Anthrow Circus

Turning Down the Temperature With a Cup of Coffee


Say someone hands you a large blue marble with streaks of white and blotches of green. That marble represents the Earth and has a special power: Its surface temperature varies based on the stress levels of a region. The higher the stress, the more that portion of the Earth-marble heats up.

Now put your thumb on the marble’s Washington, D.C., spot. You will find that it’s very hot. So hot that your thumbprint’s ridges are on the cusp of burning away. But then, just as the stress-heat seems unbearable, something cool pulses, steadying you.

Why go through this mind exercise? Because it might help you understand the story of a Fairfax County, Virginia, coffee man. Brewing coffee from the back of his truck at local farmers markets, Brandon Berryhill seeks to bring solace to those living the frantic, over-pressured life of the Washington, D.C., power corridor.

Brandon, owner of the one-man coffeeshop The Traveling Shepherd, wishes he’d come up with his idea a lot earlier in life. But sometimes things transpire the way they do because there’s a grand scheme to it all and a bigger force at play, or so it appears when you pause to look back over the path that got you to your present.

For Brandon, those bigger forces are his Catholic faith and a belief that each of us can contribute to bringing peace and hope to our little corners of the world. Brandon’s tool of choice for his little-big quest? Coffee.

“I just simply want to give people a change of pace once a week, and then if people like what I have and they want to take that experience home, they can get some beans and they can continue to have that little experience at home,” he explains.

He says the focal point of his coffee business is “How do you encourage people? That’s really the ultimate goal every day: to get to know people where they’re at and have conversations with them and try to encourage them to the most positive path to what is right in life.”

After Brandon rediscovered his Catholic roots over 15 years ago, he wanted to see the world. But then he discovered that he didn’t actually have to travel far in order to do that.

Up and down the East Coast, in places like Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, North Carolina, immigrant communities have established churches that serve those from their particular cultural group. Brandon began visiting these churches—he estimates that he’s visited somewhere between 500 to 1,000 such churches over the years. During his visits, the congregations opened up their traditions to him.

“When you share why you’re there, they want to share their culture with you, and then it basically becomes like traveling the world without leaving your backyard,” Brandon says. “I’m getting their liturgy. I’m having their food. And I learn a little bit of the history when I start asking different questions, like ‘Why is it like this or that?’”

One common element he found throughout the different ethnic communities was the idea of developing fellowship around coffee. The Ethiopians use a clay pot—the jebena, as they call it—while Middle Eastern culture is more likely to use a tin pot to prepare coffee using traditionally Turkish methods. The Vietnamese use a thin filter that lets coffee drip into a pool of condensed milk, while the Italians are famous for their espresso.

Along with the coffee traditions he observed, Brandon’s field trips had him reflecting that “at the end of day, it’s all the same Jesus—whatever the language is or whoever is doing it. The [Catholic] mass changes based on the culture and tradition, but it’s always the same Jesus.” Along these lines, he saw the varied coffee cultures he experienced as “literally reflecting the church in a secular manner.” The same coffee pulling people together, just with different cultural details.

The idea of being a one-man coffeeshop didn’t come right away. In Northern Virginia, Brandon was an Uber driver for three years but found it wasn’t sustainable. Prior to that, he helped struggling mom-and-pop businesses, many of them local pizza parlors, by trying to nurse them back to health.

As an Uber driver, he liked connecting with his passengers. He also wanted to help them make sense of whatever difficulties they were facing in life.

“The more I would talk to people, the more I would start to see connections. And the more we all feel connected as people in a community, the more people start to feel a sense of purpose in the world,” Brandon says. When trying to figure out a job that would allow him to, sustainably, live out his beliefs and expose others to different cultures, coffee emerged as the perfect fit.

Brandon was inspired by the practices of Orthodox Christian communities and by Ethiopian coffee ceremonies where people adopted a liturgical lifestyle that included taking breaks during the day to pray.

“I just liked their idea of [stopping] the busyness of life four times a day and [doing] the coffee ceremony. They spend time with each other and have conversations. As a person who worked 70 to 100 hours a week at some points in my life, I was like, I like this concept. I need to figure out how to incorporate that into my life,” Brandon says.

After tinkering with a business idea while still driving for Uber, in May 2021 Brandon officially launched his business of selling coffee beans and cups of brewed coffee at farmers markets throughout Northern Virginia.

Through The Traveling Shepherd, he has introduced customers to coffee beans from all around the world. He says at least 70 countries currently produce coffee beans, with a core of about 20 to 25 countries serving as key producers. Developing countries such as Burundi, East Timor, and Haiti are also keen to develop a more robust coffee trade because it supports the microeconomics of the country.

Each week, Brandon highlights a different coffee from around the world. In 2023, he roasted beans from 51 countries. He also serves iced teas and is looking for iced tea fruit blends that kids might like.

“I always wanted something that was authentic, that wasn’t cookie-cutter like every other chain. You look at most coffee shops, and everybody does blends. They’ll do a little single origin, but then everything’s lattes and that’s it. I just kind of just felt like, I want something that’s different, that stands out,” Brandon says.

The name for the Traveling Shepherd was inspired by Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist and by how a person can use love of travel and appreciation for new experiences to foster community and deeper connections.

“I would learn as I would have these conversations through Uber rides and at dog parks, wherever it was, that there were a lot of people out there that were the one in 99 that went astray,” Brandon says, referring to Jesus’s parable of the lost sheep as recorded in the Bible. Brandon counts himself as having been one of those sheep who had lost his way and was in need of help. Now he wants to make sure others aren’t left out in the wilderness alone.

“I found [that] the way to have a conversation with people is just by being present. And so with that, alright, I felt that’s gonna be my function: to fill in the gaps.”

more from this author

Joanna F. Marsh likes to fashion herself as a modern-day Renaissance woman. She still adheres to her high school motto, which is to “function in disaster and finish in style.” She lives near Washington, D.C., and has served as a writer and journalist for more than a decade.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.