Years ago, a comment on my blog said something about how my writing had become more introspective since moving back to Tokyo. My mental response had been – I still remember it now – that when you’re in a shitty situation, you realize the things that matter most to you.
I shouldn’t blame Tokyo, per se, for my lack of happiness. It’s more the combination of an inclination towards sometimes severe depression and the social ostracization of being different. The bike helped tremendously, until I got chewed out too many times at a bike shop for “being stupid.” I remember standing in the middle of a Tokyo street, crying so hard I could barely breathe, sending smoke signals in the form of desperate emails to two best friends. The bullying, the harshness of being different, of being too independent or foreign, the hints that maybe I should change who I am…it all sucked. A lot.
The bike kept me sane for a while, but this past winter, I hit a new kind of low. The kind that keeps you indoors and off the bike and barely above “slightly functional.” Save for those two short visits from Adam, I couldn’t remember how to smile.
I never believed that clinical depression was something to be proud of, because though the moments are sometimes too rare, I like to be happy. That’s the other side of it; when you can get your head above water for a bit, depression helps you realize what really makes you happy. It’s makes you a little braver, too, to tell the people you care about that you love them and that they make you happy. It encourages putting a song on repeat all day – no matter how pop-y – and to paint with food, if that’s what it takes to keep the monsters at bay. If dancing around my apartment to British boy bands, classic punk rock, and American indie rock between painting portraits of pro cyclists gets me out of bed, then that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Bikes still feed my soul, but these past few months, I remembered something else. When too many people are shitty to me and I start to break a little bit inside, I can always use music to patch it up until I’m good to go.
I believe there’s very little a good bike ride and a bass line can’t fix. When I need a second wind, good coffee and punk rock have always delivered. So let’s start there.
Subjects: Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols, Joe Strummer of The Clash, and Tim Armstrong of Rancid
Materials used: coffee grounds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!