In the past we’ve seen robot ninjas making pourover coffee, but could a robot replace real baristas on a commercial scale? That’s the goal of a new startup called Briggo based in Austin, TX. The four co-founders, one being Patrick Pierce a barista from Caffé Medici who placed 2nd at the SCRBC in 2008, opened their first prototype this November inside the Flawn Academic Center on UT’s campus.
The robots behind a wall of flat panel monitors grind coffee to order, use a real tamper and stable 200° water temperature to make precise 2oz shots of espresso. The steam wand even emulates the angles that Patrick would use himself for lattes and cappuccinos. The grinders can also adjust automatically between shots as different variables change, staying dialed-in throughout the day. Sounds like the real deal.
Coffee can be ordered two ways, with a touch screen at the kiosk or with an app on your phone. It can also save your order for later visits. While you wait, one of the many monitors will display where your drink is in the queue and let you know once its finished. In many ways, it’s like a giant vending machine of the future, while also stripping every social aspect the coffee house is meant to engender—but is that bad?
I haven’t tasted the coffee, but since most airport, hospital, and university coffee comes from sketchy vending machines left over from the 80′s or an unenthusiastic employee pushing a button on a super-automatic espresso machine, why not make those situations better? If I can get decent coffee at an airport, I really don’t care who or what makes it.
The current version of the Briggo is reportedly using coffee from local Austin roaster Third Coast Coffee. And though it can’t pour latte art yet, an update is being engineered to enable that talent in a later version. If anyone in Austin wants to visit Briggo, I’d love to know how it tastes. Maybe one day it will host its own Thursday Night Throwdown.
While I was in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago for the North American Hand Built Bike Show, I made a coffee detour to visit Piper Jones at the Kohana Coffee roasting facility. Until this visit, I’d never had Kohana coffee, but was familiar with both PiperJo and Kohana on Twitter. So when Piper invited me to stop by, I was excited to meet her and learn more about the company.
Kohana is just four years old and Piper has been there for 3 of them—roasting for the last two. When I showed up, I thought I’d have a quick look around and taste some coffee, but Piper had other plans. While she let a press pot of their signature Hawaiian Prime brew, she got me started on roasting a new batch of Organic Ethiopian Sidamo. I combed through the green beans looking for any defective ones while the roaster pre-heated and Piper explained the process to a couple friends I brought with me.
Kohana got its start specializing in Hawaiian coffee and have built great relationships with farmers there, but they also offer coffee from other origins now. Piper is exceptionally passionate about what she does, she “gets it” in terms of how coffee should be treated, but like many roasters she has to balance the realities of business and principles—meaning dark roasts, blends, and other things the purist in me shudders at. There is a lot of potential in Austin and I know Piper isn’t slowing down. They recently launched a cold brew coffee that made appearances during SXSW and I’m sure it’ll be in high demand during the hot Texas summer.
Kohana doesn’t have a coffee shop of their own, but they have wholesale accounts around Austin and are also stocked at the Whole Foods there. It was great to break up a weekend full of bike love with some coffee love and finally meet Piper in person. The visit was fun, the coffee was delicious and I’m looking forward to seeing how Kohana grows.