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China Daily Global / 2019-12 / 03 / Page005

Hearing-impaired baristas enjoy their daily perks

XINHUA | Updated: 2019-12-03 00:00

GUANGZHOU-Pouring a fine layer of foam into a cup of espresso, Lan Liping deftly "drew" a tulip on top of the latte.

The scene at a Starbucks outlet in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, is no different from other coffee shops, except for the fact that this shop is staffed with hearing-impaired baristas like Lan.

Born in Fujian province, Lan sustained permanent partial hearing loss at the age of 5 after a fever.

Two years ago, while working at an advertising company, Lan came across coffee making and immediately fell in love with it. He decided to make coffee his new career.

However, due to his hearing impairment Lan encountered more difficulties than he had expected while learning to make coffee, and later in his daily work.

"Baristas need to talk face-to-face with customers and understand their demands, which requires me to read their lips," Lan said.

"Even with a hearing aid, many times I couldn't immediately respond to customers and sometimes even misunderstood what they wanted," he said, adding that luckily most of the customers were understanding.

After painstaking practice, Lan can now handle all kinds of situations at work by himself, and makes about 100 coffees every day. When it comes to latte art, he has mastered complicated patterns such as a tulip or a swan.

His co-workers also lend a helping hand. At the cafe where Lan works, 16 staff members with normal hearing and skilled at sign language work side by side with 12 hearing-impaired baristas.

The Starbucks outlet, the first one in the Chinese mainland with hearing-impaired baristas, also allows people to order by writing on pads or using paper menus.

In addition, all the drinks and snacks are numbered to facilitate easy ordering, and customers can also write down their specific needs.

Lan also serves as an ambassador for coffee culture, trying to give coffee tips to his customers. He has gradually built up a fan base.

"Hand drip coffees made by different baristas taste quite different," he said. "Regular customers always ask me to make coffee for them, which makes me very happy."

In making coffee with a creative flourish, Lan is also meeting his artistic impulses.

"Creating latte art bears many similarities with design, which was my former career, as they both require a high degree of creativity," he said.

Being a barista has also made Lan more confident and optimistic about the future.

In a national vocational skills competition for people with disabilities held last month, Lan took part in the coffee-making competition with 23 other contestants and finished sixth. "I believe that in the future, more people with disabilities like me can find things they have a deep love for," he said.


A barista with a hearing impairment (second from left) shares his experience with his colleagues using sign language at a Starbucks outlet in Guangzhou, Guangdong province. DENG HUA/XINHUA



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