Peak Bean - the artisan roastery based in the Peak District
PUBLISHED: 00:00 07 February 2020
Former café owners Deirdre and Andrew Stables believe nothing beats a flavour-packed cup of coffee so they’ve poured their energy into creating an artisan roastery in the Dark Peak, as Viv Micklefield discovers
Flat white, skinny latte, or espresso, our thirst for great tasting coffee, whatever the time of day, continues to boom. However, it was still rather surprising to discover that tucked down a cobbled lane in Furness Vale, a former mill complex now resounds to the grind of an altogether different industry. On opening a door labelled Peak Bean, it is the rich, intoxicating smell of roasted coffee beans that fills the air.
Owners Deirdre and Andrew Stables are both familiar faces in nearby Hayfield, having previously run Rosie's, a thriving tearooms named after their daughter, for almost a decade. This small community-based business was also a popular destination for tourists, with the couple serving up the best Derbyshire produce.
'The only thing we sold that wasn't local to us was the coffee,' says Deirdre, who hails originally from New England. 'So, it made sense to start doing the roasting ourselves. We bought a small roaster and someone gave us some Ugandan coffee beans; we then got more beans to represent each coffee-producing continent.
'Our first blend was called Kinder Morning, a name suggested by one of our regulars.'
With Andrew honing his roasting skills at the London School of Coffee, and brokers secured in the UK and Netherlands to establish the supply chain, the sale of the tearooms in 2016 enabled them both to concentrate full-time on their new enterprise.
'It's still early days,' Andrew admits, adding, 'Every penny we've made so far has been reinvested into the business. We've just got another roasting machine that is sufficiently large to produce coffee quickly enough to allow us to expand significantly.' The gleaming roaster in question stands over two metres high in pride of place at the heart of operations.
Although the premises are compact, it's immediately clear that every square metre of space is put to good use. There's a storage and weighing area for the hessian sacks brimming with green coffee beans waiting to be roasted, a tasting bench complete with a state-of-the-art coffee machine, and dedicated packing and labelling stations.
Deirdre explains how, depending on the producer and the number of growing seasons each year, the red cherry-like fruits of the coffee bush are picked and then the seeds extracted by means of drying, washing or a combination of the two. Naturally, everything Peak Bean sells has to be traceable, so the country of origin, batch number and roasting date are meticulously recorded.
The roasting process, which takes approximately 15 minutes per batch, is also closely monitored. What's important, she says, is that the roasting drum is already up to temperature - around 200°C - when the beans are tipped into the hopper above.
'We can do just under 10kgs of beans in the big roaster and still have the original, small one if the quantity needed is around 2.5kgs. For the blends, we roast the different types of beans separately because they roast differently according to their shape and size.
'Around seven to eight minutes in we'll hear the first crack. We record when this happens because it's between the time of this and the second crack that the coffee's characteristics develop. The initial smell is a bit like burnt toast, which I quite like.
'I think the medium roast is more flavourful. The darker city roast takes longer and can be more bitter. It's a personal thing. Because the roasting removes moisture from the beans, slightly less in weight will come out than goes in.'
With a fan to cool the roasted beans quickly, these then go into airtight containers and are ideally left to rest for a day before being bagged-up or ground, depending on what the customer wants.
Receiving direct feedback from customers has continued to prove invaluable as Peak Bean grows. In addition to Kinder Morning, they currently have 17 other speciality blends and single origin roasts, all of which are derived from high-altitude grown Arabica beans.
What, I wonder, is the secret to a great tasting cup of coffee?
'The grind is key,' confirms Deirdre. 'You can have the most fantastic roaster but if the grind isn't right the taste won't be either. Or using the wrong grind for the equipment, for example, using an espresso grind in a cafetière.'
Adding a new bean to their range begins with a process called 'mixing and cupping', using a coarse grind sample from the supplier.
'It's put in the coffee machine at 95° and we let this brew for four minutes, so that a crust forms. We then smell and taste it, a bit like you would with wine, before recording how acidic it is and whether it might be good in an espresso or better as a filter coffee. Our Guatemalan beans, for example, make fantastic filter coffee.
'I love Guatemalan coffees for their natural sweetness - which is probably because as an American I was first exposed to coffees from Central and South America. However, the Spice Trail brought coffees from other parts of the world here. Our Monsoon Malabar is a more bloated-looking bean from India that is almost treacle-like once roasted.
'On one occasion I was doing a tasting and kept thinking of a Chinese take-away but couldn't work out why. Then I realised, it reminded me of the plum sauce you get with crispy duck!
'We can offer new trade customers small quantities to try out and if a packet sits on the shelf for a while we'll replace it with something else.'
According to Andrew, the packaging itself has also received attention. They've recently introduced eco-friendly, reusable pouches to keep the coffee fresh, and reusable containers have been trialled with cafés. They also offer a discount if customers bring their own packaging to the farmers' markets that the roastery regularly attends.
Running an ethical business is something Deirdre admits to being passionate about and communicating directly with some growers delivers added Fair Trade benefits.
'If a coffee-producing village needs new books for its school, we'll add 20p per kilo to what we pay the farmer because the people who are creating this coffee and their workers live in poverty,' she says.
Provenance also remains Peak Bean's big selling point. Their online shop offers the chance to enjoy a taste of the Peak District, wherever you happen to be.
As Deirdre says, 'We currently supply a number of B&Bs and I think it's always nice after staying locally to be able to bring a little of that experience home. So that the next time you have a cup of Kinder Morning, it reminds you of what a great time you had here.'