Meet the Roaster: Chimney Fire Coffee

The Chimney Fire Coffee logo, a stylised roaster in black outline with smoke coming from its chimney.Let’s get 2021 underway with a new Meet the Roaster and Chimney Fire Coffee. Started in his garden shed by Dan Webber in 2016, Chimney Fire moved to its current home in Ranmore Manor in the Surrey Hills in the summer of 2017. In theory, I could walk there and back in a day (as I did with Surrey Hills Coffee last May), but laziness/poor planning got the better of me, so I ended up driving over the week before Christmas when I unexpectedly found myself with a car and nowhere to go.

Like many roasters, Chimney Fire had its business model turned on its head by COVID-19, but is thriving despite this, expanding over the summer and recently employing two additional staff. Its Ranmore signature espresso is joined by a various single-origins with a variety of roasts: espresso, filter and onmi.

I’ve been enjoying Chimney Fire’s coffee for several years, often at Canopy Coffee (where it was a regular guest) and at home, with Chimney Fire being one of the first roasters I ordered from at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was therefore with great pleasure that I caught up with Dan and the team just before Christmas.

You can see what I found after the gallery.

  • The old stable block at Ranmore Manor, home to Chimney Fire Coffee.
  • Since the summer, the office, lab and packing area is on your right as you come in...
  • ... with the roastery on the opposite side of the courtyard (where it's always been).
  • Let's start our tour with the roastery...
  • ... the entrance to which is fiercely guarded by white tubs of freshly roasted coffee.
  • The green beans are stored to one side, with the roaster on the other.
  • The roaster is run from the control panel on the left, with Cropster on the computer...
  • ... while the steps on the right are for loading the green beans into the funnel.
  • Chimney fires are a thing of the past, by the way, with a chaff extractor...
  • ... attached to the roaster exhaust, before venting to the chimney outside.
  • Back inside, and here's a feature I've not seen before. The white tube is...
  • ... a stethoscope-like attachment so that the roaster can listen to the beans cracking.
  • A roaster (Elizabeth) and her roaster (a 15 kg Coffeetool, handmade in Greece).
  • Of course, the whole process starts with the green beans...
  • ... and ends with neatly packed bags of roasted coffee.
  • There are a variety of beans from around the world.
  • Some are from green bean importers like Cafe Imports...
  • ... while others, like these from the Don Tomas Estate in El Salvador, are direct trade.
  • Ever wondered what green beans look like? Let's find out!
  • This is the Gran Galope, a washed coffee from Colombia. I could have done a better job...
  • ... of matching the light/exposure, but for comparison, this is a natural from Brazil.
  • In between the two in terms of colour is a honey-proccessed coffee from Don Tomas.
  • And finally, looking completely different again, a Colombian decaf.
  • Once the beans have been roasted, they are stored in the white bins before bagging.
  • This is the result of a single day's roasting.
  • This is the Ranmore signature espresso blend...
  • ... while this is the San Antonio, a washed coffee from Guatemala.
  • The tubs then make their way over to the packing room in the other building, where...
  • ... everything is weighed and bagged: until this summer, this all happened in the roastery!
  • There's also a small office/lab in the corner...
  • ... a room within a room, if you like.
  • Preparations for a production cupping.
  • Another vital piece of roastery equipment: a Faema President espresso machine.
  • However, I'll leave you with a pour-over of the Gran Galope from Colombia.
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Chimney Fire Coffee is one of several business occupying the old stables block of Ranmore Manor (which dates from 1888) in the heart of the Surrey Hills. It’s not generally open to the public, although you can pop by to pick up coffee orders (and, in pre-COVID times, it hosted coffee experiences via Airbnb), so the fact that it’s tucked away off the road between East Horsley and Dorking isn’t such an issue.

Originally Chimney Fire occupied a single unit on the far side of the courtyard which housed everything: green bean store, roaster, packing area and office, a somewhat hectic environment as you can imagine. With the business expanding, Dan jumped at the chance when a second unit became available, moving the office and packing side of the business into the new unit over the summer. This was much to the relief of head roaster, Elizabeth, who is now free to get on with her work uninterrupted!

The heart of the operation is a 15 kg Coffeetool roaster, handmade in Greece by Stelios. Elizabeth (along with trainee roaster, Cephas, who doubles as Chimney Fire’s barista trainer) typically roasts multiple 12 kg batches three days a week, one lot of green beans going into the roaster as the previous batch of now roasted beans spill out into the cooling pan. Like most roasters these days, she uses Cropster software to keep track of the roasts, although the Coffeetool’s control panel is pretty comprehensive. One feature that I hadn’t seen before was a stethoscope attachment that Elizabeth uses to listen to the beans as they roast, which is particularly important for catching the first crack over the noise of the burners/motor.

As well as looking over the roaster, Elizabeth showed me the green beans. If you ever get the chance, I recommend smelling green beans: they are so different from roasted beans, it’s unreal. On this occasion, I got to compare different processes: washed, honey and natural (with a decaf thrown in for good measure). What surprised me was how different each one looks and, perhaps more importantly, smells, with the naturally-processed coffee having the deepest, most vegetal smell. Maybe it’s something I’ll examine more closely one day.

From the roastery, the coffee makes its way across the courtyard to the new unit, where it’s weighed and bagged ready for dispatch. This is the realm of Row, the recently-recruited operations manager, Lorena and Sam, who lovingly pack the coffee. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 20% of this went direct to consumers, with the rest going to wholesale customers, either local coffee shops or, increasingly, offices who wanted to provide good quality coffee to their employees.

This changed overnight in March as coffee shops and offices closed. Fortunately, Chimney Fire’s customers, having become used to good coffee at work and finding themselves working from home, turned to buying directly from Chimney Fire, with direct sales now accounting for 60% of the business. What surprised Dan was that although the majority of sales were local, he found that Chimney Fire was shipping to addresses all around the UK. There was even one shipment to the US while I was there!

There’s a lot more to say about Chimney Fire, including its discovery range and the intriguing El Salvador from the Don Tomas Estate, where the same coffee has been processed three different ways: natural, washed and honey processed. However, I’ve saved that for another post!

December 2021: Chimney Fire Coffee was a runner-up for the 2021 Best Roaster/Retailer Award.

Monday 09:00 – 17:00 Roaster Chimney Fire Coffee
Tuesday 09:00 – 17:00 Seating N/A
Wednesday 09:00 – 17:00 Food N/A
Thursday 09:00 – 17:00 Service N/A
Friday 09:00 – 17:00 Payment N/A
Saturday CLOSED Wifi N/A
Sunday CLOSED Power N/A
Chain No Visits 22nd December 2020

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