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How do you like your coffee? By robot, please

Costa launches the world’s most advanced coffee machine at Dubai Airport, but can it replace the barista?


With the 21st-century’s obsession with single-estate, custom-roasted, precision-ground beans, you might think the coffee machine — that noisy lump in the pantry that spits out muddy little cupfuls — would be obsolete. But coffee drinkers’ need for caffeine can trump even the most sensitive of palates, and when the need strikes, they need a cup of joe, stat.

Enter the Marlow 200.

Despite its Jetsons-esque name, it’s the latest innovation from British coffee chain Costa — which launched in the UAE in 1999 in partnership with Emirates Leisure Retail (ELR) and is due to open its 100th outlet here shortly — and was launched worldwide at Dubai Airport’s Concourse A on Monday. It’s a coffee machine that aims to serve coffee of the same quality you’d get from a real-life barista.

The machine has a touchscreen (designed by Intel) enabling users to choose their drink — cappuccino, latte, espresso, flat white — and customise it with flavours, sugar and milk. Beans are ground as the drink is made, fresh milk is used, and drinks are served in the company’s maroon cardboard cups. The machine uses a sensor to judge if the right cup size has been placed, technology which the creators say means they can serve proper espressos in small cups and foamy milky drinks in large cups — unlike most machines. So how did my flat white turn out? The machine was relatively easy to navigate, although when I placed the wrong cup size, it wasn’t immediately clear why my coffee wasn’t being poured — and the steamed milk top was of the perfect consistency, denser that foamy lattes. It tasted like one I’d buy in-store.

Dubai Airports CEO Paul Griffiths said it’s a realistic way of giving time-bound passengers — those people who always appear in need of caffeine — cafe-quality coffee on the go. “It’s not economically viable to put a manned outlet in each gate. This gives an opportunity to close that service gap.”

Prices for the drinks were not available at time of printing, but are expected to be around 80-90 per cent of barista-made coffee prices. Griffiths also revealed the criteria for choosing brands for the airport: Passengers need to recognise what an outlet is offering within four seconds.

One brand that passengers should identify quite quickly is Jack’s Bar and Grill, despite it being the only one of its kind in the world. The Lynchburg, Tennessee, beverage is the face of a southern-US-style restaurant in Concourse A, serving up hot wings (try the jerk for a kick), burgers, crab cakes and tacos alongside cocktails and a pool table. It’s another creation from ELR, who were commissioned by Dubai Airports to create a southern restaurant for the new concourse, which opened in January this year.

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