Merrow Depot, Merrow Lane, Guildford, GU4 7BQ
The upside: Expertly sourced green coffee beans roasted to order in Surrey to buy direct or online
The downside: The on-site cafe is very small
The flipside: Buy an online coffee subscription for a gift that keeps giving (you choose how long for)
I often rave about delightful journeys down leafy lanes to access great producers hidden away in Surrey but this is different. To get to this coffee roaster it’s a six-minute drive from my house near Stoke Park in Guildford. Arriving at a trading estate next to the railway it’s a complete surprise to find an independent coffee business thriving here. Of course once inside it makes complete sense, as it’s a warehouse, roaster, packing and retail unit all housed under, one roof. As you enter to the left there is a seating area in front of a counter where you can order coffee. Choose from any of the current range they have roasted that day. Have a chat first about the style of coffee you prefer and nothing is too much trouble to match your drinking preferences with your final brew. Beyond the counter where drinks are dispatched lay sacks of open green beans ready for roasting. Beside this are four coffee roasters, which including the first two kilo machine this start-up invested in five years ago.
Founders Graham and Petra had a strong interest in coffee and after completing a coffee-roasting course in Scotland they decided to start their own business. With just one two kilo, capacity machine they honed their craft in a cold, reclaimed shed in their first Merrow Depot site in 2012. Perfecting their skills they started to sell coffee online and direct to a constant dribble of informed customers. Their growing list of single origin coffees were it seemed of interest to many consumers looking for delicious coffee which hadn’t lost its identity in commercial style processing. Large roasters provide large quantities of beans to their retailers by blending beans and subjecting them to a single roasting recipe. The resulting coffee lacks personality and is often quite bland plus as a money saving exercise they use a smaller weight dose for each drink. Smaller companies like Redber can avoid this and provide a customised roast for each new bean, which compliments its unique flavour profile rather than damaging it.
Today the business in its larger unit is buzzing (the old site has been updated and is their storeroom for beans and supporting products). Currently the business has several strands which all fund their growing team of ten members of staff and bigger home. First there is the retail side of the business, which features sales direct to the consumer. You can drop into Redber, have a coffee and buy your beans whole or ground or purchase online. Roasting beans to order here for their online business means there will always be a few kilos available for drop in sales (highly recommended) and perfect if like me you live close by. It’s Redbers policy in terms of quality that beans are dispatched to their customers the day it’s roasted giving you a good month of life. After this the quality starts to decline. I was told quite clearly that freezing or refrigerating beans is not a good idea as it causes condensation, which damages the coffee. Storage should take place in an airtight tin in a cool dry location.
For retail customers coffee subscriptions are also a popular buy. There are various options for this and these deals make the perfect gift for Christmas, Birthdays and other events. I bought my significant other a ‘Surprise Me’ subscription for part of his Christmas offering. He loves the fact that it continues for 12 months and that every month a pack of carefully sourced and roasted beans arrive in the mail. We have tried an astonishing range of coffees from Redber so far that we wouldn’t have had the knowledge to choose ourselves or indeed access too if we had stuck to supermarket offerings. Other subscriptions include choosing your coffee by origin or blend and by roast profile. Going away? you can pause your next date or change frequency of delivery. This flexibility isn’t found with other similar services so it’s a great selling point here.
For those new to fresh coffee brewing at home they have a comprehensive range of coffee makers, which they will happily guide you through. To compliment these; grinders, storage canisters and filters are also on offer. In addition to this Redber also runs tasting and cupping courses. It’s a great introduction to the fine art of coffee and an insight to how coffee is tasted and graded by buyers before purchase. Important, as the taste of coffee varies so much between plantations, geographical locations, altitude, levels of light and shade it helps set the price the coffee will sell for.
For commercial customers there are a variety of options too. Larger bag sizes, bean to cup machines, maintenance products and expertise and advice. It’s clear from its small beginning this company has slowly grown to be a major provider of quality coffee in the area. There are other roasters in Surrey too and even more online so they have to stay competitive to survive. This they seem to do extremely well. Their ethos of roasting, packing and despatching in one day is admirable and gives them a unique selling point.
This is a welcoming enterprise that clearly loves their product and it’s really intriguing to see coffee from so many different countries all under one roof. Our last bag that arrived was a Brazil Santos described as being full bodied, sweet with low acidity with a smooth finish. Coming from the lighter range of roasts (our preference) it delivered on all counts. But on my last visit I could also see coffee from Panama, Sumatra, Columbia, Ethiopia and Uganda. Talia who was showing me around commented on the Redbers commitment to work with charities that are associated with coffee too particularly Ugandan Bukonzo.
It turns out that a local charity based in Shalford just outside Guildford was looking for a local roaster. Getting in touch in 2013 Alison the founder was looking for a company to roast her Ugandan Bukonzo coffee beans. Her charity ‘Seeds for Development’ helps farmers plant coffee on land shared with them. Each farmer gets half and acre to grown coffee on and a starter pack of 100 coffee seedlings. The project has already achieved some of its founding aims by building a school and a toilet block for the farmers children. The children have meals cooked for them on site and the school has 320 pupils and six teachers. Redber is proud to have been involved with this project buy giving a proportion of the sale price of each bag of Ugandan Bukonzo coffee to the charity.
This is a friendly coffee loving business with real expertise in their delivery of fantastic end product. Go for a first visit and you’ll be offered a 125g bag to take home and sample but its impossible not to go back for more. It’s a brilliant way to buy coffee as its open kitchen style presentation and intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted bean activity provides the perfect backdrop while you savour a fresh brew. My blog is all about independents and this is a perfect example of one that has got all the elements right.
Go and see for yourself its worth the trip!
This article first appeared in Essence of Surrey Magazine in March 2017 for whom I write a monthly column on local artisan food producers.