Communication through a love of coffee

2016-05-31 11:19

Breaking communications barriers over freshly brewed coffee is the order of the day at a new coffee shop in Claremont.

I Love Coffee, South Africa’s first deaf-run coffee shop, will officially open its doors in the Cape this month. In partnership with Tribe Coffee, the entirely deaf-run coffee shop launches with the aim of breaking communication barriers between the hearing and the deaf.

The idea is the brainchild of social entrepreneur Gary Hopkins, who explains the shop offers an experience unlike any other, where customers are encouraged to engage verbally as well as visually with the deaf staff. Patrons will be given the opportunity to be taught rudimentary sign language to place their orders and engage with the staff.

“It’s more than just coffee shop space, it’s about a mind shift and correcting the perception that deaf people are disabled. Deafness isn’t a disease and should be recognised as a culture – much like American, Italian, South African etcetera,” he says.

Of the estimated two million disabled people in South Africa, 500 000 are classified as “deaf” and almost one and a half million South Africans are considered to be “hearing impaired”, which means that 4.5% of South Africa’s total population is deaf.

While South Africa recognises 11 official verbal and written languages, it has yet to recognise South African Sign Language (SASL), the visual language that is common across all South African deaf people. This in turn has deeper social implications as it limits opportunities for tertiary education and results in high unemployment among the deaf.

Hopkins adds that most people know very little about deaf culture and even fewer understand it.
“We are hoping that by bringing an ordinary everyday experience like ordering a cup of coffee or a toasted sandwich with the use of sign language or by service expectation being met, we can bring a better understanding about the capability of the deaf,” he says.

“The I Love Coffee brand aims to be cool, fun and engaging and is not out to garner a sympathy vote. We specifically chose a fun name and incorporated deaf language into the brand by replacing the heart symbol with the SASL sign for ‘I Love You’,” says Hopkins.

“We have had incredible support from Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille, who most don’t know has a deaf sister, as well as the National Institute for the Deaf who has assisted us with the recruitment of staff and are receiving barista training from Tribe Coffee.”

DeafSA, the non-profit organisation that acts as the national research, information and community action organisation on behalf of more than 600 000 South Africans who are culturally and linguistically deaf, have assisted in bringing this project to life.

On choosing the venue, Hopkins points out that the decision to launch in a gym in Claremont was a conscious one with a long-term view to expand the national footprint of the brand as well as having to launch on a very tight budget.
“This entire project has been self-funded with the assistance of some really great partners, and – as we get closer to opening – we have other activities that will assist us in getting the brand off the ground,” Hopkins adds.

“We are running a crowd funding campaign and fundraising event so we are able to purchase more equipment.”
Hopkins adds that the coffee shop and the ‘I Love Coffee’ brand will help change how the world engages with the deaf.

The shop will open for business on Monday 6 June and is based at X-Body Fitness, The Mews, Draper Street, Claremont. For more information, visit and watch the video below.

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