A PILE of hessian sacks filled with raw coffee beans are stacked up on a wooden crate in the corner, while a traditional roasting machine churns its first load of coffee of the day, and the bitter-sweet aroma of freshly-roasted coffee fills the air.
I almost expect a rugged explorer to come climbing out of a plantation, with a glowing jar of nature’s brightest protruding from his backpack.
Instead I find myself looking on as coffee connoisseur and founder of Reads Coffee, Giles Dick-Read, moves deftly around a converted milking parlour close to his rural home.
Giles and his wife Charlotte operate their roast-to-order business from their home at Limekiln Farm, just outside of Sherborne. So how did a quintessentially English couple bring a taste of the exotic to the Dorset countryside, and why?
Having set up shop in Oxfordshire eight years ago, the couple, who hail from Buckinghamshire, moved down to Dorset nearly five years ago to be nearer their families.
Giles said: “What we like about Dorset the most is that there are lots of ‘foodie’ people here – so many are extremely enthusiastic about eating and drinking great produce.”
During a trip around America and Canada in the early 1990s, just as Starbucks was exploding across the USA, and on his return to the UK Giles found himself frustrated: he could not find a decent coffee anywhere.
A discussion with the doctor about the side effects of caffeine convinced him that good quality Arabica coffee offered a healthier choice, as opposed to the cheaper Robusta coffees, which often have a far higher caffeine content.
So, as his quest for the perfect coffee began, he worked for various coffee operators, including Whittards, before joining Pret A Manger as its coffee man, where he stayed for several years developing the company’s coffee trade.
“I have done a lot of work with cafes, training baristas and educating operators about the mechanics of coffee making – choosing the right coffee, getting the best from their machines, and perfecting how coffee should be prepared.
“Great coffee can be a work of art – it is really very simple, but to do it well takes a lot of practice and experience. The skill lies in how it is prepared. People often say that Italy has the best coffee. The reality is that the Italians really just know how to serve it properly.”
So this is what their business offers: Roast-to-order single estate Arabica coffees, advice for users about coffee-making equipment, personal delivery services, and training about how to perfect the art of making a great cup of coffee.
While working at Pret, Giles met coffee roasters and brokers from around the world, learning first hand from them about sourcing coffee beans by working closely with brokers, to ensure quality and traceability right back to the plantation.
Now the company works not only with established coffee house Tomtom Coffee House in London, but also supplies local outlets such as Sabin’s deli in Sherborne, Bramble and Sage in Sutton Montis, Storm in Bournemouth, and other outlets in Oxfordshire and Berkshire including the Wellington Farm Shop at Stratfield Saye.
He was in luck – a contact was selling a roaster. “We found a small roaster which seemed ideal, either as a hobby or as a business venture.”
After meeting Fergus Dowding the couple were convinced to take along some of their roasts to farmers’ markets in Somerset and Dorset.
Charlotte said: “The farmers’ markets were really our start in Dorset, and then everything we went along to seemed to have a snowball effect.”
Giles added: “We would like to grow the business in a manageable way; we are not trying to get large overnight. We try to work with people who are passionate about coffee – they grind beans freshly on the premises and are more interested in quality than cheap beans.”
As he used the cafetiere to froth warm milk, Giles explained about his latest invention which ensures that he can assess the standards he sets for his coffee never fall, from far or near.
Working with a Frome-based engineer, he has developed a Telemetry system, which monitors the coffee machines installed in cafes to make sure they are working properly.
If they are running incorrectly, have a fault or even haven’t been cleaned properly, the system can alert the owners via text or email.
His passion for machines does not end there – he owns several old cars, three motorbikes and four lawnmowers. “I Have an automotive background, and if I wasn’t coffee roasting, that is where I would be.”
To ensure that nothing is left to waste Charlotte has also come up with a crafty idea to reuse the hessian sacks – she has worked with a friend to turn them into cushions and other useful items, which now adorn their home.
It seems that the possibilities are endless for this unique business. When I asked them about the possibility of an in-situ café in one of the farm’s outbuildings, or a coffee training school, both were regarded as very possible development. Click here to link to the Reads Coffee website.