The thermometer on the giant coffee roaster at Gold Hill Java Downtown coffee shop is broken.
But, this is of no concern to roast master and coffee shop owner Paul Clarkson. He knows his beans and he knows how they smell when they are roasted to perfection. Once a week, he fires up the bean roaster and begins his ritual of roasting 15 types of beans — including organic and free trade — from South and Central America, Africa and Asia.
“We get beans from all over the world and they all roast differently and you have to pay attention to the differences,” Clarkson said. “I learned how it smells at a certain temperature. I learned how it sounds at various temperatures and how it looks.”
Paul and his wife Kim opened Gold Hill Java Downtown, at the corner of Tejon and Boulder streets, one month ago. It’s the couple’s second coffee shop. They also own Gold Hill Java in Woodland Park and together both shops employ 27 baristas.
The Clarksons bought Gold Hill Java in Woodland Park three years ago. Kim had been working for the building owner when the coffee shop tenants closed their business and she was tasked with finding a new tenant. She never dreamed it would be her.
“I fell in love with the business and decided to buy it,” she said.
That’s when the Clarksons learned their way around a coffee roaster and the subtleties of how the small, hard, green coffee beans expand, smell and taste at different temperatures and different lengths of roasting. At temperatures of 460 to 530 degrees, the beans shed two layers, expand and roast to light, medium or dark brown.
It’s funny that Paul has become such a coffee aficionado, Kim said. Five years ago, he was mostly a Folgers guy. But, she brought him over to the finer side of coffee, espressos, lattes and cappuccinos, she said.
“Paul has really come around to develop a palate, not only a palate, but also an eye and a nose for coffee,” Kim said.
The coffee shop owners also sell breakfast, lunch, smoothies and loose leaf tea. And, the couple recently bought Gold Hill Fudge shop in Woodland Park, which had been a local favorite for 15 years, and incorporated the fudge business into the coffee shop. Everyday, Gold Hill Java features new fudge flavors such as chocolate jalapeno and lemon meringue cheesecake. Revenue at the Woodland Park shop has increased 25 percent each year for the past three years.
Last year, the couple talked about opening a second coffee shop in Woodland Park. But, they stumbled on the Tejon Street location — it had been a coffee shop for 18 years but closed in December.
“I looked at the place and I saw the great windows and being able to look out,” Kim said.
In March, the Clarkson’s leased the property, which is owned by The Thomas Suter Family Trust, and started a massive interior overhaul. They tore out old carpet, installed new lights and freshened up the shop, which is about 2,400-square feet — twice the size of the Woodland Park coffee shop. Before the baristas learned how to use the coffee machines, they were stripping floors and installing cabinets, Kim said.
“We did totally renovate the space taking it down to bare walls and concrete floors and building it back up from there,” Kim Clarkson said. “It was quite a project for us.”
Sam Eppley, vice president of the Colorado Springs Downtown Partnership and owner of Sparrow Hawk Cookware downtown, said the block north of Platte Avenue on Tejon is bustling and the coffee shop makes a great addition to the block.
“They took a coffee shop that had, over time, lost its luster,” Eppley said. They’ve done a beautiful job of updating and cleaning it up — they’ve taken something there that was struggling and completely reinvented it.”
Gold Hill Java Downtown joins 10 other coffee shops in the downtown area bordered by Uintah, Wahsatch, Moreno streets and Interstate 25.
“I’ve never really taken competition into consideration,” Kim Clarkson said. “I’ve always believed that if we do what we do best, then the competition we have is ourselves.”
The shop’s survival may rest in the beans. The Gold Hill Java roasted beans have developed a following and the Clarksons mail them across the country. Bean sales, by the bag to in-store and online customers, make up 35 percent of revenue at the Woodland Park coffee shop. The Clarksons are hoping for the same downtown.
“It’s a big part of who we are, we are coffee roasters,” Kim said.
Each Sunday morning, Paul heats up the 17-year-old roaster in the downtown shop. He can roast about 25 pounds at one time. He’ll put his head next to roaster and listen for the popping sound of the beans.
“All roasters, after a while develop their own personalities, and this one is no different,” he said. “I’m learning its personality.”