Meet Peter: The robot barista at San Jose’s airport
Cafe X founder Henry Hu looks on as "Peter" the robotic barista prepares a drink. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

A new barista at the Mineta San Jose International Airport is impressing travelers with quick moves, unique charm and expert multitasking over long stretches  — in fact, this server never leaves its post at Cafe X.

Meet Peter. Named for the company’s former director of hardware, Peter is a robot capable of serving a variety of warm or cold beverages to customers before they board their flights.

The busy barista is the brainchild of Henry Hu who got the idea for the cafe model while sitting in a crowded airport in Singapore in 2014.

Hu, 25, was a business student at Babson College in Massachusetts at the time visiting family in Singapore over a holiday break.

At the airport he watched as workers scrambled to collect orders and prepare drinks for harried customers. That’s when he got the idea to design a new cafe with a robot behind the counter.

“You don’t have people shouting out names, throwing cups…” said Hu of his design. “(This is) fast, efficient and peaceful.”

But Hu was looking for more than a glorified vending machine. He wanted high-quality drinks and a customer friendly experience. Rather than removing the human element all together, one Cafe X employee hangs around to provide support or answer customer questions about the cafe’s offerings.

Drinks are waiting for their owners at Cafe X. Photo by Carina Woudenberg.

Cafe X partners with world renowned roasters Ritual Coffee, Equator Coffees and Intelligentsia and makes use of some fancy ingredients such as Swedish oatmilk and Japanese matcha. But the prices range from about $3.50 to $5.50 per beverage, comparable to what travelers might find at the local Starbucks.

And while employees are sparse on the front end, Hu says he’s hired a team of more than 40 people who help with a variety of tasks on the backend — from supply chain to design.

The downtown San Jose airport is the first ever to host a Cafe X — which is its fourth location. Hu says there are currently two in San Francisco’s Financial District and a third at the city’s Metreon shopping center.

Despite opening just before Thanksgiving, word is spreading fast about Peter, the robot barista, and Cafe X is attracting a large number of passengers. The cafe sits between gates 33 and 34 in Terminal B.

The opening of the innovative Cafe X comes as the Silicon Valley airport enjoys tremendous growth recently, increasing passenger traffic by 14.5 percent for September over the past year.

Many customers “met” Peter for the first time on Friday. Brian Bartley, who lives in Phoenix, but flies to San Jose often for work ordered an Iced Americano for $3.50.

Bartely was drawn to the cafe for the novelty but was impressed with his order.

“Pretty good,” he said after taking a sip. “It’s perfect.”

Peter never makes any mistakes, its creator said, despite whipping up 10 orders simultaneously within minutes.

Santa Cruz resident Linda Buie stood next to Bartely as she waited for the robot to make her mocha.

“I was so happy to see it,” she said of the robot, noting that she hadn’t seen any cafes near her gate. “I’m really impressed with the flavor and I’m picky.”

Citing the airport’s rapid growth — an estimated 15.7 million travelers for 2019 by the end of the year —  airport spokeswoman Demetria Machado said the airport is excited to partner with Cafe X to provide the robotic coffee bar.

“They are providing a service that’s in great demand for our travelers,” she said. “(Cafes are) our number one requested service at our airport.”

The next robotic venture for the airport is an automated ramen machine — which will also be located in Terminal B. Machado says a grand opening is expected soon.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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