On January 3, Cotti Coffee, a Chinese coffee chain co-founded by former Luckin Coffee executives Lu Zhengyao and Qian Zhiya, announced its plan to deploy coffee-making robots in its establishments. The move is intended to enhance Cotti’s customer experience and optimize its cost structure through a new operational model that involves collaboration between store staff and robots.
According to information provided by Cotti to Jiemian News, stores transitioning to the new human-robot collaborative model will incorporate three types of supervised and unsupervised robots for ingredients, tea- and coffee-making, and serving, respectively. This arrangement will also apply to Cotti’s affiliated brands, including Tea Cat, its new tea brand, announced on the same day. Tea Cat’s first store is set to open in Beijing’s Hopson One this month, serving wellness-focused new-style tea varieties.
Based on the images released by Cotti, the robots feature mechanical arms and shakers which can be deployed to prepare beverages. However, Jiemian News reported that these robots weren’t sighted at the Cotti stores it visited. Cotti representatives responded by claiming that the robots are deployed in newly opened stores.
Despite operating a franchise business model, Cotti has yet to disclose the cost and efficiency of these robots, which are presumably crucial information for its franchisees. Similar to other franchises, Cotti franchisees are responsible for equipment costs and will want to understand how this new arrangement will benefit their business.
While Cotti has been fervently highlighting the novelty of this implementation, coffee-making robots are actually not new in the industry. In 2019, Luckin was one of the first to experiment with such robots, deploying automated coffee robots in a space-themed store in Beijing, set up as a tribute to NASA. The system was designed to complete various tasks autonomously, including taking orders, coffee brewing, and more. However, cost-related issues prevented wider implementation of such robots at that time, notwithstanding operational-related issues that were difficult to resolve.
Additionally, in 2021, the Joy Breeze building in Beijing introduced a pour-over coffee robot to attract consumers to register for the mall’s membership. A similar robot was introduced by Something For, an Australian boutique coffee brand, in its store in Shenzhen’s Uniwalk. Beyond China, companies like Crown Digital have also delved into the concept of robot baristas. However, their focus involves the preparation and serving of coffee in enclosed kiosks rather than full-fledged coffee shops.
While these instances serve as notable examples of coffee-making robots in action, their adoption remains limited. The practical challenge arises from the fact that coffee shops like Starbucks and Luckin already boast a significant degree of automation. Typically, coffee is prepared by automatic machines in their stores, with employees handling only the manual aspects. These machines can commence operations as soon as they are powered on, autonomously completing the majority of the coffee-making process consistently, with minimal supervision, and without breaks.
These advantages are curtailed only by cost-related issues. For example, the “Smart Coffee Master,” a commonly used coffee machine by OrionStar, is priced at RMB 398,000 (USD 55,900) on Taobao, with comparable products similarly or higher priced.
Cotti will want to manage this implementation process judiciously as its brand credibility in the industry is currently under strain. In recent months, there have been frequent reports of it facing supply chain issues related to product quality control, erratic delivery schedules, and ingredient and material shortages, among others. It is challenging to comprehend how this new strategy of introducing coffee-making robots will resolve any of these pain points.