WHILE tea may be the traditional British brew of choice, the high street tells a different story.

Coffee houses dominate, with national and international chains opening branches at an incredible rate.

But holding its own in East Lancashire is the Exchange Coffee Company, with stores in Blackburn’s Fleming Square, Wellgate, Clitheroe, and Skipton, as well as cappuccino bars in Blackburn and Todmorden.

Even the arrival of a big chain coffee shop in the Clitheroe’s town centre has not dented local support for the quirky three-storey branch, which sits over the road from Exchange’s head office.

General manager Richard Isherwood said: “When people heard they were coming to town last summer, they were coming in saying we will still support you.

“Clitheroe’s a proud town and very supportive of local traders.

“The big difference is that we have about 40 different coffees, and only about 50 per cent of those are made with a cappuccino machine. The rest are with cafetieres and the chains cannot compete with that.”

The sound of the fresh green beans as they drop into the roaster to clatter around in the dinky shop is somewhat soothing, as is the scent from the steaming, crackling brown beans as they drop from the machine — timed to the second as the natural sugars caramelise to create the optimum flavour.

As the machine stirs them to cool the freshly-roasted beans, the crackle subsides and the beans are ready to package to be ground on demand for the freshest possible taste.

Every roasted bean will only remain in store for up to 10 days.

And it’s a recipe which seems to be working as Exchange’s coffees have picked up more Great Taste awards than any other UK roaster.

Coffee originated in Ethiopia and the Yemen, from where it was exported to and grown in Java, then India and France — and it was from there that just seven plants were exported to Brazil, the country now synonymous with the drink, in the late 1700s.

When it comes to picking your perfect coffee, Richard explains there are similarities to wines.

“Coffee has two main characteristics,” he said.

“Body, or strength, and sharpness — like that of a white wine.”

We tried a Kenyan, El Salvadorean and Sumatran roast to identify some of these.

The Kenyan ‘white wine’ coffee hit the right at back of the tongue with it’s fruity tanginess, but the overall flavour was light, even without milk.

Medium bodied, the South American sample did have a more distinct coffee taste and the hit moved forward - and a touch of milk brought out some of the caramel flavours.

But it was the Indonesian Sumatran bean which hit the spot - the full roast tapped into the front of the tongue and, while Richard said it stood up to the addition of plenty of milk it made a really good black cup.

And that’s from a fan of the frothy coffee.

Richard joined Exchange from university, during the early 1990s jobs slump, as the company’s owner wanted to set up in Clitheroe but needed a manager for the Fleming Square cafe - which had moved from Blackburn’s three-day market after clothes stallholders began complaining about the smell.

“In 1991 in Blackburn, no one had heard of a cappuccino or a latte, then the whole coffee thing took off,” he said.

“Now we have 45 staff, with the cappuccino bars, and it’s great to be part of something and being instrumental in seeing it grow. I love coming to work.

“I only started drinking coffee aged about 18, the knowledge and passion grew as I learned more and more.”

And the coffee expert’s drink of choice: “Made in a cafetiere by choice, and from El Salvador is the favourite at the moment.

“But even I can only have one or two a day!”