Traveling with Coffee

The Holiday travels begin as we compose this article. With all the changes in rules for travelers flying in and out of country, you may wonder, “Is coffee allowed in my suitcase on a plane? How should I package coffee when traveling by plane? Can I place it in my carry-on bag?”

In this article, we’ll contemplate the fate of coffee beans should you choose to bring them along for the journey, either as a gift or because you simply will not drink anything but your favorite brew. Which brings to mind a tale of four coffee bags we simply cannot refrain from sharing.

It happened over ten years ago. A dear friend, who also happens to be a highly creative soul and avid history buff, was embarking on a third trip to Scotland to meet with colleagues who had joined forces to refurbish an ancestral Kirk in the Perthshire highlands.

Our friend had constructed a model of a small monument to honor the beloved Lord who had previously managed the property. He hoped to present this to the current heir and owner. The central piece of this monument contained a glass prism, connected to a bundle of fiber-optic wires that would capture daylight to illumine the prism from within. It was a stunning piece, befitting a Lord indeed.

The model fit nicely in a plastic toolbox; a perfect container to transport the piece between the hotel and show-and-tell appointments. Our friend also planned to bring coffee for the trip, since this was requested from his colleagues in Scotland who had already had a taste and wanted more. They thought British coffee simply did not match up. Thus, four bags or ground coffee became the perfect padding and protection material to secure the model snugly inside the toolbox.

So far so good, until our friend arrived at the airport security gate and placed the box on the conveyor belt. Picture if you will the face of the agent who had a first glimpse inside said box, only to see a solid, rectangular structure and a bunch of wires surrounded by four mysterious pouches. Everything stopped.

The agent retrieved the toolbox, motioned two other officers to join him and asked our friend to approach and stand still. He then looked him straight in the eye and asked, “I’m not going to blow up when I open this, am I?” Our friend was stunned, but instantly grasped the misunderstanding. He could not help grinning, which did not please the officer. Nevertheless, he opened the box. No blast of course. Only a puzzled look on his face.

Moments later, all three officers surrounded our friend as he demonstrated and explained his model. They asked many questions, all of which had very little to do with the initial perceived infraction. They all smiled and looked like kids who had just been allowed to peek into a treasure chest. They even shook hands in the end as they joked with our friend that he might want to reconsider his packaging strategy on future flights.

If you should travel with java this Holiday season, you’ll be pleased to know that the TSA has the following guidelines regarding ground and whole bean coffee: It may be placed in carry-on bags as well as checked baggage.

If you visit the TSA Website, you will also come upon the following recommendations: “TSA officers may instruct travelers to separate items from carry-on bags such as foods, powders, and any materials that can clutter bags and obstruct clear images on the X-ray machine. Travelers are encouraged to organize their carry-on bags and keep them uncluttered to ease the screening process and keep the lines moving.” Notice that there may be restrictions depending on your destination. Contact the airport for more information.

Upon returning to the US, our friend approached the airport gate with a light heart. The agent noticed the stamp from Scotland and asked if said friend had walked through sheep pastures while in the UK. Yes, he had. Many times. The old Kirk was smack in the middle of one. Everything stopped. Not again! The agent frowned. The possibility of contamination was cause for alarm. “Ah, but wait,” our friend managed to interrupt. “My boots hurt my feet and I left them in Scotland.” He was waved through with a sigh of relief.

Monument model and boots remain in Scotland to this day, and the story has been told a hundred times since. The coffee was enjoyed, immensely.

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