When Hannah Ulbrich decided to go back to work full time after a few years as a stay-at-home mom and adjunct literature professor, she was presented with an opportunity by her friend Sinjin Eberle, then owner of Copper Door Coffee Roasters. When he mentioned one day that he was planning to sell the cafe, she thought, "That's my path, that's it, that's what I want to do."
Ulbrich started with the basics: having never roasted coffee before, she learned from Eberle, who was moving to Durango to work for American Rivers (a non-profit organization that protects and restores waterways). Ulbrich says that, like a sommelier, she has always been able to detect and understand flavor notes in coffee, so learning to roast the beans came easy to her.
For the first few years, Ulbrich continued down the path that Eberle had started, running Copper Door as a wholesale roaster that reflected his passion for the environment. Eight years later, Ulbrich still sources beans directly from coffee growers, uses biodegradable bags and purchases wind energy to offset energy use. For Ulbrich, maintaining that mission has been a priority, even when she opened expanded the operation by opening a retail cafe in the Montclair neighborhood last September. In addition to the new cafe, Copper Door has a number of wholesale accounts, including Marczyk Fine Foods and St. Killian's Cheese Shop in Highlands Square.
The Atmosphere The Copper Door cafe is nestled in a small shopping strip in an otherwise residential neighborhood. Ulbrich decided to open the cafe because she wanted give customers a chance to taste her coffee exactly how she thinks the beans should be brewed. "To be competitive and get more accounts, people need to try the coffee," she says, noting that most Denver coffee roasters also have their own cafes.
When searching for a home for her cafe, she looked around the entire city, but found the perfect space in her own neighborhood. She saw a need for a good cafe in the area, noticing that there weren't many independent roasters opening coffeehouses east of Colorado Boulevard. "I kept coming back to the idea that it wouldn't be a community spot if we opened on a really busy street," she explains. "I wanted something where the community felt that this was their coffee shop. I wanted them to own it."
The cafe is spacious, with a few copper-topped tables and two bars with stools: one along the windo and one at the order counter. There's also a children's corner -- not typical in Denver's trendier urban cafes -- with a chalkboard and games. One wall is smartly covered with a mosaic of doors that Ulbrich found in basements and alleyways. "It was me and a lot of spiders finding these doors. And since we're Copper Door, we needed to do something with doors," she says.
And continuing with the sustainable effort, the bar is decorated with planks from reclaimed shipping pallets that Ulbrich and her husband took apart and stained.
Copper Door currently roasts off-site, but in a few weeks the roaster will be moved to the cafe. Ulbrich had to improve the ventilation before she moved the roaster in because she didn't want to impact the neighboring businesses, including the pediatrician's office next door.
The Roaster Ulbrich feels close roaster (an American-made US Roaster) -- sometimes too close. The machine is permanently imprinted where she accidentally leaned her arm against the hot surface. "So literally my skin is forever on the roaster. I put my blood sweat and skin in this business," she says, laughing. "You get so intimate with them, just like an old car."
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Beyond Coffee Ulbrich wants all the food served at the cafe -- and drinks for that matter -- to be local, so she sells burritos from Denver's Mame's Burritos and pastries from Nanna's Gourmet Market & Tea Emporium in Denver. She also brings in doughnuts form Glazed and Confuzed on Sundays. She serves tea from the Tea Company in Lakewood and Sanctuary Chai because it's made with honey instead of sugar. Syrups for flavored drinks come from Backyard Soda, another locally owned business.