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Scotland’s Larder: Richard Keeling and Jessica Jericevich, from Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk

As part of our Scotland's larder series we talk to a caffeine fuelled couple from Selkirk who are on a mission to improve the quality of coffee available in the Scottish Borders.

Published: January 26, 2021
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Three Hills Coffee Roastery is based in Selkirk in the Borders and is named after triple summits of the nearby Eildons.

The owners, Richard Keeling and Jessica Jericevich, were struggling to come up with a name for their business.

Speaking of this Richard said: "I think anyone who owns a company will know the pain of trying to figure out a good name.

"We had gone through millions of names before we settled on it, but Jess thought of it and it is iconic and a local landmark."

Richard is from Aberdeenshire but studied Zoology at Glasgow University but ever since then he said: "I have done all sorts of things."

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The career list includes, soldier, yachtsman (skippering the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust boat- Silurian) and teaching various things before settling on a career in coffee.

The other half of the duo is Jessica Jericevich (half Croatian, half South African), who studied Art Direction and Advertising in Johannesburg, before teaching in South Korea then moving to Croatia.

She explained that the couple met in Croatia through mutual international friends.

Bean there done that!

Richard confessed that it was cheap instant coffee for him at at university, but his first proper experience of real deal was MacBEANS in Aberdeen.

Jessica started drinking coffee at university but got her first introduction to roasted coffee in South Korea, when a roastery opened up nearby, and she said, "I remember thinking it was so cool."

When she moved again to Croatia she fully enjoyed the cafe culture there: She explained, "If you go to any market square you can't differentiate from one cafe to the next by how they look but what makes the difference is the type of coffee they sell."

Jessica Jericevich, from Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk

Jessica Jericevich, from Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk

In 2016 the pair set up Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk to try out the concept of artisan roasting in the Scottish Borders.

Jessica is delighted because now, "Selkirk is full of real enthusiasts, and we have really got the word out with people coming from further afield."

Richard added: "we both knew a lot about the subject and initially we talked to restaurants and cafes about supplying them with our roasted coffee, but within a couple of months we had to stop taking on new customers because everyone loved it so much."

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They had reached the capacity with their very small machine.

To expand they sourced a new hi-tech machine from Turkey but he said, "we didn't have enough room for it. It is very large, 6 ft tall and weights 1/2 tonne so we needed a bigger building."

The next step

Jessica said, "we were torn in two directions: do we find an industrial space and continue doing wholesale or do we get a presence on the high street so people can come and taste our products and we can showcase the high quality?"

They went down the cafe route and she said, "it has been the best decision we made. It has given us a space within the community and wonderful people have come into our lives, as well as giving us a lot of business.

Coffee cup artwork from Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk

Coffee cup artwork from Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk

Richard added: "for a brief period of time this bigger machine was in the second room of the shop but again we ran out of space."  So they had to hire a medium sized industrial unit."

After a year and a half they are again looking at expand again and are now in the process of buying another enormous new machine.

The couple have plan for a world class, state of the art visitor centre with lots of space for future expansion and bespoke training facilities to run their barista classes.

Richard explained that the beans are grown in countries near the equator around the Tropic of Capricorn, and that coffee is the second most traded commodity on the planet, after oil.

He said, "we are moving as much as possible to buy direct from farmers. The reason being, the more middle men there are, the less the farmers get.

"If you can create really good beans then you will get a much better price for it, from people like me."

The farmers harvest the coffee cherry, and the seeds inside are known as beans. After they have removed the outside layer of the cherry the beans are then dried and graded.

By the time they arrive at Selkirk they will be in 40 -70 kilo sacks and pale green in colour

Richard said these raw beans, "taste broadly of cardboard. So you can chew one or sniff it and they pretty much taste of nothing, it certainly doesn't taste of what you think of as coffee.

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"But the real magic comes when they get roasted."

Coffee time Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk

Coffee on the go for action man Richard Keeling from Three Hills Coffee Roastery in Selkirk.

Here comes the science bit

The roasting machine is Richard's domain, and he said "if you think of a turbo powered tumble drier then you won't be far off.

"It has a big drum with a heat source at the bottom of it with controls for flame, height and air flow and for the cooling system."

Timings and temperatures are very critical, with multiple sensors that tell him what is going on inside and with each type of bean there will be a slightly different recipe.

He explained the process takes between 13- 15 minutes.

"Green coffee beans go into the machine and they are heated and tumbled so they don't burn. You can alter the speed of the drum. They will then turn yellow and lose their moisture before changing colour to light brown.

"At the 12 minute mark they will crack a little bit like popcorn but not quite as loud, he said.

"When the beans have completely dried out they start to expand with thousands of chemical reactions. He said,"so there is quite a lot going on there.

"At this point the reaction becomes exothermic so temperature change becomes crucial and at this point and you can easily end up with a big black burnt problem.

"You need to jiggle the airflow and temperatures whilst keeping a very close eye on it."

Richard can sample small amounts to look, smell and listen to the beans to judge exactly when it is ready.

He added: "Finally, the whole load comes flying out of a big cooling pan at the front, with a lot of smoke and steam. It is the cooled by powerful fans and a stirrer quickly to stop them cooking.

"That is coffee roasting in a nutshell. I've done pretty much nothing else for 5 years now so I am pretty much in a routine now, but continuity of taste is what you are after."

Education, education, education

The couple are keen on barista training for all their wholesale customers and staff, even before they actually hand over any of their precious coffee.

Jessica explained the benefits, "they are representing both their company and ours, as a brand.

"We learnt that the hard way, I don't think people are aware that extraction of coffee through a espresso machine is an extremely volatile process.

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"So there is a strict method of how to get the best out of the drink. If it is made too quickly, you get under extraction, and too slowly results in over extraction. Both of those things will make it taste absolutely terrible."

Richard added: "it is very easy to take great coffee and mess it up."

Raw green coffee beans

Raw green coffee beans

They also happily run workshops for private coffee enthusiasts, who perhaps have been given their own machine, or who just want to learn a bit more about it.

The training lasts between three and five hours, Jessica said these sessions "are really fun and we get to drink a lot of cups."

During them they try to stress just how much time and effort the farmers put into producing their crop; hand picking the cherries, processing and grading them, so that by the time they come to Selkirk they are ready to be roasted to their best possible potential.

Jessica said: "then it all comes down to the barista to carry it over the line.

"At this last stage it can either go well or be destroyed. We then go through the theoretical stuff and I'll explain how the extraction works, just so everyone understands the basics.

"Then we get everyone tasting, so they can truly appreciate how excellent our stuff is."

They also run separate latte art workshops.

The couple are remaining cautiously optimistic about 2021, although they had planned to be married in June last year and they have had to reschedule.

So they are now looking forward to reopening the shop as soon as they are allowed, but in the meantime they are still selling their wares direct via their online shop.

Jessica explained: "we are constantly trying to find interesting new tastes for our customers to try but we are really hoping for more growth next year. Rich and I absolutely love what we doing with our lives."

Richard added: "We started this company with the goal of trying to improve the quality of coffee in the Borders and five years later, we actually think it is starting to happen.

"There are some really encouraging signs, so maybe give us another five years to really see what we can do."

 

Three Hills Coffee Roastery

23 High St,
Selkirk
TD7 4BZ

01750 22322

• READ MORE: Scotland’s Larder: Bryce Cunningham from Mossgiel dairy farm

Scotland's larder: Bryce Cunningham from Mossgiel dairy farm

Catriona is based in the Scottish Borders and works as part of the audiovisual team at the Scotsman but she reviews restaurants for Scotland on Sunday and writes for Scotsman Food and Drink in her spare time.

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