Saturday, October 18, 2014

Cartel Coffeeneuring #3: Of Coffee, and Essence

Cartel Coffee Lab in Scottsdale

Sometimes my want for coffee exceeds the daily norm, which is pretty demanding in itself, and graduates to a need or craving of some no-nonsense, beyond hype, skillfully prepared, complex yet straightforward brew that fills a need driven by stress, fatigue, mood, hunger, and/or some equally imposing and otherwise intractable set which requires something strong and of essence to overcome. "Essence" used here is not something I'm going to try to define specifically, because when you find it, you know it. Something like the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article is not far off. I've found that Cartel Coffee Lab is where I go when that happens. They take care of me.

Latte, hot, with handlebar bag

I don't drink this every day. But, it fills a need on those days when I need professional service. I make a mean cup of coffee at home, but there is no way I could produce something like this latte. This is coffee with essence. The closest I've come to this was back when I worked with a guy who was teaching himself how to roast coffee. Over the weeks and months, he got better and better at it, some of his improvement attributable to my feedback I guess, until finally the bag of freshly roasted coffee he would hand me in the morning came with that essence. It's ethereal, transient, temporary, something like a spirit or lacy chemical dance of volatiles and fragile scent molecules that only live for maybe 12 or 24 hours after roasting. I would sometimes take those fresh bags home and brew some as fast as I could, to try to catch some of it before it disappeared. 

Those bags of whole roasted beans that we buy that have use-by dates six months out, or longer? That's utterly untrue. Don't believe it. If you could park an espresso machine operated by a skilled barista at the outlet of a roaster run by a expert, you might just catch a full dose of it. The coffee at Cartel may not be that fresh, but the roaster(s) and baristas there know exactly what I'm talking about here. They want you to experience that in a cup that they serve.

I discovered this about them when I mentioned to a barista there on a hot summer day that an iced coffee on such a day seemed warranted, but that icing coffee squashes it. He told me to try some of their cold-brewed coffee, and that's when I knew that they understand the essence of coffee.

Cartel bike parking

I've been wanting to ride more fixed gear again, but the flatland commuter project bike is undergoing something of an identity crisis at the moment. I removed its rear rack recently, and think that it's probably time to ditch the original handlebars and stem for a taller and Nitto-er combo. I'm not too happy with the saddle, either, which might be a matter of breaking it in more or getting used to it, neither of which is likely to happen with the current handlebars and stem. 

Cartel Coffee Lab Scottsdale ambiance shot

But in my stable I have options. One of my options became less optional after I realized that I had replaced the 1/8" chain on the other sometimes-fixed gear bike with a 3/32" chain, which is OK on the freewheel side because the White Bros. freewheel works with it, but the Dura Ace cog I had on the fixed side was 1/8". Delaying resolution of the Flatland Commuter project bike identity crisis by flipping to the fixed side on the other bike therefor required either a new chain or a new cog.

Identity crisis resolution postponement: new cog!

I'll say it at the risk of being subjected to scorn or ridicule: beyond the fading hype, and apart from any anti-hipster backlash (which I decidedly do not resemble, anyway), fixed gear cycling does sometimes feel to me like something close to the essence of cycling. Legs clipped in to pedals connected to cranks connected to chain ring connected to chain connected to cog connected to hub connected to spokes connected to rim connected to tire connected to road, and you feel that in a somehow more continuous manner when you let up slightly and the road drives your leg muscles back. Flipping that hub and riding fixed to Cartel Coffee Lab seemed appropriate. That latte, and this cog, properly employed, and utilized under the right circumstances, do go together, in ways that are not always easy to describe clearly. 

Perhaps sitting there more often, with one of those excellent lattes before me, will clarify that essential connection for me. Is it possible to love coffee? Or to love riding a fixed-gear bicycle? Of course. But try explaining either of those. Try spelling out the essence of those feelings. It might be done, I think. In the right setting.

Distance ridden: 10 miles.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Dusty Dusk: I light the lights, I hold my breath

One guy with one leaf blower sure can make some massive billowy clouds of dust

I saw his dust clouds long before I saw the man. Far ahead, billowing up to the tops of the trees, I thought: I will hold my breath when I ride through there. What happens is, even at a normal steady pace and breathing easy, upon reaching the cloud and actually holding the breath, the importance of a steady flow of oxygen-containing atmosphere to the lungs during aerobic activity becomes rapidly apparent.

At a steady commuting pace, it's not easy for me to hold my breath for more than ten or fifteen seconds, and afterwards, I feel the deficit. But it's better than breathing in lungfuls of that stuff, I'm pretty sure. Some of the blower guys pause when they see cyclists approaching, which is nice/kind of them.

The lights are on, the quest to see and to be seen continues

The lights have become a requirement for the ride home as the daylight hours grow shorter. The Phillips Saferide LED light is still my favorite for commuting, for many of the reasons I mentioned in that initial overview I wrote. It's nearly time for a follow-up user experience write-up. Only thing I don't like is the blue battery power remaining indicator on the top, which is just too bright, and will likely become covered with some black tape with small holes in it soon. Its engineered beam shape and brightness remain its outstanding characteristics. Battery life is very good running on the normal (not the bright) setting, and the switch seems to have broken in a little, since it turns on and off reliably and easily, but not accidentally. 

And drivers notice it: on tonight's commute, two drivers entering from the right paused rather than cutting out in front of me because they saw me, while one oncoming SUV driver turning left stopped short of cutting me off because he also saw the light in plenty of time. I really appreciate that, after experiencing the contrasting SMIDSY nighttime cutoffs coming in from the right, and turning left in front of me.

That's it, week. Weekend, I'm yours, send me on bike trips wherever you wish.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

So Soon a Patina Dulls the Light

New public art by Robert Adams at SE corner of Scottsdale and Camelback Roads, now with falling water

part 2 of "We are Strangers When We Fall"

The sound made by water falling on these suspended copper hemispheres surprised me with its muted, subtle, susurration. No bell tones, no metallic ringing whatsoever, only the combined flow of streams falling through rectangles cut in the plate above them, controlling the direction and volume for best effect with the hemispheres.

A patina begins to dull the light

There will be lights shining behind panels here at night soon, if not tonight. I caught them under clouds, though, near dusk, catching the sound of falling water as I crossed Scottsdale Road, then crossed back to have a closer look, and listen.

It's possible, though I don't know if this was actually the plan, that water falling through just one of the rectangular holes onto just one of the copper hemispheres might make a pinging or ringing sound, but that the phases and timbre and tone of all the combinations happening here, on all these different sizes, run together like rain into a tuned chorus of ssshhhhhhhh.

Also there right behind them in the photos and in the soundscape is the traffic. They sing together, the engines and wheels on pavement against the falling of this water, and though I much prefer one to the other, in this place both are there, and together it's not unpleasant. As light is also part of this art when the panels are lit, the clouds at the moment of my visit might appropriately be contrasted with the blazing sunshine of my first visit in the link at the top of this post, as well as with the morning sky on my commute:

Morning commute sky

There's a bench just there in front of the water to sit for a moment or two, and look, and listen. The sound of water falling is both duller and richer than I imagined it would be. Less distinct, broader, more natural while carefully tuned. In a place where the sun can be so bright, the light playing off the copper patina is also carefully dulled and controlled, while on a moonless, cold, cloudless December night I imagine those panels will glow on the rippling black water of the canal in some shadow form of a mirror that looks like something it's not, momentarily brightened against the sound of water with no traffic nearby.

And in the back of my mind while I sit on the bench with my bicycle leaning against it, I will be thinking that new things like this just-installed public art remind me of the passage of time and aging as much as the old ones do. In the first post, I wrote about differences and strangers, backgrounds and cultural quirks, but these drops now are whispering to me about time and its measurement, a drop exiting the carefully engineered rectangles falling a distance in time t of 1/2gt2, existing in its motion and sound a physical manifestation of the passage of t

We are strangers in this light because time makes us so, as when the falling drop strikes the patina of the copper and smears across it in the dulled light, and it, and we, no longer look the same. Drop by drop, day by day, the patina intensifies, also in a manner carefully designed by metallurgists for an intended effect. But while hydrology, acoustics, metal work, and metallurgy produced this effect here (against the din of the traffic behind it), this observer sitting on the bench is the random variable moving with his own equation with respect to t, and other variables that are my own. While I measure these changes and feel the flow of the years, remarking appropriately that so soon a patina dulls the light, I also smile at the passage, at the symphonic susurration enveloping me, noting that the light sometimes strikes the patina just so, to make it golden.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Wildflower Protocol: Coffeeneuring to Jobot

15 mile coffeeneuring ride to Jobot in Phoenix: worth it

There's this sign that's been haunting my daydreams the last few weeks. It seems like it's not directly coffee- or bicycle-related, except that I rode by it again on my way to Jobot in Phoenix for the second ride in my pursuit of Coffeeneuring 2014 glory. Or, maybe it is coffee-related.

The active, imperative voice, with an impatient schedule, anti-wild, with lovely floral accents, commercial

First, I'm not sure that they count as "wild" if you plant them in a specific place, with a specific purpose, under the guise of ownership. Second, the whole "NOW" order also seems to undermine the wildness, if not also the flowerness.

On the other hand, what a glorious sign of months of mild weather ahead, months of 70°F afternoon meanders seeking out new art, new (to me) coffee shops, new sights along old routes, and so on. Wildflowers! Now! How can you have trouble with that? OK, I can't. I worked it out over a coffee at Jobot.

Flower pondering fluid

Wildflowers make me think of sweet French butter produced by happy cows munching easily in sunshine-drenched meadows. In comparison with le beurre, most American butter is bland and industrial. The French demand greatness in their butter, probably because they seem to put it in more or less everything. Curiously, though, their milk is, in the main, awful, since it is UHT (Ultra High Temperature) treated, and to both me and my daughter, tastes burnt and metallic. What I need, I think, for my coffee, any coffee, is cream from those cows before it is UHT treated. A couple shots of good espresso with a splash of that would be heaven.

The cream at Jobot, alas, did not remind me of French cows happily munching wildflowers in sun-drenched meadows. However, it did remind me of coffee I had in Austria. My palette is not that refined that I'm claiming that their coffee or roast has anything to do with Austria, but I trust my memory, and here's what happened.

Some coffee I had in Austria recently

Often, in Austria, they serve coffee with water on the side. In the case of Salzburg, also with a Mozart chocolate on the side. Anyway, sitting in Jobot thinking about this particular coffee, I thought, the water on the side has particular, specific effects when you sip some after a few sips of coffee. So, after finishing my Jobot coffee, I took some big sips from my water bottle, and BAM! My memory said AUSTRIA really loudly. Which, I think, is a good thing.

Elmac Kofie mural across from Jobot, w/coffeeneuring ride


How we decorate mechanics shops in this neighborhood

Pondering the wildflower dilemma over my Austria-reminding coffee at Jobot, it came to me: the wildflowers are programming us to do their bidding. To make our hearts go pitter-patter when we see their glorious colors and catch wafts of their heady perfume, to make us seek out their seeds and plant them in our yards, to co-opt their colors for our walls and clothes, to feed them to our French cows to make ethereal sweet butter which induces dreams of the perfect cream for coffee.

It's not petty human hubris or naked commercial interest behind the PLANT WILDFLOWERS NOW sign. It's the flowers. They did it. The wildflowers haunted my daydreams with their insistent riddle: can you capture us? Do you remember? If a sip of water puts you in mind of Austrian coffee, what about an overwhelming cloud of flower-perfume on a hot afternoon (see current blog header above). How does that strike you, pondering cyclist/coffeeneur? Catch us, plant us now, if you can.

Crossed two freeway bridges to get to Jobot: 1


Tricky wildflowers. They are inside my brain, in the perfume neurons, the color neurons, the close allies of taste, and memory. Perhaps the imperative voice telling me to PLANT THEM. NOW. is not out of place. Because it's a flower voice that speaks to me, across miles, over coffee. Once they sprout up and bask in the sun, I'll sip them water from my bottle, to see what they remember. I've become an agent of the wildflower protocol.

Jobot ambience shot. Locked bike to fence out front.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Riding Beneath Galena Skies

Yet more tropical weather in a desert city

There's nothing to describe these remnants of tropical storm Simon skies better than "leaden". But this adjective put me in mind of visiting the lead mining city of Galena, IL when I was seven, and of the small cubic chunks of lead ore, also called galena, that I collected on that visit. I'll go slow; I'll get wet; but at least since we don't put ethyl in our gasoline any more it's not actual galena falling from the sky here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Coffeeneuring Without a Chain Tool

For this first one, better safe than sorry

To kick off my participation in the Chasing Mailboxes 2014 Coffeeneuring Challenge, I made some adjustments to my Trek 950 to make it rideable for my older daughter, and enticed her into a shorter ride with promises of iced tea and fresh-baked muffins. We rode about three miles to Terra Java as our first destination.

Terra Java. Lock to handicapped parking sign.

For such a brief and carefree trip, which, by its very name ought to be easily begun and performed without cares, you would think I could bring myself to just hop on the bike and go, without carrying much or anything. So, while one U-lock to secure both bikes to a signpost is probably justifiable, anything else just seems like impediments: to gather, to carry, to walk around with, to keep track of. There's some kind of minimalist principle at work here, that the less you carry, the easier and more relaxed the trip would be. It should be about the coffee, and the fun, time spent with the daughter, enjoyment of the sunshine and the morning, rather than about the gear. 

I think, though, since I wanted to make sure that my daughter's ride went as smoothly as possible on the unfamiliar-to-her bicycle, I took gear along anyway: a frame pump in case there was any trouble with the new tires I had mounted. A six foot cable in addition to the U-lock to give more options for securing the bikes at the destination. A multitool. My camera to support this post.

All that stuff is probably acceptable, given the circumstances. But when you get right down to it, there's little or no justification for taking the chain tool on a three mile coffeeneuring fun ride. That's just pure OCD tool toting. Next time, next weekend, no chain tool. I will be bold and brave. Maybe.

Good coffee, good turkey pesto pannini.

The food and coffee at Terra Java was fresh and tasty. For dine-in I would prefer my coffee in real cups not paper, particularly since the food came on an actual plate, but I didn't ask so perhaps that was my doing--I'm sure just as many people would request that coffee served in a ceramic mug was poured into a paper cup so they could take it with them, and since I didn't ask I'm not criticizing. The ambiance was quiet and calm, just as I prefer.

Ambiance shot

Did I overthink and overpack for a short coffeeneuring ride? Since I want to go with what is both comfortable and easy, I'm looking at a basket for her coffeeneuring bike along with something like a Sackville Shop Sack from Rivendell to just toss everything in and go. I'm not saying if "everything" includes a chain tool or not, that will be concealed within the great and easygoing darkness of the bag of stuff. Pretty sure a pump and an extra tube will be in there, though. Just in case.

Trek 950 tuned up for coffeeneuring: Brook's leather grips, easy bars, Crane bell, comfy saddle, smooth city tires.