coffee excursions: little nap coffee stand

When Kyle told me he was coming for a visit last month [it’s been nearly a month, since!], he remained stubbornly vague about his past year in L.A. A good thing, maybe, because between bike shop visits, sushi, and burgers [yes, we did all three in the same day], we also had our fair share of coffee to sip. And stories – especially with friends – is always better over something slightly less than scorching and abundantly well-caffeinated.

And while I was supposed to [mostly] guide the way, Kyle came prepared with a recommendation via his girlfriend; a casual mention of a tiny café tucked away on the far side of Yoyogi park. We walked there on Kyle’s third day here, and found a simple exterior with a door handle wrapped in bar wrap. And much like the girl with an awesome sense of style and quiet charisma that you inexplicably find attractively inviting, I liked it already. I wanted to like it more as I slid open the door. But even I was surprised when, inside the small space complete with worn wooden floors and counters and touches of retro Americana, Little Nap Coffee Stand served up possibly the best Americano I’ve tasted in Tokyo.

The minute attention to detail at Little Nap Coffee Stand – though not unusual for smaller businesses in Tokyo – is distinctive due to its subtlety. A selection of baked goods neatly lined the counter beside the usual extras [simple syrup, sugar, etc.], primped and waiting patiently for hungrier customers. Straws were displayed in a vintage plastic container, a large world map and retro stickers playing up the comfortably worn vibe. Our beverages were served in cups that were attractive in their simplicity; the slightly mismatched furniture adding further to the café’s charm.

We swapped life news [as all friends should over coffee] at the front counter facing the street in the otherwise empty space. A young couple drove up, a small child tucked into the backseat, and upon seeing us at the window, waved hello. The reception was unusual and I glanced for a second in quick panic at Kyle before recalling that this was normal behavior in all great coffee shops. They came through the door with happy smiles as if we all hadn’t seen each other in too long and we sipped our coffee, smiled, waved, and said hello to their small daughter.
It was an awesome start to the day.

coffee excursions: café de l'ambre

Outings, rides, and bitch-fests all require good coffee: a big steaming cup of black coffee – hold all the extras – or a great Americano. For the past few years, I’d taken the existence of meticulously obsessed coffee shops within walking and riding distance, completely for granted.
But a move to Tokyo presented not just the question of where in the world I should ride, but also where to find those coffee shops where you’ll want to linger, return, and order one more for the road. My coffee experience in Tokyo being a big, fat zero, I turned to Google and stumbled upon Café de l’Ambre. A coffee shop that only offers coffee? It sounded right up my alley.

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Nestled in Ginza, it’s a small unassuming coffee shop conveniently located near my Dad’s office building. But it wasn’t the location that drew me; rather, it was the fact that Café de l’Ambre offers pourover coffee from aged beans [some from as far back as the 1970s]. A concept I’d never seen or head of before, and with a father willing to shell out over $8 for a cup of coffee, I sought out my first cup of vintage coffee.

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I unfortunately couldn’t get a seat at the bar, near the action, but was offered a seat at a table with built in ashtrays. I glanced at the menu I’d obsessed over via the Internet, wished for a second I had a cigarette [in a long cigarette holder...perhaps with a vintage dress], and ordered a medium pourover of straight/single-origin coffee. The coffee? A 1982 Kivu.

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Presented in a cup the size of an espresso cup, a “medium” size got me about 50ml of liquid. Initially, there was a sense that I wasn’t getting what I/my Dad paid for; that this could be grossly overrated. But this cup packed a lot of flavor; moderately acidic with notes of berries, it’s a bright-tasting coffee that I wish I could afford on the regular. But intensely brewed, that small cup left me feeling like a wired squirrel and I almost bounced out of the shop [in heels, so this is saying a lot] without noticing the small roasting set-up out front.

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My father grabbed me a card before we left, ready to take on Ginza and the oppressive summer heat. It’s no RSC, true, but Café de l’Ambre, I’ll be back.

the weekend in pictures: ride.studio.cafe

Since first visiting Ride.Studio.Cafe last fall, I've been meaning to go back. A big, bright space with racks of Rapha, there are enough Cervelos and Sevens to make you reconsider your conviction that there is such a thing as owning too many bikes. A big coffee bar sits on the side of the shop, a wide table perfect for hanging out and resting tired legs while sipping good coffee or espresso. Spacious but cozy, with good company both behind and outside the coffee bar, I promised Rob I would come back as soon as I got my IF together.
But things like "winter," "cold," and "being lazy," kept getting in the way, even with all the events they were having. Finally, with the weather cooperating and all day events scheduled for their first anniversary on Saturday, I grabbed my IF and made my first geared trip to Lexington.
Lucky enough to catch the club riders after their ride, I walked into a packed shop, filled with a number of super domestiques in Ride.Studio.Cafe/Rapha kits. I was a sweaty mess, but that didn't keep a few nice people from pointing at my chest and asking about NYC Velo.

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Drawn to the coffee bar [against my better judgment, as afternoon coffee tends to make me bitchy], I wussed out with a San Pellegrino. Then found out that espresso, De La Paz's Perfume V, was free that day. Sal promised it was interesting, and really good, with that intense look that baristas and coffee aficionados use to tell you you're going to miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you decline. And because I am a pushover, I said yes.
There was half a cup of Stumptown coffee too. Because, hey, last time I visited I drank an Americano and three shots of espresso so why not keep up the trend of consuming stupid amounts of coffee whenever I'm there?

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Amped up like a paranoid squirrel, I left before the party [plus beer] got underway. Still, I've found a new favorite place to hang out. I'll be back soon!

coffee and the city

I had it all planned out. A day off Friday, an easy ride Saturday, another rest day Sunday while I traveled back to Boston, and then back on the bike for real on Monday.
Funny how things never turn out like you plan ‘em.
Saturday was bordering on cold but sunny enough and Mike suggested a quick 25 miler to Cloisters. I’ve never been so I happily agreed...that is, until my uterus was like oh, hello, it’s that time of month! Which wouldn’t have been much of an issue if it hadn’t driven home that point by making my lower back so stiff it felt uncomfortable to even sit.

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Yes, I am fully aware that I will probably end up being the bitchiest pregnant person alive if or when that happens.
Anyway, so I spent the morning arguing with my lower back and my reproductive organs while Mike did the ride. After a handful or so of chocolate chips, I was feeling a little better [funny how chocolate has that effect, huh?], so we meandered through the city on a lazy afternoon mission.
But of course, first there had to be coffee. We stopped by the first NYC location of Cafe La Colombe. A simple yet open space with clean decor and bike-friendly baristas, Mike got his Ira Ryan hat photographed while we waited for our Americanos. The atmosphere is hip and cool without being overly pretentious, and while the espresso lacked the punch of Cafe Fixe’s Americanos, it was the perfect accompaniment to a lazier, more laid back afternoon jaunt.

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A few blocks further into Tribeca and we were at our destination: Adeline Adeline. A few weeks ago, I had heard a rumor or two about this shop; a specialty bike store that caters to the urban leisure cyclist. On the floor were bikes by Pashley, Abici, Linus, and a Batavus with Sram on it. Wicker baskets of varying sizes, pannier bags catered with the more stylish cyclist in mind, and the obligatory Brooks saddles were smartly displayed in a bike shop that managed to set itself apart.

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It’s a cool space, and one that I would patronize for a smart, sturdy city bike with all the bells and whistles. The accessories alone are worth a visit, especially if you have a thing for baskets and pretty bells.
Only time will tell if I’ll ever be able to afford a city bike in New York City, but when I’m ready to get one, it’s good to know where I’d go.

geared epiphany

You guys.
I had an amazing epiphany yesterday. I now understand why most bicycles have gears.
Wait, wait. I know you’re rolling your eyes, muttering “she’s realizing this NOW?”, shaking your head, clicking onto the next blog in your reader, or all of the above. But it takes a while for things to sink in, okay?
When everyone told me I “needed” a geared road bike, a part of me agreed because, hey, can you really have too many bikes? But there’s a learning curve with those things...I just didn’t get why there was so much shifting back and forth involved. When I said that I could mash up the hills just fine, people just said something like “well, you want to be able to walk when you’re 40, don’t you?” or “what about your knees?”

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Okay, fine. Apparently you can go longer and faster, when you can shift up and down and all around. I understood the concept, but not really how it was going to change my life.
But then, yesterday. Out on the usual 2hr ride, I was hauling ass to get a negative split for the entire ride, not just part of it. When I wasn’t fighting wind, I got a really good pace going; my thighs were aching, but nothing unmanageable. And then, just when the wind died down for a bit, I hit a flat stretch of road. Hunkered down in the drops, neatly clipped in, I was spinning out.
My initial thought was to knock off a tooth in the back...and then I realized that I wouldn’t be able to climb all the hills if I did that. AND THEN BECAUSE I’M AN IDIOT AND KNOW NOTHING BUT A SINGLE-SPEED, MY NEXT IDEA INVOLVED GETTING A SMALLER COG, PUTTING IT ON THE OTHER SIDE OF MY REAR WHEEL, THEN FLIPPING MY WHEEL [TO THE FREEWHEEL SIDE] EVERY TIME I HIT A HILL.
Do you want to know my next thought? It was: ...but that would be such a pain in the ass...I wish there was an easier way to switch between the two---OHHHHHHHHH...!!!!
Cue light bulb turning on [finally] over my head.
Yes, I am a dumbass.

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Hours later, my face in my third coffee of the day at [my favorite] Cafe Fixe [yes, I can drink my weight in coffee. Don’t judge.], I revealed my life-changing realization to Matt. He snorted, rolled his eyes, and laughed, saying:
“I like how you do everything in reverse.”
As if I would do it any other way.
[But for those of you who want to follow by example, for less than the cost of my saddle, Walmart is now selling a "fixed-speed" bike for $150.]

slowing down [with snob]

Like most people, I can't stand people that are like me.
It's not because I see all of my own personality faults in them [I wisely choose not to acknowledge that], it's actually far more basic. I just can't stand people who are obsessed with multi-tasking; thinking about 20,000 things at a million miles a minute. If I'm honest with myself, though, I'm equally as irritating as the people who drive me insane.
No surprise then, that I start my day off with a cup of rocket fuel. Strong enough to keep the gears spinning for the next four hours or so, it's sipped after a quick warm up on the rollers, while I check my inbox, pack a lunch, do my hair, and compile the day's to-do list in my head. Bold, strong, and hot, it definitely makes this girl's morning worth waking up for.

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Then chugging the slowly cooling liquid, the bike ride to school is done while rummaging around my brain for lectures, events, rides, and errands that have to get done. People to email back, posts to publish, pictures to take. Climb four flights of stairs and change out of my shoes and sweaty clothes before sitting in class, taking notes, checking the NY Times, looking up the weather for the following week, deleting emails, jotting down random ideas, etc., etc., etc.
It's not like I can't sit still. I can. Quite well, in fact. It's just - like most people my age - I'm addicted to multi-tasking. And when you add law school and cycling to the mix, it seems like it all has to be done at breakneck speed. Get to school fast, get reading done fast, get journal stuff done fast, get home fast. Sleep for a little while and get up fast tomorrow.

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Rushing home yesterday for another cup of caffeinated diesel because the thin, watery stuff at school just wasn't cutting it, I plopped down on my couch to fly through a few articles in the October issue of Bicycling Magazine. Even though really good writing seems extremely hard to find these days, I was still ready to read the thing from cover to cover in some ridiculously short amount of time.
Chance dictated that I would open the page to Bike Snob's column, and despite the steaming cup of coffee in my left hand, I finally managed to slow down. And think. And relax just a tiny bit.

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Because according to BSNYC, I've been doing the equivalent of "shotgunning" my life, when it really should be "sipped" and "savored." Okay, he was talking about bike rides, but when you're spinning your way through life like you're racing on 2:1 gearing, the analogy is appropriate. At least my ADD thinks so.
I read just a few articles, slowly drinking my coffee, actually tasting the stuff instead of trying to directly inject it into my bloodstream ASAP. I left most of the magazine unread, for later.
And then I got on my rollers and tried to make the time fly faster while watching an episode of CSI and allotting out sections of my night for whatever long list of things I had to do. Such is life.
[And here's a Rapha Scarf Friday for you, complete with caffeine...]