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Robot-Staffed Coffee Shop Opens in San Francisco

What the barista at Cafe X lacks in human warmth it makes up for in efficiency. Customers input orders into a digital kiosk and receive their coffee by way of a robotic arm.

After opening their first store in the Hong Kong Science Park, Cafe X recently launched a second location at the AMC Metreon in San Francisco, TechCrunch reports. Though the setup may look intimidating, purchasing a drink is simple. Patrons with the Cafe X app can skip the kiosk and place an order directly from their phones. When the coffee is automatically brewed to perfection, customers punch their order numbers into a touch screen and the Mitsubishi industrial robot arm delivers the drinks seconds later.

It’s easy to imagine similar robots replacing human employees in coffee shops around the world, but Cafe X founder Henry Hu says that’s not his intention. Rather, he wants to zero-in on the specialty coffee service industry by finding a faster way to make top-tier espresso. “This won’t replace baristas or the coffee shop experience that so many people have come to love—we don’t aim to do that,“ Hu said in a release. “What we’re offering is the best possible experience for people who are looking for consistent specialty coffee to-go.”

The lack of labor costs does come through in the prices—8-ounce drinks start at $2.25. And of course, Cafe X still has some people to pay, like on-site specialists whose job it is to answer your coffee-related questions.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Montaag
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Design
This Concrete Block Makes a Fine Espresso
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Montaag

Have you ever thought your kitchen could use more of a Soviet Union vibe? Do you find the fixtures in abandoned buildings charming? Then the AnZa espresso machine—essentially a coffee maker encased in a concrete block—may be for you.

According to Curbed, the AnZa is part of the art and installation aesthetic dubbed Brutalism, an architectural movement using spare, blocky designs. Moving away from the sleek, shiny appearance of most modern appliances, design firm Montaag crafted a rough block with simple knobs. As post-apocalyptic as it may look, it’s reputed to make a very good cup of espresso. And it’s “smart”: a smartphone app can adjust the brewing temperature to the user’s preference.

A close-up of the AnZa's knob
Montaag

The project’s Kickstarter recently met its $145,000 goal and is now accepting preorders at Indiegogo for $799. You can hoist this subjectively beautiful appliance on your countertop beginning in March 2018.

[h/t Curbed]

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iStock
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Big Questions
What Is Pumpkin Spice?
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iStock

Pumpkin Spice season seems to come earlier every year, but today marks its official arrival, as October 1 is National Pumpkin Spice Day. Before you reach for a cup, drink this in: The flavor can be composed of more than 300 elements—and pumpkin isn’t one of them.

Most recipes include cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, and vanilla, but not every incarnation of the concoction is the same, according to a video by food scientist and spokesperson for The Institute of Food Technologists, Kantha Shelke, Ph.D, C.F.S.

So what’s the connection to the season’s most beloved orange fruit? (Yes, pumpkin is a fruit!) Flavor companies also add in skillfully designed compounds that mimic the taste of pumpkin pie. Each chemical is carefully reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and approved at concentrations of about 20 to 50 times the normal consumption level. And even though the full flavor contains 340 compounds, combining only five to 10 percent of those molecules in a mix is enough to trick our brains into thinking, “Mmm, just like Thanksgiving!”

But beware: attempting to recreate the magic in the average kitchen isn't as easy as pie. With only the spices available at a supermarket, the final product will likely taste more like Chai than the seasonal treat on professional menus. “Pumpkin Spice isn’t set in stone,” Shelke says. “Everyone has their secret recipe.”

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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