From FastCompany’s Emily Price: For seven years I worked as a barista at Starbucks. I was freelancing for a few magazines out of my home, and I took the Starbucks job because I felt like I was slowly turning into a hermit. I really enjoyed getting out and talking to people in person from behind the bar for a few hours each day. Of course, the free coffee was a nice perk too, but the human connection aspect was what kept me around for so long.
I wasn’t the only one that used Starbucks as an opportunity to meet people. The retailer has a whole business built around the idea of creating a “third place,” somewhere that customers feel is a comfortable extension of their home, a real-life Cheers where everyone—or at least your regular barista—knows your name (if only because they write it on a cup every morning). During my stint at the coffee bar, I made friends with a number of customers who stopped by daily, looking for the same thing I was: a human connection.
But a new coffee shop opening today in San Francisco has the exact opposite in mind: Instead of getting your daily cup of joe from a friendly barista, you’ll get it from a robot.
Called Cafe X, the small shop inside San Francisco’s Metreon shopping center allows customers to place orders via smartphone or an iPad kiosk. The orders are prepared and delivered by a robo-barista. The place is not so much a coffee shop as a fully enclosed kiosk that looks like a hybrid between a café and a vending machine. Inside are two WMF espresso machines that can make one of seven different beverages, each offered with three different coffee options from local roasters, as well as organic milk and add-on features like syrups. Drinks are all served in eight-ounce cups and cost between $2 and $3. (Drinks are available in that particular size only for quality control. The roasters the company works with endorsed it as the best ratio of coffee to milk. Adding additional sizes in the future is a possibility.)
The privately backed company has raised $5 million in seed funding from investors including The Thiel Foundation, Social Capital, Khosla Ventures, Jason Calacanis, and Felicis Ventures. A Cafe X in Hong Kong (next to a Starbucks) that’s been in operation for a month currently serves more than 1,000 cups a week.