Around our Oakland roastery, a sighting of Charlie, our Green Coffee Buyer, is like a sighting of a rare bird—it’s fleeting, infrequent, and somewhat startling (but always delightful). Charlie is traveling ten months out of the year, meeting with farmers, visiting farms, and looking for the next coffee to bring home to our cafe and online guests. He’s always headed somewhere, and it seems like he hardly even unpacks.
But we made him unpack anyway, because we wanted to find out what a coffee buyer takes with him on his trips to more than a dozen countries a year. Here’s what we found in Charlie’s suitcase.
A stack of old New Yorkers
“Traveling is a good time to catch up on reading. Often, I find myself in one time zone, planning a trip to another, while reading about politics from three months ago. It creates an odd sensation of a time-space disjuncture. Sometimes, when I see another coffee buyer in the airport, I’ll give away the issues I’ve finished. Airport waits are long.”
A universal plug adapter kit, a burner phone, and a collection of SIM cards
A cupping spoon
“One time when I was going through customs, someone in security saw the metal spoon in my bag and stopped me. But all he asked me was, ‘Are you a cupper?’”
A Canon 60D camera, and lately, an Instax
Passport and immunization card
Thick, dark clothes; rain jacket; cowboy boots
“I went to visit friends in Arizona and bought some cowboy boots. At first, the boots made me feel like I was in costume. But I had worn out my other travel shoes, and I didn’t want to buy new shoes, so I took these instead. It rained the whole trip, and they were awesome. They’re great for planes, too.”
Denim jacket, flip-flops, swimsuit, hat, no sunglasses
“It’s always the same denim jacket, which is super faded now. No one else wears sunglasses in the countries I visit, so covering up my face like that feels strange for me.”
Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap, toothbrush, toothpaste in a jar
Coffee samples, coffee cards, a few of our tenugui
“I’ll read the coffee cards out loud to the people I visit, and someone will translate. The tenugui are gifts for people in the field. I personally like to collect cloth when I travel, so it’s something to exchange.”
Muji notebooks, writing tools, a little USB travel light
“I always travel with chocolate. I’ll have a piece almost every night. It’s sustaining, soothing. Usually, it’s Dick Taylor chocolate.”
A soapstone hippopotamus
“My grandmother started a travel company in the ‘70s, taking groups of women to Africa to meet other women leaders. She was really interested in emerging economies. On one of these trips, she was in a boat, looking through her camera’s viewfinder. She panned over the water, the viewfinder went black, and the guide pulled her back from the edge of the boat—she had been in the mouth of a hippo, which snapped as soon as she pulled back. After that, she collected hippo figurines.
For me, it’s a reminder of risk and reward, that things can be both cute and terrifying at the same time. It makes me feel connected to my family and reminds me of the bigger presence of nature. And of people. Mine is from a little curio shop by Mount Kenya. It’s totally a throwaway—there are a zillion versions of the exact same piece—but someone is putting time into it, the same way someone is putting time into the coffee.”