“It’s all about information”, Iain tells us as he fits a wafer-thin paper filter into a porcelain V60 dripper, ready for our second coffee sample of the afternoon. We watch, mesmerised, as he steadily pours hot water over light, ground coffee in a circular motion, with slow-rising steam giving off a deliciously aromatic scent. He continues as we wait for the silky coffee to drip through the filter, “people should know where their coffee comes from, how it is harvested and who is doing so.”
This is the mantra behind Buxton Roastery, the business of Iain and Mim Keeling, passionate coffee connoisseurs since 2004 through their restaurant business, where they were always trying to improve the coffee. After investing in machinery and experimenting with numerous coffee-making techniques, they finally decided to roast their own beans - and found the results to be incredible. Not only could they make coffee that tasted exactly how they wanted it to, but they could directly source ethical beans that promote sustainability.
Buxton Roastery is located just outside the lovely spa town of Buxton, providing freshly roasted coffee to traders and customers alike. We popped in to visit Iain and see where he roasts his delicious coffee beans, discussing the intricacies of roasting and what “fair-trade” really means.
Words by Athena Mellor
Photography by Annapurna Mellor
“The difference between getting a light, medium and dark roast happens in a matter of seconds”, says Iain as he continuously pulls a cog of beans out of the roasting machine, allowing us to smell the developing aromas each time. It is nutty and not exactly coffee-like, as you would expect. “That signature coffee scent comes with time”, he tells us - something else we have learned in an afternoon of coffee talk and sampling. As the timer on the machine counts up slowly, we fall silent waiting for the exact moment that it plateaus, somewhere at around 200 degrees. Then Iain allows the beans to spill out onto the cooling rack, whirling around as we appreciate the light colour and oily texture - the sign of a good roast.
I, like a lot of people, appreciate a good cup of coffee, but I wouldn’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur by any means. Before this visit to Buxton Roastery, I didn’t know about the harvesting process nor the roasting process - in fact, the extent of my knowledge was, well, nothing at all really. Acting as our own personal Barista, Iain busily grinds beans and fills the portafilters of his beautiful Sanremo machine, pressing the ground coffee down gently while sharing his knowledge of the world of coffee. He tells us that the best beans are grown at altitude, that the difference in flavour comes from every part of the process - from where the crop is located, to how quickly the cherry develops, to the density of the bean - and that “fair-trade” beans are not always that fairly made after all, costing as little as $1.70 per kilo. Iain is passionate about changing the coffee industry, about connecting people with the process - advocating customers to have a genuine care for the origins of the beans. “Let people own their land, farm that land, and pay them a reasonable price”, he says, and it couldn’t be more simple.
Iain and his wife have travelled to Thailand extensively, the country of their most popular and signature bean, Peang Thai. A slideshow of photos show them at a coffee farm in the Phahee village of Northern Thailand, experiencing the coffee-making process from its source at the cherry-plant to the hand-sorting of beans. Thailand may not be known for its coffee - with the more well-known beans coming from areas like Indonesia and South America - but this could all change in coming years. Coffee plantations were introduced in Thailand by the King who wanted to give farmers a new crop to grow, other than opium. Though there are fewer coffee crops in Thailand than elsewhere, the natural ecosystem of the country means they are of an incrediblly high quality. Buxton Roastery works directly with farmers in the Northern Thai village of Phahee, paying them almost twice the average fair-trade price for the coffee. This is a process known as Direct Trade - cutting out the middle man to ensure the farmers get paid the right price for the work they do.
“We work with the Akha Hill Tribe coffee farmers in the village of Phahee which sits in the far North of Thailand in the Chang Rai province very close to the border with Burma, and our goal is to bring their amazing coffee to the world whilst they receive a truly fair price for their coffee.”
As well as Thai coffee, Buxton Roastery sells Costa Rican, Brazilian, Indonesian, Kenyan and other coffee beans from around the world. While chatting, we savour the velvety, caramel tones of a Costa Rican coffee bean, stirred into creamy, frothy milk. This is a honey-process bean that gets its flavour by laying the flesh from the cherries on the beans in the drying process, allowing the flavours to infuse into the bean for a sweet flavour with citrus tones. Alternatively, the Thai coffee bean that we later sample is more nutty and wholesome, with a mild, biscuity finish. Iain is clearly thrilled to get to use his Sanremo Cafe Racer machine and allow us to sample the coffee he has so whole-heartedly put himself into.
After the beans we watched Iain roast are cool, he bags them up and sends us away with some of his signature Peang Thai coffee beans. A great afternoon of learning about the process of coffee-making - from cherry plant to hot steamy cup - and talking to someone who is genuinely passionate not only about coffee, but about supporting the sustainability and ethics of the industry.
There is no cost to visit the Buxton Roastery, just give Iain a call in advance and make sure you buy a bag or two of these well-loved beans and share with family and friends.