The Wall

There is a limit to the number of coffees I can "cup" or taste in a short period of time before everything begins to taste pretty much the same. Everything melds into a tie-dye and then khaki. I've often wondered if there isn't a better way to taste coffee samples than to follow the traditional cupping protocol: slurping coffee from a spoon and spitting into a spittoon, so as not to get over-caffeinated. (Slurp and spit: not a good mating call.) Usually one would cup multiples of each coffee, with several different coffees on one table. The multiple cups are to check for variations and defects. But that's not my main concern, being so far up the chain. I want to know how it tastes.

I had 20 samples to taste this week and I decided to do pourovers of each one. I liked the ease of brewing and clean up. And the cleanliness of each cup, allowing me to pick out characteristics of the coffees and not experience over-extraction as the cup cooled. We still only tasted 10 at a time, but we weren't spitting either. Six coffees tends to be my table limit when cupping, and maybe 10 is my limit on pourover coffees before I hit the wall.

The wall. Ha.

"The wall" is something marathon runners like to talk about. "I hit the wall at 21, and those last 5 were rough." So many people talk about the wall, that it seems suspicious. If I didn't know better, I'd probably think this was a psychosomatic response brought on by the belief that it would happen. A self-fulfilling prophesy. And that may be.

I used to believe in the wall. And then I found out it was a tunnel. A very dark tunnel. The tunnel of tired, commanding voices and weary, labored breathing, energy-sapping, impossible obstacles. Lay down. Lay down. You have to stop moving and lay down.
The first time I ran 100 miles I realized that I experienced "hitting the wall" a few times during the race. And if I just kept going through those very very dark times, eventually I would come out the other end of the tunnel and feel ok again. 26.2 miles just isn't long enough to find out.

I used to practice "bonking" on the trail. (No, not that kind of bonking.) I would purposely go out running or riding in the most adverse conditions (hot, tired, just ate, dehydrated, etc) and go hard until I blew up and then practice reeling that back in and continuing despite those feelings. I figured if I could train under the worst conditions, I could be great when the conditions were perfect.
One of my favorite bike routes is in an area called Osage Hills, and to get there I cross a pedestrian bridge over the tapering end of a train yard. I grew up next to the train tracks in a town that wouldn't exist if not for the train yards. So I like trains. Trains made our house shake like mini-earthquakes every day, and the train tracks were treasure troves of spikes and smashed pennies and they represented the wall of Wrigley Field in our homerun derby of whiffle ball. And I like street art. Sit at a railroad crossing and watch the boxcars and coal cars and cabooses stream by like a personal drive-in gallery showing. Tags and warnings and pictures, lude and amusing. These street artists have talent. And a lot of spare time. And a great canvas, moving slowly across the plains.

One wall down under the pedestrian bridge has become a showcase for some of the locals. The opposite of Michelangelo's Sistine ceilings. But at least one church in town has been sending street crews out to paint over the street art. Because street artists are of the devil. Haven't you seen it? SK8 OR DIE. TRON. Ugly Couches. WWJD? He'd paint the wall grey. And the mind will follow.
I once asked a City road construction worker, who was erasing tags and stenciled silhouettes of tv's and balloons and Martin Luther King, how he knew which was graffiti and which was art. "It's all graffiti to me," he said. They're all pot holes to me. Hit the road (not the wall).

Couple days ago a bird somehow got in. I tried to shoo it out. But it stayed far up in the rafters, occasionally flitting down a feather or a bit of dust. Hovering around our pull-up competition rope. The SHUT sign. The round ductwork with it's robot-like square vent. Robot-like the red wall of robots painted in my stairwell by some devilish streetsy. I waited. It didn't seem very big. But some birds aren't. And then... thwak thwak thwak......... THUD. It hovered a hair too close to the ceiling fan and, like a kid pushed from the merry-go-round, whirling fan blades launched the bird across the room. And it hit the wall. I guess it didn't know about the tunnel. Bird became cat food and the circle of life continued.

There were a couple of coffees in those samples that lit me up. One, a Kenya, was what I dream of in a Kenyan: lively acidity and that muted sweet citrus, quite different from the Yirgacheffe citrus. More of a floral, complicated by caramels and honey. Reminds me of Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, which is finished in a Sauternes cask. A natural Brazil, sweeter than most Brazils. Less winey and just a tad fruity. Nutty. Definitely nutty, with a splinter of wood. A Costa Rican. Something other than La Minita. This one is a honey coffee. A pulp natural. Good. Super complex. Reminded me of the complexity you get in the San Rafael.

I hope we're not too late to get these coffees. Sometimes they disappear before I have a chance to claim any.