When Thomas Landry started Nomadic Coffee in 2013 he wanted to give customers something to think about over their morning cup. Which is why there’s more than just dark roast inside a bag of beans. The Berkeley-based coffee roaster also puts a poem in each package.
“I decided — just as a writer and poet — that I wanted to combine everything I love, which is poetry, coffee and conversation,” said Landry.
Nomadic roasts a new batch of beans at Bay Area Co-Roasters in West Berkeley every week, and a new poem is selected to go out with that batch. Individual copies are printed and included in every bag. Nomadic does not repeat poems, but customers can catch up on the backlog by reading past poems of the week at the company’s website.
Nomadic is primarily a coffee company, but it does function as something of a publisher as well. The company recruits and pays aspiring and established poets to contribute verse, and hires new poetry editors quarterly.
“We’ve had some really remarkable success working with different editors and we want to really continue to support poets,” he said. Past editors and contributors have included D.A. Powell, Dawn Lundy Martin, Brynn Saito, CA Conrad, Francisco X. Alarcón, Neeli Cherkovski, Elana Dykewomon, Devorah Major and many others.
A new editor, yet to be announced, will join Nomadic in the fall. In the meantime, notable selections from the public domain are selected for each roast, such as a Wallace Stevens poem from 1917, or a selection from the Confessions of Saint Augustine, composed sometime in the fourth century. Verses perhaps not quite so new as the beans, but still fresh.
The notion to include poems was something of a riff on the idea of selling literature like groceries, packaged fresh for the week and sold by the pound. Landry has developed the idea further, even creating more interactive poetic activities for customers to enjoy. Earlier this year, Nomadic offered an acrostic poem, setting the words ‘This is America’ vertically and in all caps, for customers to then compose their own poem, beginning each of their own lines with the corresponding letter of the phrase.
The roastery also offers a dial-a-poem hotline as a way to ‘hear the poet in your coffee.’ Customers dial (415) 484-7919 and then enter an extension to hear a recording of the poet introducing themselves and explaining the background of their poem before reading the verse. “I probably have a hundred extensions,” said Landry.
In the case of long-dead wordsmiths like Saint Augustine and Matsuo Bashō, listeners can hear an employee at Nomadic give the reading.
Soon, Landry hopes to offer an even more poetry focused project, assembling a 10-poem series, packaged as though it were coffee, but this time without the beans. “We’ve got the bags, we’ve already printed them, we just haven’t had an editor yet,” said Landry.
Verse may be a passion for Landry, but he is aware that the majority of customers buy Nomadic’s 100% organic roast for other reasons.
“When I bring up the poetry, most customers say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t read the poetry,’” he said with a laugh. “But there is a significant minority of customers for whom it is super meaningful.”
It’s that significant minority Landry thinks of while roasting. He likes to imagine them, “brewing a cup of coffee and then sitting down and drinking the coffee and reading the poem,” he said. “That’s just a really nice moment.”
Get a taste of Nomadic’s coffee at the CoRo Coffee Room, 2324 Fifth St. (near Bancroft), Berkeley. Buy bags of beans online or find Nomadic at select East Bay retailers like Farmer Joe’s and Alameda Marketplace.