The sounds of grinding coffee beans and espresso steam are part of a day’s work at a coffee shop — unless you’re an employee at Pepperbox Coffee.
Co-owner Nicholas Buchanan started Pepperbox Coffee, which is staffed entirely with deaf people, to serve premium Costa Rica-imported coffee in a style similar to Seattle coffee drive-thru’s out of a small truck. Simply getting to the point of opening the truck was a year long process for Buchanan, whose deafness contributed to the difficulties of finding a staff, securing a location and even just communicating with the necessary people to get to where he is now.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Buchanan rolled with the punches and stayed on track to open something that was completely his own.
“I had to persevere,” Buchanan said. “I just kept pushing through one goal at a time.”
The name Pepperbox refers to an old revolving firearm with multiple barrels, appropriately conveying the effect of kick that his coffee delivers to customers.
“I serve specialty drinks, here,” Buchanan said. “The gun metal (in the logo) is to say that our drinks have a bang and stand out.”
Now that he has his own business, Buchanan is hiring other deaf people in the Austin area to give them a similar opportunity to have a “normal” job and work toward achieving their own respective dreams.
“I want to show other deaf people in the community that they too can own a business if they work for it,” Buchanan said. “I want this truck to be a symbol that anybody can do anything.”
With a full staff of people who are deaf, grabbing a coffee at Pepperbox Coffee is certainly a new experience for anyone. For people who know sign language, it’s a special opportunity to casually practice their conversational skills as they order and visit with the staff.
For coffee drinkers who do not know sign language, ordering is as easy as pointing things out on the menu, entering orders electronically or even writing them out with a dry-erase marker on a laminated menu.
All of the menu items have their own special twists, aside from a few familiar options like an espresso chai latte or an iced vanilla mocha.
The ‘Gold Digger,’ for example, is a simple iced caramel latte with the addition of homemade brown whipped cream and edible gold flakes. It’s a pretty basic flavor, but the chocolaty whipped cream adds a nice touch of additional sweetness when mixed with the latte. While the gold flakes aren’t necessarily detectable to the palate, they definitely bring a cool aesthetic to this sweet beverage.
One of the more notable coffee options is ‘The Fuse,’ which is a 4-shot espresso latte mixed with vanilla and habanero. Much like dynamite with a lit fuse, this coffee has a brief delay before exploding with spice. The first taste that hits your mouth is coffee and vanilla, but as soon as the coffee is swallowed, the flavor of the habanero kicks in leaving a wonderfully spicy aftertaste that complements the sweetness of the coffee surprisingly well.
For non-coffee drinkers who still need a pick-me-up, there is the ‘Mechanical Bull,’ which is Red Bull, chai and Italian soda. The Red Bull mixes exceptionally well with the flavor of the chai and the creamy Italian soda. It’s a nice modern take on classic Italian soda preparations that is sure to wake groggy customers up in the morning.
Buchanan does a fantastic job of taking the limitations of Pepperbox Coffee and turning them into special components of a coffee drinking experience like no other in the city. With great passion for his work and an exciting menu, he is sure to see plenty of success at Pepperbox Coffee in the future.