The Best Road Trip Ever

Elizabeth Chai has found her way into a vortex of awesomeness that has crushed us with jealousy. Elizabeth is a designer, writer, photographer, CREMA-friend, and, most notably, an insatiable lover of coffee -- a love that, last week, launched her forth on a road trip for the ages.

We call it a road trip, she calls it a Cross Country Camper Coffee Crawl (#crosscountrycampercoffeecrawl), a La Marzocco-sponsored jaunt across America with a Linea Mini, a MINI Cooper, a mini camper, and a miniature Greyhound. Elizabeth is bopping from coffee town to coffee town in her styled-out RV, visiting coffee shops and pulling shots of espresso out of the back of the camper like the greatest magic trick ever.  

We shoved a bag of espresso into her hands for the long trip ahead, and asked her what inspired her to blast off on the modern-day Oregon Trail. 

Elizabeth Chai: The idea for my Cross Country Camper Coffee Crawl was inspired by a number of ideas coming together from many different directions. 

In September I was in New York working on a story for Sprudge at the New York Coffee Festival, where I was asked to cover La Marzocco's “True Artisan Café.” It was there that I met Whitney Cornell, La Marzocco’s Director of Marketing. After I finished raving to her about how fantastic I thought LM’s Linea Mini campaigns had been, I told her about my plans to relocate to the PNW (Pacific North West!) to pursue my very unique niche of “Coffee Design” in the mecca of good coffee and good design. Whitney kindly agreed to stay in touch with me about possible ways I could be involved with them in the future. 

I had also been in the middle of purchasing a very tiny camper to facilitate my move. I had looked at Airstream Bambi’s, which were out of my price range, but then I found a few handmade teardrop campers on Craigslist. Since I already love and collect 1960’s decor, I completely fell in love with the idea of decking out a very tiny camper in retro kitsch, and pulling it across the country on a road trip adventure. The perfect camper was found in a small town outside of Atlanta, and the owner/craftsman was kind enough to let me pay for it in installments. I held an estate sale to liquidate the majority of my collection of mid-century modern furniture and housewares, and used that money to pay for my camper and setup. 

The third component to the trip came from my already existing endeavor to visit incredible coffeeshops around the world and develop a Coffee Travelers Journal. I travel a lot, and when I am visiting a new city, the first thing I do is seek out the best coffee. I love to see the space and interior design of different coffee shops, and I love to experience coffee the way each café chooses to prepare it. I feel safe and at home when I’m in a coffee shop, and it has become a goal for me to see what each travel destination has to offer. Over the last five years, I have found that I’ve become a resource for people, when they are traveling and want to find the best coffee — they always ask me for a recommendation, and I always have one! I have plans to issue my first Coffee Travelers Journal (that’s a working title) at SCAA / USCC in April 2016.

So, the idea came to me as ideas do. 

I woke up one morning and realized I would be pulling a mini camper with a MINI Cooper, and my travel companion is a miniature Greyhound. It only made sense for us to put a Linea Mini in the back of the camper and bring it to all the different coffeeshops I would be visiting on my journey. I called up my friend David LaMont (SE Region rep for La Marzocco) and asked if the idea was logistically possible, and he said we would find a way. I spoke with Whitney and Scott Callender (Director of Marketing for La Marzocco Home) and they agreed we would install a Linea Mini in the camper, and I could take photos of the machine out “in the wild” which would be posted in the spring when LM is fully caught up on orders (they are already sold out for the year). That's how great they have been doing, and it’s no wonder, because the Linea Mini is a perfect home espresso machine.

Right now I’m on Day 6 of my trip. I’ve already pulled the camper up to specialty coffeeshops in Atlanta (Octane Coffee), Opelika, AL (Prevail Coffee Roastery and Overall Co.), Auburn, AL (Prevail Union), New Orleans (Spitfire Coffee), Houston (Catalina Coffee), San Antonio (Local Coffee, Pearl and Merit Roasters), and Austin (Figure 8 Coffee Purveyors, Flat Track Coffee). As expected, all the baristas and café owners I have talked to are excited to share their tips on food and coffee in their respective towns. It has been so wonderful to share the experience of coffee with new friends and new favorite places to visit. I have intentionally not set a firm travel schedule, deciding that I would go wherever the wind takes me! I have loose plans to see Austin, Marfa, Phoenix, Los Angeles (for a few days because of their huge specialty coffee boom), Big Sur, the Bay area (and the new Counter Culture Training Center in Oakland!), Redwood forests, and I may end up sleeping on the beautiful Oregon coast before delivering the Linea Mini back to the La Marzocco HQ in Seattle.

Follow along with Elizabeth on her not-so-mini adventure at @chaiamericano on Twitter and Instagram, and by searching the hashtag #crosscountrycampercoffeecrawl. 

Photography: Karla Jean Davis