Startups, Visit Jamaica

I am: Carlyle Gabbidon, Manager of Deaf Can! Coffee

deaf can coffee jamaica

Deaf Can! Coffee’s Carlyle Gabbidon is a 27-year-old barista who’ll roast and brew you a cup of the good stuff with more feeling, more flavour than anyone else in Kingston.

Our logo is the Jamaican Sign Language for “coffee,” two fists stacked on each other, with the top hand rotating clockwise around the bottom fist. Imagine a hand held grinding mechanism where you manually had to rotate the shaft to grind coffee beans. For those who do not know the sign for coffee, we added the image of a coffee cup.

The text “Deaf Can” is at our core. Deaf people CAN DO anything that hearing people can do. The exclamation mark (!) is a critical component of our logo as it captures the emphasis of facial expression and body language expressed in JSL that cannot be shown by text. The colour and free flowing design of the ! is the trademark artistic touch put into every caffe latte we serve.

We got started in January with a trip to see a deaf coffee farmer, Everlin Clarke, from Top Hill, St. Elizabeth. Clarke showed us his coffee trees and explained how it grows and when a cherry is red and ripe to harvest. Then he lit a fire and roasted a batch of coffee for us, demonstrating how the colour becomes golden brown and how the smell and smoke indicates when it’s ready; and he ground some for us so that we could see and smell what it’s like when fresh-roasted.

We had started bagging his coffee a couple years ago, just to share the story of Clarke, but had never considered roasting in Kingston. But after that trip in January the teen students were really interested in it, so we began roasting in Kingston at the Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf (CCCD) campus. After brewing some of our coffee for friends, the idea came up in February to start a small coffee shop. Suddenly by March we had opened our own shop, then in April we got hands-on training from a professional barista and 17 students were certified as beginner baristas.

Developing coffee products

We’re a small social enterprise focused on skills training and right now we’re saving up our money so that we can grow and expand, because in the future we’d like to rent a cafe and have Deaf Can! Coffee out in the public space.

You have to watch the espresso because there are many variables that will cause it to brew differently. If it’s the right colour and has the cream on top and brews in time, then you know it’s good quality; but if it brews too fast or too slow you can taste it and if it’s bitter or sour, then it’s not properly extracted.

We also do cold-brewed coffee, which that’s when (you) let it soak for 12-18 hours and wait all night and it’s just pure coffee concentrate and we use that for iced coffee and frappes.

Coffee is a natural energy (drink) and we’re currently working on producing our own energy drink and we’re going to launch cold brewed coffee from a keg that we’ll travel around and take to events. By late October we hope that we’ll be ready, maybe you’ll see us at an event sometime soon.

We want society to see that deaf people can, that we have talents and that we have abilities. People often label us because they think that deaf can’t, but I say, ‘Look at me nuh, I have all these skills,’ and for them to see that we have expertise in coffee.

Project goal

Is to help the boys to improve, to develop a skill
they can earn from. We’re not really getting paid right now because we’re trying to invest everything in growing the business, but I’m excited to know where we can go with this.

We have a philosophy that we don’t want to accept a free handout, so if someone wants to partner with us, to give us free equipment, then what we’ll do is pay half the costs. It’s about our dignity because if people see us having our own business then they won’t patronise us.

I’m responsible for managing the shop and we have other students who are here learning how to budget, how to handle money, take orders, make drinks, how to interact with customers…we also have menu cards and a tablet to help communicate when ordering.

Working while deaf in Jamaica

Me? I just want to work, sometimes I’ll do a side job for someone, such as fix a laptop or a phone, but they expect it for free. I say that it costs JMD2,000.00 (and) understand that it takes work; but a lot of people think that because I’m Deaf I can somehow be taken advantage of.

When I was younger I went to a bakery because I wanted to learn how to make bread at a factory but the boss said that “You’re deaf, you can’t, you’re too slow”, but I said “No, I can do this.” I felt like it wasn’t fair and I was discouraged and it’s been pretty much like that ever since.

Just the other day I went to the doctor’s office to get a medical report in order to take my driver’s license exam (which used to be illegal for a Deaf person to drive but thankfully we are now able to get licensed, just like a hearing person), and the clinic turned me away because I was Deaf. They said that I had to go to Kingston to the Jamaican Society for the Deaf. There is no such place.

People are just ignorant and label me and because I communicate in a different way, they just don’t even want to deal with me. They think I’m inferior or that I don’t know what I’m doing. Why couldn’t a doctor take my measurements, blood pressure, etc and sign the form that says I’m healthy enough to drive? They made some big excuse and I tried to advocate for myself, even asked someone from my former school to call and talk to them, but their heads were too tough to talk sense to, so I just left. It’s frustrating that hearing people don’t look at us like normal people. We’re really just like you, we just communicate in a different way.

Hearing Can, Deaf Can

Hearing people look at me and think that I’m not smart, even calling us “dummy” but I have intelligence, I have intellect and I have skills but you know what; I’m not gonna bother with that and I’m gonna keep on doing what I can.

I never thought anything wasn’t possible for me and I know that we all have gifts. As I learn more about coffee and continue teaching the boys and seeing them start to believe in themselves, it builds confidence and feels good.

Deaf people process information through their eyes, so that (is) how we listen – we can’t hear with our ears but we can listen with our eyes and if there’s problems, we can identify them. Something that people think we can’t do, just give us a chance to show what we can do and you’ll recognise that there are some things that we can do even better!

Last Word

Yeah I think I can make a better cup of coffee because I have other senses, such as my sense of smelling and my perception of visual detail, that are stronger than yours.

Find Deaf Can Coffee at Caribbean Christian Centre for the Deaf, 4 Cassia Park Road, Kingston; online at and on social media as @DeafCanCoffee

deaf can coffee jamaica


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