Meet the Roaster: Ue Coffee Roasters

The Ue Coffee Roasters logo from the sign outside the roastery in Witney, OxfordshireWith the COVID-19 situation getting worse every day (all UK coffee shops closed as of last night), now seems like a good time for a new Meet the Roaster feature.

I first visited Ue Coffee Roasters back in 2014 for a feature in Caffeine Magazine. In those days, the roastery, on Windrush Industrial Park, a couple of miles west of Witney, was a standalone operation. These days, it’s been joined by a lovely café & kitchen, which occupies the front of the building, the roastery still in its same old spot, a large, warehouse like space at the back, which you can see through the windows behind the counter. Even better, the café’s toilets are in the roastery, so you have a legitimate excuse to nose around!

Ue Coffee made its name as the UK’s only wood-fired roaster. However, it’s come a long way since then, launching a sister company, Jeeves & Jericho, offering artisan loose-leaf tea and opening not one, but two coffee shops. While still doing much of its roasting on its bespoke, wood-fired roaster, there’s a new, gas-fired 30kg Giesen, along with a sample roaster, reflecting a new emphasis on high-scoring single lots and micro-lots. There’s also a plan for a new organic roastery in Cheltenham, due to open later this year. With all that in mind, Amanda and I had a tour with head roaster, Jon.

You can see what we found after the gallery.

  • Ue Coffee Roasters (and Jeeves & Jericho) on the Windrush Industrial Park near Witney.
  • Unless you are going around the side with a delivery, you enter through the front...
  • ... where you find the cafe & kitchen, with the counter at the back...
  • ... with the doors to the roastery behind that to the right.
  • A panoramic view from just inside the door.
  • The first thing you're struck by is the brand new, 30 kg Giesen roaster on the right...
  • ... which arrived in the roastery in December 2019. Unlike Ue's smaller roasters, this is...
  • ... vacuum loaded, the green beans being sucked up these pipes to the funnel at the top.
  • Around the other side is an equally large device for removing chaff from the exhaust flue.
  • Ue still has its two original, bespoke (and much smaller) wood-fired roasters.
  • The wood-fired furnace is at the back on the left, with the wood in front.
  • Here's the second one off to the left...
  • ... while here's the main wood pile.
  • The rest of the roastery is off to the left...
  • ... where there's plenty of storage space.
  • The obligatory picture of sacks of green beans...
  • ... and, at the other end of the process, the retail bags waiting to be filled.
  • As well as the new 30 kg Giesen, there's also a new baby Giesen, aka a sample roaster.
  • Finally, there's also a lab bench where the coffee can be put through its paces.
  • Time to head back into the cafe...
  • ... where you can buy all the beans in these smart blue boxes...
  • ... with a handy price list on this blackboard off to one side.
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Ue Coffee Roasters occupies an end-of-row two-storey unit on Windrush Industrial Park, with plenty of free parking. Unless you’re delivering pallets of green beans, entry is via the Ue Coffee Roastery Cafe & Kitchen at the front of the building, with the doors to the roastery at the back, to the right of the counter.

Except for the new roaster, it looks very much like it did when I first visited in 2014. The original, bespoke wood-fired roasters are still at the back of the roastery, their dual flues (one for the furnace, the other for the roaster) exiting through the back wall. Meanwhile, off to the left, there are large storage racks, reaching over halfway to the ceiling, full of sacks of green beans, or large, plastic tubs of roasted beans, waiting to be bagged and packed.

So, what’s all this wood-fired versus gas-fired roasting about? Well, all coffee roasters work on the same principle, which, in its simplest form, involves applying heat to coffee beans. The majority of coffee roasting machines from the last 100+ years use a metal drum rotating over gas burners, which send hot air through the drum, transferring the heat the beans. The hot air then leaves via the exhaust flue.

The new Giesen purchased by Ue works in this manner, while the two bespoke wood-fired roasters are very similar, only rather than gas burners under the drum, there is a wood-burning furnace off to the side. This heats the air, which is then passed through the rotating drum, just as in a conventional gas-fired roaster. Some claim that with the wood-fired roaster, the hot air picks up flavours from the wood, which in turn enhances the flavour of the coffee.

However, the wood-fired roaster has its drawbacks. The first is that it is manually intensive. Whereas the gas roaster can be fired and controlled by turning a tap, for the wood-fired roaster, someone has to chop the wood and continuously feed it into the furnace, being careful not to the let the fire burn too hot, or, conversely, burn low. Having watched the wood-fired roasters in action when I visited in 2014, I can confirm that it’s a physically demanding job, which, as volumes grew at Ue, was becoming a more arduous task.

The second drawback is control. As Jon, the head-roaster told us (only half joking), the wood-fired roaster has three profiles: light, medium and dark. This is the other reason that, having built its reputation on being the UK’s only wood-fired roaster, Ue is moving to a conventional roaster. In recent years, Ue has added to its range of coffees, sourcing more high-scoring single lots and micro-lots (via green bean importers, Olam Specialty Coffee). Getting the best flavour profiles out of these coffees demanded more temperature control than the wood-fired roasters were able to offer.

In tandem with buying the new Giesen, Ue also purchase a sample roaster (aka the baby Giesen) which allows Jon to rapidly profile new green beans and transfer the roasting profiles directly to the 30 kg machine. Although they still need a little tweaking, it means Jon can get to production roasting much more quickly and without going through so much green coffee.

Fans of Ue’s existing range needn’t worry though: your favourite wood-roasted blends aren’t going anywhere. While one of the two wood-fired roasters will be mothballed, the other is being retained for production roasting for the foreseeable future.

COVID-19: please, if you can, support your local coffee roasters. Ue Coffee has a great on-line shop, which, as well as selling coffee and tea, has a range of home groceries which it will also deliver. If you can make it into the roastery in person, as well as selling coffee, the cafe has been turned into a farm shop!

December 2020: Ue Coffee Roasters was a runner-up for the 2020 Most Popular Coffee Spot Award.

Monday 09:00 – 17:00 Roaster Ue Coffee (espresso + filter)
Tuesday 09:00 – 17:00 Seating Tables, Armchairs
Wednesday 09:00 – 17:00 Food Breakfast, Lunch, Cake
Thursday 09:00 – 17:00 Service Order at Counter
Friday 09:00 – 17:00 Payment Cash + Cards
Saturday 08:30 – 15:30 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday CLOSED Power Limited
Chain No Visits 18th February 2020

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