Handlebar Coffee Roasters and Café: Racers Taking Time to Get it Right

Originally Published Oct. 2011 in The Daily Sound, a Santa Barbara newspaper that was published from 2006-2012.

For a couple used to speeding toward a finish line, Kim Anderson and Aaron Olson are taking a “slow and steady wins the race” attitude when it comes to their new business. Anderson, 43, and Olson, 33, are both coming off of decade-plus careers as professional cyclists, have been roasting artisan coffee under the name “Handlebar Coffee Roasters,” for just shy of a year. The pair is about to take the plunge into opening a retail location. They’ve been hands-on in renovating the former home of Three Pickles at 128 E. Canon Perdido since August. They continue to make the shop ready for inspectors and customers, and anticipate opening by the end of October.

The brand name and spiffy logo, as well as some of the shop’s décor, are in homage to Anderson’s and Olson’s pasts as professional cyclists. They met through the sport; and, among their travels, raced through and lived in Europe for several years. They were introduced to Santa Barbara when participating in The Tour of California, and have now lived here for more than three years. Anderson, who hails from Colorado, and Olson, who is from Oregon, found that they enjoyed Santa Barbara’s style and weather; also, the presence of a nearby airport was very important when they were actively racing.

The decision to make their post-cycling careers revolve around coffee was also inspired by their travels as cyclists. Olson shares that their passion for coffee was fostered through often relaxing in European cafes in after five or six hours of intense training. With Handlebar Coffee Roasters, said Olson, the goal was to “try to find a nice little spot,” where they could provide “some of the café experience we had in Europe.”

About transitioning from the life of a professional athlete into a coffee retailer, Olson says that being a cyclist “wasn’t your typical job, but we had the passion and trained hard and did everything we could to be the best.”

“We took that same mentality into this business,” he added. “If you have passion, if you put the time and effort into it, you can do a good job.”

In addition to independently studying the coffee business, Anderson and Olson attended the American Barista & Coffee School in Portland Oregon.

For about the past year, Handlebar’s coffee was roasted in a garage, and sales were done via a website (www.handlebarcoffee.com), as well as in person at Southern California cycling events. As the store gets ready to launch, “Hercules,” Anderson’s nickname for their 25-pound capacity Probat coffee roaster, now sits in the front of their store.

“It’s pretty small; made for cafes,” shared Olson.

Even so, it’s an impressive piece of machinery; a dial-and-switch-laden machine that makes it clear the “roasters” part of the shop’s name is not just for effect. Now, Handle Coffee Roasters can roast in the store, for the store.

The coffee, which Anderson and Olson create in mostly medium or lighter roasts, will be available in 12-oz. bags of whole beans for customers to purchase. Coffee consumed at the coffee bar will be brewed in one of two ways. Espresso shots—the backbone of drinks such as lattes, cappuccinos, and Americanos—will be pulled on a double-boiler, three group La Marzocco FB 80. The “regular” coffee will be anything but, as it will be made via press pot rather than an auto drip machine.

In addition to coffee, Handlebar will sell tea, chocolate (from local company 24 Blackbirds), and kombucha. While Olson says Handlebar will have a limited food menu, he points to the abundance of “great surrounding businesses” in the area, and says that Handlebar’s goal is to complement them rather than compete.

The space seems significantly larger once you’re inside. Olson and Anderson were able to install three sets of double glass doors against the courtyard side of the space; the result offers a bevy of natural lighting. It adds to the homey-yet-sophisticated feel of the shop, which is adorned with colorful (yet understated) signage, exposed wood, and a beautiful countertop that Olson says is recycled from an old wall they pulled down during renovations.

The final hours of operation have yet to be determined; the pair plans to open initially around 6 a.m. and see how the rest of the day goes, recognizing the potential for an after-dinner crowd due to the several popular restaurants in the area.

As Handlebar prepares to share its coffee sensibilities with the public, Anderson and Olson admit that their own coffee habits are constantly evolving.

“Almost 11 years ago, we were mostly drinking lattes,” Anderson said. These days, the pair tends to brew French pressed coffee in the mornings, and have switched to Americanos (espresso + hot water) as their go-to espresso drink.

Olson shares that coffee, like much of his experience, represents an interesting journey.

“I like the ever-changing portrait of [coffee],” he shares. “There’s so much to experience, just like traveling. It’s just cool to try things from all around the world. I think a lot of people are open to trying new things.”

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