The inspiring story of South Africa’s first blind barista,
Growing up in Thaba Nchu in the Free State, Joseph suffered from undiagnosed glaucoma. Because of this, he could not write within the lines, for which he was mocked, pressured and punished by his teachers. After losing the sight in his right eye as a little boy, Joseph was finally diagnosed with glaucoma at the age of 28, but it was too late for any treatment – he became completely blind in 2010, at the age of 32.
A STAR IS BORN
In 2014, Joseph moved to Worcester in the Western Cape to study at Alo College for the blind – a turning point that would kick-start his career as the first blind barista in the country. His love for the trade, however, started in his early years. “Simple things are big things as everything starts at home. I used to make tea for my mother, which made her smile. I knew that when she was not well, I could make her a cup of tea with condensed milk. She has been very supportive. A simple cup of coffee can make anyone happy,” Joseph smiles.
With this love of tea and coffee, Joseph was the obvious choice when the college announced that they were looking for one student to train as a barista. As such, he was transferred to Truth Coffee Roasting in Cape Town to be educated in the theory and practical aspects of becoming a barista. “They had to step into a blind man’s shoes to teach me,” Joseph says. “I had to explore and learn from other baristas, drink their coffee and ask questions. Training as a barista is challenging for a blind person, but I use my mind before I use anything else. I concentrate, focus and use my other senses like smell and hearing – for example, I listen to the frothing of milk and know when it is the right amount. I believe that if you lack one sense, the other senses make up for it. People with sight miss a lot… I have better intuition and other senses, and can tell if the coffee is a good blend and if the milk is fresh. When I put a steaming cup of coffee in front of a customer, I can hear them smile.”
After finishing his barista training, Joseph returned to Alo College to study marketing before getting a job at Blindiana Barista in Worcester – the first-ever art museum, restaurant and coffee shop designed for visually impaired and able guests. The restaurant was launched by non-profit organisation Innovation for the Blind – previously known by the names Institute for the Blind and Kaleidoscope – in September 2016, with the aim to improve the quality of life for the visually impaired. Waiters and some of the kitchen staff are partially sighted, and the aromatic coffee is blended, tasted, packed and distributed by the blind. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and coffee, and is renowned locally for its tasty burgers, sandwiches and cakes. BIG DREAMS
The friendly barista says he would love to see the night sky again. “I used to stand outside and look up at the brightest stars and think, one of them could be me. I used to motivate myself with simple things like that. There was no hope, I was on my own and I inspired myself,” he recalls. He now says to children and young people: “Dream big, sing out loud and clear!”
“My dream is to one day have my own coffee shop and inspire more blind baristas,” he shares. Now that he has improved his matric results, Joseph will be enrolling at the University of South Africa (UNISA) to study business.
In his free time, Joseph takes off his barista uniform and climbs onto his stationary bike to exercise. He also enjoys reading and going shopping in town where everyone recognises him and marvels at his memory, as he has no shopping list. “My memory is excellent; there is a list in my mind – I have to keep everything in my head,” Joseph says.
When asked what his favourite coffee is, the answer is simple: a double-shot cappuccino. Why? “It is strong, like me!” Joseph exclaims.