Josh Littlefield made the decision to do something others merely dream about: He packed up, left his job and head out for a cross-country adventure. He vacated a coveted position as Director of Coffee Education at Irving Farm Coffee Roasters to pursue the journey — a sacrifice so bold it caused some good-natured (thankfully needless) concern for his mental state.
For while some seek the road purely as a route to self-discovery, Littlefield’s intent was far more specific and was by no means a step away from his life in coffee. To the contrary, Littlefield’s goal was to dive in, experience and especially to document the American specialty coffee industry from sea to shining sea. The result is the online photojournalistic blog, The Great American Coffee Tour.
To reach the great wide open, this formerly car-free New Yorker bought a late model, mostly green, ‘90s Dodge Dakota, with an interior that he describes as smelling vaguely of cheese — an undesirable flavor note, to be sure.
“I was scouring Craigslist for something, and I do have a little bit of an automotive past. I wanted something that was really reliable and mechanically simple to work on,” Littlefield told Daily Coffee News.
The automotive history he mentioned began with a 1987 banana yellow Camaro, well-worn and fit to provide, if nothing else, a foundational automotive education. “It was a big piece of garbage, so things would go wrong weekly. It was kind of, ‘fix it or you don’t go anywhere,’” he said, adding, “I just love cars. I love machines and how espresso machines work. It’s all the same sort of [thing].”
The Great American Coffee Tour combines Littlefield’s love of cars, which still exists today despite his run-ins with some clunkers; his passion for coffee, ignited by a college roommate’s penchant for pourovers; and the open American road, where so many great coffee joints are waiting to be experienced firsthand.
Through occasional interviews and plenty of striking photography, Littlefield has been recording and sharing an inside view of some of the lesser seen corners of the industry, in hopes of widening the perspectives of folks, both consumers and workers, whose notions of coffee begin and end with their own personal experiences. By capturing slices of life from the greater American specialty diaspora, Littlefield endeavors to present just how human coffee is.
With his outgoing nature and network of friends in the coffee business, Littlefield has managed to criss-cross the country with only a few minor hitches along the way. He reported that people have been generous with their couches and floors, saving him from nights in the backseat when he’d rolled into a town without any prior arrangements.
“I think the hardest part of extended, fast-paced travel is perpetually being the ‘new guy,’” said Littlefield. “Meeting new folks every day makes every night feel like a weekend, and your mind is constantly in a state of distress, trying to remember names, coordinate plans, connect with people’s interests and stay outgoing.”
Littlefield spent over a year talking in general about the concept of this adventure in the run-up to shoving off. Yet unlike so many of us, resigned as we are, whether knowingly or not, to contentment with the status quo, Littlefield is the breed of dreamer who actually acted upon his wilder aspirations. His work offers to some a fascinating portal and to others a community-building reflection of specialty coffee in America. Follow and connect with Littlefield through #GreatAmericanCoffeeTour.