This article is part of our Hot Beverages Digital Feature.

Britain’s coffee habit is growing. Sales through coffee shops have surged 10.7% to £7.2bn in the past year, says UCC Coffee, supplier to Britain’s biggest high street names and retailers. 

The growth has prompted UCC to spend £2.5m on increasing the capacity of its Dartford coffee roastery by 50%. The plant can now roast 12,000 tonnes of coffee a year, making it Britain’s biggest. 

And Brits aren’t content to knock back just any old cup of Joe these days. “Knowledge of coffee has increased and people are more aware of different origins and blends,” says David Alexander, senior national account manager at UCC Coffee.

“The growth and expansion of coffee shops has driven this but we are even seeing places such as McDonald’s and Greggs focus more on their coffee offering, with the former including it as part of an advertising campaign.”

Food service isn’t the only focus for UCC. And the company, which supplies own label coffee to a number of the multiples and branded coffee for Lyons and ThreeSixty⁰, notes that tastes are getting increasingly sophisticated in the grocery market. 

“People are becoming more confident in coffee preparation at home and more people are starting to get into grinding their own beans,” says Alexander. “In terms of the retail market, beans are where the growth is coming from – after pods of course – but from a very small base.”

He also notes increased interest from consumers in where their coffee comes from, which is creating a shift away from blends and into single-origin coffees. There is space for retailers to tap into this further, adds Alexander. 

“Waitrose, for example, has 10 to 15 origins in its range but some of the other mults only have a few,” he says. ”When it comes to blends, French and Italian are the most popular, I think becasue of the strength of the Illy and Lavazza brands.”

How does UCC keep Britain in coffee? And what does £2.5m buy you in a coffee roastery? We sent deputy category reports editor Amy North to UCC’s Dartford to find out…


The raw material: First, UCC grades unroasted beans to determine their suitability on four criteria: size; shape; quality and the thickness of a layer known as silver skin on the beans. Too much silver skin can cause the beans to ignite during roasting and impair flavour. 

The test roast: The beans are roasted in a mini-roaster until the ‘first crack’, the minimum level of roasting, similar to the point at which a a kernel of corn pops. UCC has two graders who then experiment to determine the optimum level of roasting for each batch of beans. The longer the roast; the darker and stronger the coffee. 

The cupping: Eight hours after roasting, the beans are ready for brewing. In the process known as ‘cupping’, the quality, flavour, aroma, body, acidity and sweetness are assessed. To grade the aroma of coffee, a spoon must be pushed across the crust that forms over a cup. 

Don’t forget to slurp! As with wine, aereating the liquid on the tongue release the full flavours of coffee. The best way to do that is to slurp! Only once the cuppimng process is complete, does UCC buy a batch of beans in bulk. 

The shipment: Once approved, the green coffee beans are shipped into Tilbury Docks where they are stored until required by the roastery. UCC Coffee has up to 80 types of coffee from all across the world, which are used to create 200 blends and 400 SKUS.

The new kit: UCC has shelled out £2.5m on a new Probat drum roaster, which has increased capacity by 50% to 12,000 tonnes a year. The beans are fed from silos into the roaster, one of two at the facility. The Probat provides a more gentle roast than the older model, and is able to roast 320kg within 13 minutes. 

The finished product: Once roasted, the beans are cooled and quality tested. They are then sent for packing (via the grinder, if needed). They are then packaged up ready for shipping to a variety of retailers, independent coffee shops, pubs and restaurants.