Austin Coffee Brand Golden Ratio Launches Coffee That Drinks Like Tea
Clark Nowlin talks about “collaborative coffee” and living the Austin Dream
My love for coffee has come a long way. Like many others, I’ve been lucky enough to cultivate it in a city known for caffeinated innovation and roasters with cult-like followings. Leading a new wave of coffee drinkers today is Clark Nowlin, founder of the freshly launched Golden Ratio Coffee.
Born in North Texas, the entrepreneur studied at Baylor University before moving to Austin. There, he interned for local brand accelerator SKU, which sparked his interest in the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry. He later transitioned to the CPG-focused nonprofit Naturally Austin, where he worked part-time while getting Golden Ratio off of the ground. “Those connections have just been absolutely invaluable and makes me feel grateful that Austin has so many resources,” Nowlin says, “because it takes a village to bring something new to the world.”
The difference with Golden Ratio, dubbed “a coffee that drinks like tea,” is all in the timing. The super-slow process falls somewhere between a blonde and a green roast (yes, it’s a thing). Plus it’s five times less acidic than regular brews while still delivering a much-needed boost of energy.
It’s also made with versatility in mind. The vegan, paleo- and keto-friendly coffee is delivered in single-serve pouches that can be steeped in hot water or refrigerated overnight for an at-home cold brew. Available in Original, Vanilla Coconut and Chai Spiced, the drink is currently found online with the option for a Midas membership subscription.
Nowlin recently spoke about the inspiration behind Golden Ratio, what it means to make collaborative coffee and the pursuit of the Austin dream:
Holly Cowart: What were you doing before this?
Clark Nowlin: I’m a musician – paid the bills doing that for about five years. My band and I, when I was in high school, played South by Southwest! That was my first time actually ever coming to Austin and it just felt like home.
HC: When did you become interested in the world of coffee?
CN: It really started on the road for me. When I was probably 21, I was touring a lot. I was going town to town playing all these shows drinking Starbucks or caffeinated coffee. It really wrecked my stomach and I’d get horrible jitters. That’s where I discovered I had a problem with regular coffee, because of the acidity.
HC: What inspired you to create something different?
CN: I went to Oregon, Seattle and Washington to learn about this newer, really low roast coffee. It’s unheard of in Texas today, but it’s more common up there.
In New York there’s also a green coffee brand, which is an unroasted coffee that’s becoming a lot more popular. I combined what I saw happening in New York with what I saw happening on the West Coast.
HC: How did the specific formula come about?
CN: The Gold Roast is actually something that we invented. Really, it’s more of an Austin story than anything else, given the amount of local support and people that helped make this thing a reality.
I thought, “Okay, there is something here in this slow roast coffee. How do I make it? I’m not a coffee roaster.”
I was at Whole Foods that week and Wes Hurt, the founder of CLEAN Cause, was sitting across from me at the next table. We had actually been connected recently, but I had never met him in person. I asked him if he knew anybody who was a coffee roasting expert, as I needed help to develop a product.
He’s like, “I got just the guy.”
He connected me with the former COO of Cuvée Coffee, Logan Allender. He’s a really, really smart coffee person and he helped Cuvée invent their cold brew cans. Him and I – in collaboration with Blake Thomas from Tiny House where worked at the time – sourced from dozens of different countries and spent months and months getting it down. So, we’re pretty particular in how we roast it.
HC: What has it been like starting and launching a business during a pandemic?
CN: Anybody that I think had a plan when they started 2020 – that plan changed. And so we are no different in that regard. Put simply, it’s made things more difficult for sure.
On the flip side this is also something for us, because we’re a direct to consumer company. We are delivering coffee to people’s doors and people are at home and preparing coffee more. They’re also bored and wanting to try new things.
HC: Do you have a way you describe the drink’s taste to others?
CN: It’s unlike any coffee you’ve ever tried before. That’s part of the fun that we get to have bringing this to the world. The Original Gold Coffee is the bedrock of any other product – that one is really smooth.
The difference between regular coffee is that it’s not going to be bitter. Its flavor is light in a refreshing, easy-to-drink way. And then people say it’s nutty. The coffee beans smell nutty and you grind them and it’s almost like peanut butter.
HC: Sustainability seems to be a focal point of the brand. Is that particularly important to you?
CN: As a CPG business owner, I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to put good things in the world. We decided a long time ago not to use any dyes and we use 100 percent organic cotton in our tea bags. As for equipment, we actually have these stand-up pouches that are recyclable that we put the tea bags in.
It’s something that I think a lot about in how we design our products because it’s important.
HC: Where do you source your beans from?
CN: Because our roast is really light, it’s important where we source the bean. And even more important from an ethical standpoint, how we source the bean matters because there’s some farmers that can get mistreated and not make enough money to cover certain expenses.
We currently source from Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Brazil, from three different farms. And by the way, we source from like over 30 countries, but we identify these three as the best for our type of roast. And we have a direct relationship in place between each of those farmers on our coffee roster.
I like to think of fair trade as kind of the new commonly agreed upon lowest common denominator of a coffee price. And what we have made a commitment to do, alongside some of our coffee partners, is pay above that – a rate we know that makes sure they’re actually living well.
HC: What makes Golden Ratio a perfect fit for an Austin lifestyle?
CN: Austin at its best is a place that encourages people to take risks and be bold. And really to be authentic. This company is all of those things.
One of the things I love most about our product is that it is extremely collaborative coffee. It’s taking your cup where it’s never gone before. We are doing something wild and new. I think Austin has very much inspired the brand we’ve created and it’s really just beginning.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.