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Saturday, February 18, 2023


Tom, the Tokyo Barista

GUEST BLOG / By Chris Albrecht, The Spoon
--Growing up, UHF TV stations would run Japanese anime cartoons that featured giant robots. Fast forward a few decades to when I finally got the chance to visit Tokyo, and I thought the city would be lousy with robots. 

But sadly, that turned out not to be the case. In fact, I could only find one coffee robot in Tokyo — which is a bit surprising, given that San Francisco area has almost a dozen, plus another one at SFO airport. 

Nestled in the heart of the H.I.S. travel agency in the Shibuya part of Tokyo sits the Henn Na Cafe (fun fact, Henn Na means weird in Japanese). “Tom,” the autonomous articulating arm that serves up hot and iced coffee, matcha tea and other assorted drinks and snacks. 

Tom is akin to Cafe X (San Fran), but doesn’t offer the same variety, and, at least from my viewing, sadly doesn’t perform any theatrics for customers. Tom does, however, sport a pair of bright eyes and a dapper chapeau for a more personal touch. 

Tom and the Henn Na Cafe were installed in H.I.S. in February of last year because the travel agency thought that as people plan their vacations, they would like to discuss them in a cafe-like setting. But it wasn’t feasible for the company to dedicate staff to making lattes, so it brought Tom online. 

Tom is actually two robots: the articulating arm, which shuttles cups and coffee grounds around, and the PourSteady, an automated pour-over coffee machine. Place an order for hot or iced coffee at the nearby kiosk and Tom whirrs into action. Three to four minutes later, Tom pulls your finished coffee and sets it in a small case for people to pick up. 

Though unlike other coffee robots, this is just a plain case with no screen or anything to indicate whose drink is up. But that probably isn’t as necessary, given H.I.S. is a travel agency first, and the cafe is more of a, pardon the pun, perk. 


San Francisco: SFO Airport: Open 24/7 near gate B20, Terminal 1,
operated by CafĂ© X. 

Pleasanton CA: Artly Coffee Kiosk at Stoneridge Shopping Center. 

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