Being a barista is a challenging job, no doubt—cups and saucers moving quickly, steaming liquids all about, multiple orders to remember. Randy Stephenson, a vocational teacher at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, is currently transforming his students into the big, bad baristas of tomorrow.
“Everyone thought it was a crazy idea,” says Stephenson. “But guess how many people have been hurt or burnt since we started? Only one: me.”
The idea began brewing years ago when Stephenson and local coffee hero R.C. Beall of Texas Coffee Traders discussed a potential collaboration. The necessary start-up funds weren’t available at the time, but they recently materialized thanks to new government grants. Now, with the fancy equipment in place and proper training and coffee-bean backing by Texas Coffee Traders, the school’s own café class is up and running. From start to finish—scooping, grinding, brewing, lining up espresso shots, steaming, stirring, pouring and cleaning—these kids do it all, with the use of very deliberate and mindful tactual and auditory skills.
“With the coffee grinder, you can hear when all the beans are ready,” says Jerome, one of the all-star students in the program. “And the manual steamer sounds like a rocket ship taking off. You know it’s ready when the rocket is gone.”
As any good barista knows, paying close attention during each step of the process is key. “A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that these kids have superhero senses,” notes Stephenson. “Like super hearing, touch and taste. They don’t. They’re just like you and me. They’ve just learned to depend on their other senses more.”
Currently, the program has café hours when staff, students and campus construction workers can stop by to grab their favorite cup of caffeine; bags of Wild Cat coffee beans are also available for purchase. All involved in the project hope that the café will be fully self-sustaining by the time the government funds run out, and with the current trajectory, that shouldn’t be a problem. There’s even talk of selling coffee online and setting up a street-side coffee shop open to the public.
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
1100 W. 45th St.
Texas Coffee Traders