Photo Credit: Cafe X

Gordon, the barista at San Francisco’s Cafe X, will not greet you by your name or wish you a pleasant day. However, the one thing Gordon will guarantee is “precision crafted specialty coffee in seconds, the way the roaster intended.” That’s because Gordon is not a human, but a robotic arm programmed to make the perfect cup of java using beans and recipes from local favorites like Peet’s, Verve Coffee Roasters, and AKA Coffee.

Cafe X, which made its US debut at the city’s bustling Metreon shopping center on January 30, is similar to a kiosk with a vending machine than a traditional cafe. Customers can either order their drinks remotely using the company’s mobile app or via the on-site computer. Either way, they have to provide their phone number and swipe a credit card for payment. Once the order is placed, Gordon gets to work using the pre-programmed recipes to make the best possible cup of coffee.

Photo Credit: Cafe X

When the drink is ready, the customer receives a text with a four-digit code. Upon entering it, the robotic arm will hand over the correct order from one of eight heating pads. If the drink is not picked up within eight minutes after the text is sent, it is tossed and replaced with a fresh drink at no extra cost. Over time, the company plans to prioritize making the orders by geolocation, so that customers waiting at the cafe are served promptly. The company’s founder and CEO, Henry Hu, says Cafe X’s mission is to provide customers with high-quality coffee in the shortest time possible.

But while the robot baristas can create affordable and consistent cups of coffee much faster than their human counterparts, they do have some limitations. There are currently only seven drink choices available, and customers cannot order decaf versions or select alternative milk options. Also, the coffee is only available in 8 oz cups. Then there is the concern that eight warming pads will be unable to keep up with the demand in busy cities like San Francisco, increasing the wait time. However, Hu says the same number of heating pads have worked well at the inaugural Cafe X in Hong Kong, which serves over 1,000 drinks daily.

Photo Credit: Zume Pizza

Cafe X does have a human employee who oversees the operations and ensures that the quality is maintained. He/she also provides coffee suggestions and tips to the clients, making their overall experience a little more personal. Hu says, “There’s a lot of human involvement in the Cafe X experience. We just removed that very low productivity job of moving cups around.”

It turns out Hu is not the only one “employing” robots to increase efficiency. At Eatsa, also located in San Francisco, the robots help create quinoa bowls, while at Mountain View-based Zume Pizza the machines are being used to make the pies!