Employing the deaf: Bangsar Starbucks ‘silent baristas’ get ‘Coffee Masters’ title

“Silent Baristas” Mohd Akmal Abd Khalid and Yap Yee Lin, were overjoyed to receive their “Coffee Master” title during the third anniversary celebrations of Starbucks’ first Signing Store. — Pix by Choo Choy May
“Silent Baristas” Mohd Akmal Abd Khalid and Yap Yee Lin, were overjoyed to receive their “Coffee Master” title during the third anniversary celebrations of Starbucks’ first Signing Store. — Pix by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 25 — Despite the miscommunication due to sign language, “silent baristas”, Akmal and Lin, say it is a dream to work in the world’s first Starbucks Signing Store.

Starbucks has been “brewing” these silent (deaf) workers into world-class baristas for the past three years.

Today, they presented Mohd Akmal Abd Khalid, Yap Yee Lin and their fellow deaf co-workers, with a certificate for “Advanced Coffee Masters” during the store’s third anniversary celebrations at Bangsar Village II.

Clad in his Coffee Master black apron emblazoned with Starbucks written in sign language, the chocolate frappuccino-loving Akmal signed that he was very happy to work at the store and to have the title.

Akmal conveying his replies through sign language, with the help of an interpreter.
Akmal conveying his replies through sign language, with the help of an interpreter.

“I’ve been working here for three years now and I really enjoy it, there are so many things I’ve learnt about brewing coffee,” he signed.

“Plus, I even get to meet so many different deaf people from around the world when they come to the store.”

He added that in his three-year experience of working in the store, they did come across customers that he believed were not trying to be rude, but instead had difficulties in communicating and understanding each other.

“Sometimes when a customer comes in, we sign to them, and they get flustered trying to write down or explain that they don’t know how to sign,” he added.

“Some people may think they are being rude, but we don’t really feel offended, because we know that they don’t fully understand the deaf culture yet.”

Yap Yee Lin demonstrating the proper way to brew coffee using the “Pour Over” brewing method.
Yap Yee Lin demonstrating the proper way to brew coffee using the “Pour Over” brewing method.

Yap, however, who prefers to be called Lin, was more enthusiastic about being able to work, considering that “being deaf” makes it harder to land a job, as he said in sign language:

“I’m just happy to work here,” he signed.

“In the hospitality industry, we get to learn how to socialise with people, serve them well and make sure they are comfortable.”

During the third anniversary celebrations of the first-ever Starbucks Signing Store, guests were treated to a special showcase on how to use the “Pour Over” method to brew coffee, a skill that Akmal and Lin acquired during their time in the Advanced Coffee Masters Program.

Lin demonstrated the “Pour Over” method which uses a folded paper filter to brew the coffee to the audience, which included Berjaya Food Berhad’s chief executive officer and managing director of Starbucks Malaysia and Brunei, Sydney Quays.

After that, guests were invited to taste the coffee Lin brewed as Akmal explained to the guests the proper way to taste coffee — by using the four steps, which are to: smell the coffee, “slurp” it, locate where it hits your tongue and describe the taste.

Media attendees ordering their favourite beverage in sign language.
Media attendees ordering their favourite beverage in sign language.

That was not the end of the learning for the day, as all attendees were also educated on sign language during the signing workshop where we got to learn various words and phrases in sign language like, “I love Starbucks”, “That latte was delicious” and “Nice to meet you”.

Everyone had to put those lessons to good use as we were only allowed to order any beverage of our choice, for free, provided that we made our order in sign language.

The “Pour Over” brewing method is now available at the Signing Store in Bangsar Village II, while there will also be a new exclusive merchandise collection available for purchase from RM 25.

Starbucks Malaysia also announced that it has plans to open another signing store soon in Penang by the end of this year, which will have some of the features like the one in Bangsar.

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