Calling yourself ‘The World’s Kindest Coffee Brand’ is quite a claim. When I sat down with Mike Morritt-Smith to find out more about I Love Coffee, their dedication to providing employment for deaf black youth and eco-friendly coffee packaging solutions, I was pretty convinced.

Read my interview with Mike below and let us know what you thought.

  1. Can you tell me a bit about the concept behind I Love Coffee?

We’re a social enterprise, targeting unemployed deaf black youth.

  1. How do you find new employees?

Our staff members tend to refer friends to us, so that is one of the main ways we find new employees. But, we would also put out word – or perhaps, rather the sign – on social media that we are in need of new staff. We’ve also worked with the National Institute for the Deaf (NID).

  1. Where are you guys based? And are you planning any expansions any time soon?

Currently, we have two coffee stations in the Publicis Machine offices in Harrington Street, Cape Town. One on the fourth floor and one on the fifth floor. We also supply a private corporate kitchen service, offering lunch and snacks. So, we have deaf baristas who make coffee and our kitchen staff – our head chef and his assistants – are all deaf as well.

We’re in the process of opening a new branch in 78 Strand Street and also our first outlet in Johannesburg at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital.

  1. So, if I want to order a coffee from one of the deaf baristas, how should I go about it?

Well, we run a video throughout the day, explaining the signs to use for the most common coffee orders – Americano, flat white, cortado and so forth. The video is also available on the website (or down below) for people to familiarise themselves with before visiting if they’d want to.

  1. Is there anything like this elsewhere in the world?

There is one in Jamaica that we’ve been in contact with. But other than that we haven’t found anyone working specifically with deaf people.

Many other countries in the world offer better support to people with disabilities than we do in South Africa. So, it’s easier for them to get jobs in various sectors. It’s not like this here, so that’s why we have decided on the deaf black youth as our target market.

  1. I’m sure having a job does a world of good for the confidence of the deaf people you employ. Have you noticed this?

For sure! Once they’ve been introduced to this and realise that they can actually participate, there’s an absolute change in their lives.
I mean their education opportunities are seriously limited – it stops at a very young age.
They are able to earn their own keep, use public transport, contribute to society, and this makes them very happy. Especially those who have come out of a home environment where they have been kept in cotton wool. They arrive here and won’t even look out from behind the coffee machine, but within three or four months, they realise they can and then the true aspirations come out in their souls.
Since we started two years ago, we’ve even had a number of employees realise these dreams. One has moved on to become a chef in Worcester, another is a qualified sign language teacher. While it’s sad to lose them, it’s incredible to see them going out into the world confidently and doing their own thing.

  1. How many people do you currently employ?

We currently have nine full-time employees and are in the process of training a further 14. With the addition of our new outlet in Joburg, we’re anticipating to reach about 55 – 60 full-time employees in the next two to three years.
This is incredible to see, especially in the light of the fact that we started with only three full-time employees two years ago.

  1. I also understand that I Love Coffee has its own line of 99.9% compostable coffee pods. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

The pods are moulded in South Africa from pellets imported from Germany. The pellets are bio material. So, the pellets arrive, we mould it, fill it and then cap it with an aluminium foil cap. This is the % that is not compostable.
Everything else is a natural plant-based product. In ideal conditions, in a waste environment, it’s a six-week cycle to turn back into compost. It’s a little bit longer in most South African environments, however, because we’re a lot dryer. But in the compost/dump environment, it really hits those six weeks quite successfully, as the temperature and moisture content is quite high. So, it does best in your compost (as opposed to in the ground) where you’ve got decaying material and all of that. The colourant we use, is a soy colourant, so it’s also plant-based and compostable.

  1. Where can people get hold of the pods?

We package them ourselves and sell them at our coffee shop.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about the coffee inside?

The coffee is a blend sourced from Africa, Asia and also South- and Central America. It is then artisanally roasted here in South Africa.

  1. And I hear it’s not only the pods that are eco-friendly?

Yes, we would like to be as earth-friendly as possible, so our takeaway cups and their lids are also compostable. We’ve also cut out straws totally. Our next big move is to recycle coffee.

  1. Oh wow, really? Can you tell a bit more about what recycling coffee would entail?

Because it would be so labour-intensive, it’s a big employment opportunity for us.

So, there are actually a number of items one can make with recycled coffee grounds. These include:

–        Fertiliser

–        Beauty products

–        Even moulding it into reusable cups

  1. And I’m sure once you start with this, you’re going to find endless opportunities for growth.

Yes. In fact, for us, the big challenge right now is to control our growth. Now that our concept is becoming more widely known, there are a lot of opportunities out there. A lot of corporates want to be associated with it and have their own facilities like this within their environment.

We can’t risk growing too fast, however, as there are certain challenges with what we do that are definitely unlike ordinary coffee businesses.

 

Visit I Love Coffee’s website for more information.

 

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