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.


  1. I remember the days when there were only two kinds of chain: single speed chain and ten-speed chain. Five of the ten speeds were created by virtue of the front derailleur. The rear had five cogs.

    1. Yes, and many of the ten speeds had semi-vertical dropouts and easy to strip off add-on derailleurs such that they easily become one speeds. That how it was with my Flatland Commuter Project bike from c.1973.


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