As he sips a cup of aromatic flat white Darren Tickner can immediately tell the origin of the beans and how long the roasting process took – such is his passionate knowledge of coffee.
“I’ve always been fuelled by a love of it, but what particularly sparked my commercial interest was when the chains started to crop up in the 1990’s,” reveals the accountant-turned-business entrepreneur from Tunbridge Wells.
“I started to get really interested in what they were doing with coffee and why, in certainÂ places, it tasted so different. I would go round sampling each one’s offerings and give them marks out of ten. Since then I’ve always thought that I could do something with coffee and do it really well.”
While still working his day job, Darren launched the cleverly named Bean Smitten from a unit in Flimwell in 2014, and pretty swiftly swapped bean-counting for coffee beans full-time.
“Like many people, I started off thinking ‘well coffee tastes like coffee’. But then I realised there is a huge range of different varieties and taste experiences it can deliver. I also like the fact the roasting process is part art and part science and that appeals to my numbers background.”
After getting an independent coffee supplier called Falcon Speciality, based in Lewes, on board and learning how to professionally roast, Bean Smitten was soon up and running.
Right from the start Darren’s approach to getting his brand out there and into people’s coffee cups has always been about promoting quality coffee in a personal and friendly manner.
“I like getting to know my clients,” he says. “We now supply the likes of Sankey’s, The Black Dog, Chapel Place Wine Bar and The Salad House with an array of great tasting speciality coffees and I always try to deliver the product myself and have a chat. It’s important to do that and to find out what their customers think of our coffee. We also help with a little barista training.”
Does he have a favourite variety of bean? “I particularly like African coffees and one of my favourites is from Tanzania. When you drink it black it has berry-like flavours, it’s delicious.”
With Falcon Speciality’s help Darren recently put on a very successful coffee tasting at The Black Dog, which proves there’s a growing ‘scene’ in Tunbridge Wells and Darren is understandably very pleased about that.
“Two years ago there was practically nothing but it’s grown enormously,” he admits.
All the Bean Smitten coffee is traceable to specific farms, mostly organic, and carries the Rainforest Alliance certification.
“When I get the beans I have to work out what’s called a ‘roast profile’ and that’s all about how long and how quickly you roast for and the temperatures you use. By varying these it means you can get different styles of coffee and that’s where the precision comes into it all,” he says.
“We make all the adjustments by hand which is why we can say it’s hand-roasted coffee, but we do all the readouts by computer. So if we hit on a roast that we really like we’ll record the results of that and then use it to create the profile. Because the customers who buy coffee from us want the same blend again and again, so that’s where the maths and the technical stuff comes in.”
Darren’s accountancy skills have also come in handy for running this type of small start-up business and there are plans to expand.
“I hope to employ more people and our online business is doing well, but I’m still very keen on providing a good local service. My plans for the business are to be the go-to place for speciality coffee and to open the public’s eyes to another level of taste. We want to be a well-respected roaster in the region and to remain independent.”
BEAN SMITTEN’S TOP TIPS FOR THE PERFECT CUP OFÂ COFFEE
1. Beans keep fresher for longer so buy a small hand grinder and grind your own
2. Use filtered or bottled water. Tap water is often too hard or too soft to extract the coffee flavours optimally
3. Always use water just off the boil, otherwise you’ll burn the coffee and it will taste bitter
4. Start with a ratio of 60 grams of coffee to 1 litre of water
5. Brew time of around 4 minutes in a cafetiÃ¨re, or 2-3 minutes if using a filter
COFFEE & ALMOND BISCOTTI
The chocolate coffee beans in this recipe make these twice-baked biscuits really unusual
What you need:
80g blanched almonds
a pinch of salt
350g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 small strong espresso
2 eggs, beaten
100g chocolate coffee beans (chopped, if using chocolate-covered coffee beans as opposed to the type that are just coffee-flavoured chocolate beans)
2-3 baking sheets lined with baking parchment
What you do:
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C.
Put 1/2 teaspoon butter and the almonds into a small frying pan set over a low heat and cook until the almonds are golden and fragrant. Add the salt, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
In the meantime, put the flour into a large mixing bowl and rub in the remaining butter using fingertips, until it is evenly incorporated. Add the sugar and mix well. Pour in the espresso and stir in the eggs. The mixture should now come together to form a loose dough. Add the chocolate coffee beans.
Divide the dough into three even pieces and shape them into small logs. Pop them onto one of the prepared baking sheets and flattenÂ very slightly.
Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until firm and golden. Remove from the oven and leave to cool, but keep the oven on.
With a serrated knife, cut the logs into slices just under 1 cm thick and lay them flat on the remaining baking sheets. Bake in the still-warm oven for a further 10-15 minutes, until dry and crisp.
Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack to cool, store in an airtight container or cookie jar and eat within 1 week.
MINI MOCHA CAKES
These delightful chocolate cakes are a lovely way of serving cake at afternoon tea parties
What you need:
150g plain flour
125g caster sugar
100g soft light brown sugar
40g cocoa powder, plus extra for dusting
1 teaspoon baking powder
Â½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt, plus extra to taste
100g whole milk
75ml sunflower oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100ml hot coffee
175g golden caster sugar
3 egg whites
200g butter, softened
3 teaspoons instant coffee granules
2 x 12-hole mini muffin pans base-lined with baking parchment and greased
a sugar thermometer
a large piping bag fitted with a star nozzle
What you do:
Preheat the oven to 180Â°C.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda into a large mixing bowl.
Add the caster and soft light brown sugar and a pinch of salt. Make a well in the middle and add the milk, sunflower oil, beaten egg and vanilla extract. Add the hot coffee and beat well for about 2 minutes until smooth. Fill each hole in the pan to within 2mm from the top.
Bake for 20 minutes. Leave the cakes to cool in the pans for 2 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack until completely cold.
To make the meringue frosting, combine 25g of the golden caster sugar with the egg whites in a mixing bowl. Tip the remaining sugar into a small pan, add 75 ml of water and set over a low-medium heat to dissolve the sugar.
Bring to the boil and continue to cook until the syrup reaches 118Â°C (244Â°F) on a sugar thermometer.
Remove the pan from the heat and quickly whisk the egg whites at fast speed until they will hold a just firm peak.
Pour the hot syrup into the mixer. Increase the speed and continue whisking until the mixture has become cold and is whipped into glossy peaks. Dissolve the coffee in 3 teaspoons of boiling water and add to the meringue.
Gradually add the butter beating well between each addition.
Spoon the meringue buttercream into the large piping bag.
Remove the cakes from the pans. Slice the cakes in half, pipe a small amount of meringue buttercream on the base, top with the other half and pipe a swirl on top of each cake. Dust with cocoa powder.