New Yorker Josh Littlefield sets forth on the North American coffee tour of a lifetime
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE
New York-based coffee trainer and lover of doughnuts, Josh Littlefield, embarked on a coffee tour of the United States recently, and will be visiting shops all over America for the next four months. The Great American Coffee Tour will be not just a journey through the U.S., but a photographic and interactive journal of the best, and sometimes the most tucked away and unexpected, coffeeshops across the country. He’ll visit new and old spaces, share pictures of beautiful stores, and may even hop behind the bar for a couple of shifts. I connected with Josh just as he was about to start his trip, and we talked about learning new skills, gas stations that could double as espresso supply shops, and what real New York city apartments are like.
Ashley: Tell us more about your project! Where did you get the idea for it?
Josh: Just about a year ago I was faced with a series of very unfortunate New York City apartment events. We were being overcharged for a decrepit rent controlled apartment, our landlord was a terrible, terrible human, and we had the joys of bed bugs, the gift that kept on giving.
At this time I came to the realization that I don’t need this much space. I was paying far too much money for an apartment that I was nearly never home at. Fast forward a month and I found myself signing an illegitimate lease to a windowless room in Chinatown, with a Chinese family, no air conditioning for dirt cheap (like under $500 a month for downtown Manhattan cheap) I knew at that time that I was going to begin saving for something. I’ve always wanted to explore America, I love the coffee community and the people involved. I thought there much be a way that I can travel, learn, create something, and bring it all together. Thus the Great American Coffee Tour was born!
Why are you doing this?
I really like the idea of creating something from nothing. The act of creating an experience and telling a story. So many people in coffee have some have a strange path of how the ended up here. I’d love to hear about it and share. It also gives me a chance to hone new skills. Photography, building a website, shooting a promo. Things I would never have a chance to do I can explore by doing this project.
How long is your trip? What are you driving?
The trip has a tentative timeline of around four months. I’m trying to balance scheduling shifts and also allowing time for the unexpected adventures. I’ll be driving a 1997 Dodge Dakota truck that I got for cheap off craigslist. It’s not the prettiest thing in the world and smells slightly of cheese, but is fairly mechanically sound.
What sort of places will you be visiting? Are there places you’re especially excited to visit?
I’ll be visiting pretty much everywhere trying to balance shops that are “new wave” and those that have been doing the same thing for decades. Exciting example: while driving down from Maine to Boston I stumbled along a gas station rest stop that housed a 15 roaster, La Marzocco GB5, and enough brewing equipment to house an SCAA training lab. What?!?!? I’m really excited to come across things like that!
How do you plan to learn about a city’s coffee scene? Will you be doing any guest shifts anywhere?
Through social media and the network of coffee people I’ve met over the years. I’ve already used Instagram to connect with shops and folks in upcoming cities. It’s an incredible networking tool when I’m not posting photos of doughnuts.
Do you have an itinerary? Where will the trip start and where will it end?
Basically, I’m starting in Portland, Maine, and working my way south, back up, and then who knows?
What will you miss about New York?
I’ll miss: Pizza, 24 hours everything, summer concerts and rooftop drinkzz, deli breakfast sandwiches, driving fire trucks (Josh is a volunteer fire fighter)
I will not miss: Rush hour L train, New York City summer garbage smell, parking tickets, windowless apartments ¦
What’s on your driving playlist?
It’s a mix of Hall & Oates, 80s hard rock, stuff heard in Brooklyn and new wave. Also since coffee folks consistently have the best taste I’m music I’m really excited to expand upon that while on the road.
Are you nervous about anything? Car dying, running out of places to stay, camping and getting eaten by wolves?
The only things I’m really worried about are theft and running out of cash. Breaking down, wrestling wolves, being stranded in the desert just make the adventure more exciting and I’m kind of stoked for it.
How can people follow you? Are you looking for suggestions/places to visit/comrades to join along?
Yas! Readers, I would love to work at your shop or hang with you along the way. If you’re free for a few days feel free to hop along! Seriously the truck seats 4 as long as you’re ok with no air conditioning….
Please follow along on Instagram, @greatamericancoffeetour, the website www.greatamerciancoffeetour.com, sign up for the weekly newsletter on the website and for the unfiltered live acton follow on snapchat. @spaghetti1000 (it’s mostly a bunch of clips of me eating tacos, pizza and doughnuts….)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ashley Rodriguez thought that she’d take a break from teaching middle school science and putz around in a coffee shop for a few months. She ended up digging it way more than teaching (and was vaguely better at it). After spending 5 years making coffee in New York, she now works for Sightglass Coffee in San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter at @ashcommonnam