.

“No more lines, no more counter confusion, no more misspelled names,” Briggo’s website says, flicking at human failings.

Briggo said all eight of its machines are owned by the company, but they’ve recently begun offering a licenced business model to prospective operators. The company didn’t reveal how much that business model costs, but noted that rent and revenue-sharing arrangements are typical when a machine is placed in a public location, such as an airport.

Briggo says it has created a fully automated, robotic brewing machine that that can make 100 cups of coffee in a single hour. – THE WASHINGTON POST

Briggo’s president and chief executive Kevin Nater said the machine would thrive in locations in which convenience is highly valued, like airports and office buildings, where several of the 10-foot by four-foot machines currently operate.

“Imagine you’re coming into the security line at the airport, your flight is coming up, and you know that if you want a coffee you’re going to stand in a long line,” said Nater. “From the security line, you can simply order your cup of coffee and pick it up at the coffee haus and make it to your flight on time.”

“I’ve never found anyone who wants to stand in line a long time,” he added. “We’ve just changed the game.”

It seems others agree. This year, Fast Company named the Austin, Texas-based company one of the 10 Most Innovative companies in the world. Assuming both companies grow, Briggo may someday compete with Cafe X, an automated coffee bar from San Francisco that uses assembly line-style machines that promise your cup of joe will be engineered with “robotic precision”.

The machines arrive at a time when ready-to-drink coffee, such as bottled drinks found in supermarkets and convenience stores, continues to explode in popularity, according to CNBC.

Nater said he has no doubt his machine makes cups of coffee as well, if not better, than a human barista. Referring to the robot as a “high speed, totally controlled food factory”, he said that unlike human workers a machine doesn’t get flustered when business gets busy. By looking at analytics, he said, he can ensure that the robot is hitting “all of its quality marks”.

But Oliver Geib, a 24-year-old barista at Ceremony Coffee Roasters in Annapolis, Maryland, remained sceptical. As coffee is being made by a barista, he said, subtly gauging the ratio of water to grind as flavour develops through refined taste tests, is a crucial part of the process.

“All the numbers and data in the world can’t actually tell you how the coffee tastes,” Geib said. “A big part of what a human brings is being able to taste the coffee during the process of dialling in the flavour.”

Fast-food restaurants like Starbucks, Wendy’s, Panera and McDonald’s encourage customers to order using self-service kiosks or a mobile app.

Asked how Briggo would impact employment, Nater said food service companies have a hard time retaining workers and are often short on staff, especially in airports where turnover is high.

“We don’t think we’re replacing people,” he said. “We are creating a high tech retail and marketing business and developing jobs in the process. We just hired two people in the Bay Area, where we are opening a new location in the spring.”