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The in­spir­ing story of South Africa’s first blind barista,

Joseph Matheatau


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.


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.

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