FoodTravel & Day Trips

What It’s Like to Use a Robot Barista

If you’re flying out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and heading through Terminal 3, you now have a new option to skip the morning coffee rush: purchase a latte prepared and served by a robot.

CafeX, a robotic barista company, has a robot coffee shop kiosk right past security at Terminal 3. The Bay Area Telegraph recently tested it out.

How Barista Robots Work

To begin the robot coffee process, users scan a QR code and place an order through their mobile phone. Coffee options from CafeX’s robot baristas include the standard coffee shop fare, like lattes, espressos and matcha drinks. We ordered a double espresso, which cost $4. That’s a lot, but not out of line with San Francisco coffee prices.

As soon as an order comes in, the CafeX robot leaps into action. The barista itself is a robot arm inside of a glass case, surrounded by the trappings of a coffee shop: espresso machines, bags of fancy tea, a cold brew coffee tap and the like.

The arm swings around to grab a cup, placing it under the espresso machine. The machine switches on, pouring out the brew. As the drink is prepared, the arm takes a moment to wave to you, the customer. It’s a nice and amusing touch.

The arm then rapidly grabs the finished coffee drink, plunking it down on a little display shelf inside the kiosk. When you’re ready to take your drink, you press a button with your name on a tablet on the kiosk. The arm grabs your drink and gives it a final swirl to mix it up. It then plunks the drink down inside a compartment with a door, which opens and allows you to grab your coffee.

When we ordered, the whole process took about 1 minute. The CafeX robot barista can make multiple drinks at a time, which provides speed advantages. “This thing is going to take our jobs,” a woman remarked as we ordered.

How is the Coffee?

The most remarkable thing about ordering from a robot barista? The coffee was delicious! We expected that the experience would be mostly about the novelty, but the espresso brewed by the CafeX robot was strong, flavorful and fresh. It could easily compete with fancy espresso from a bespoke SF cafe.

It was also surpassingly convenient. On a busy Thursday morning, the lines at a nearby Peet’s Coffee ran all the way down the terminal. The line at CafeX was just a few people.

We walked away surprised by the quality and practicality of coffee robots. CafeX’s robot brought us the caffeine kick we needed quickly and without fuss. Now if only CafeX could somehow robotify United’s boarding process, we’d be set!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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