The future of coffee takes off in Austin: Briggo the robot barista brews tastytreats at UT
When I first heard about Briggo, launched at the University of Texas’ Flawn Academic Center in December as the first intelligent robotic barista in the world, I had the urge to rush over there and say “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.” in front of it and see what happened.
Although not quite on the level of a Star Trek replicator, the automated coffee kiosk is quite futuristic, worlds away from the unreliable coffee machines that dispensed that horrible — yet much needed — coffee while I was a student at UT.
Charles Studor, Briggo’s founder, hated that nasty coffee as much as I did. The difference: He is a rocket scientist with more than 30 years in the technology industry (his last gig was as Global Integrated Circuit Manager for Freescale) and he actually did something about it.
To start, he pooled resources with Kevin Nater, former President and CEO of Dell Financial Services, for business savvy. Then he hired award-winning barista Patrick Pierce, former Director of Operations at Caffe Medici, to help them develop the software and technology that would mimic the process of making barista-quality espresso drinks, lattes and fresh-brewed coffee, all available from the touch of a screen.
Briggo uses organic, Fair Trade coffee from Peru, roasted in Austin at Third Coast Coffee Roasting Company.
“We are all about the coffee-making process,” says Studor, who believes this should include high quality ingredients, ethical sourcing and social responsibility. Briggo uses organic, Fair Trade coffee from Peru, roasted in Austin at Third Coast Coffee Roasting Company; organic chai and soy milk; hormone-free, locally sourced dairy milk and French gourmet syrups. All beverages are served in compostable cups.
The machine has been programmed to measure, grind and tamp the coffee according to each specific order, then brew it with high-temperature water, just like a barista. The system’s software also controls steaming the milk to produce a variety of textures, from light to very frothy. “It’s the taste that matters to us,” adds Studor. “We sell the coffee, not the machine.”
Briggo allows you to create an account to personalize your favorite beverages and save them for future orders, which can be placed via mobile device, Internet or at the kiosk itself. When your order is ready, you receive a text message a few minutes in advance for pick-up. This is great news for all those annoyingly rude people who can’t seem to get their face out of their phones, even when ordering coffee at the counter.
“It’s the taste that matters to us,” adds Studor. “We sell the coffee, not the machine.”
“Imagine being at the airport in Austin and ordering your vanilla-caramel latte just the way you like it. You land in Chicago later, and while getting to your next gate, you go to the Briggo kiosk and get another one exactly like the one you had in Austin,” says Studor, who emphasizes the convenience aspect of Briggo and its appeal to a tech-savvy, social media-geared public.
Some have criticized the “robista” — as Briggo is known to its creators — as a replacement for live baristas, but Studor sees it more as a complement. “All those people that work late night or graveyard shifts in hospitals and airports would have access to a cup of quality coffee at times when a live barista would be hard to find,” he says. Actually, as Briggo expands into such establishments, more jobs will be created.
Right now, Briggo 1.0 at UT includes a live attendant who guides people through the process, troubleshoots as needed and explains the concept and history to anyone who asks. When 24-hour kiosks arrive, there will be attendants during “normal” hours to monitor and replenish ingredient supply and to help with customer service and maintenance.
Newly added “software” — meaning products available — includes flavored milk steamers and hot chocolate, with iced drinks coming up as the weather warms up. The possibilities are huge, as the software continues to be fine tuned according to Pierce’s ideas for creating even more customizable drinks. Pretty cool, huh?