“On the weather-beaten moors, on the outskirts of Huddersfield, where the Dark Woods Coffee was born”
We slowly drive on the edge of the Peak district, enjoying every moment of snowy hills until we reach Huddersfield – a small northern town with an astonishing landscape and a surprisingly good coffee scene.
Almost in the middle of nowhere we approach Dark Woods Mill where the roastery is situated and we are greeted by Paul – one of the creators.
The story of true Northern coffee…
Seconds later, with a few swift moves around the coffee machine we are sat with drinks in our hands, slowly acquainting one another. With a coffee bar, roastery and people working around us, we delve into the story of how Dark Woods Coffee came to life.
‘”The first time I came to Huddersfield was to study hospitality and catering… and to do some climbing of course!”
But let’s start from the very beginning.
Beginning of Dark Woods
Passion, Experience & Independence…
“And so it was time to do our own thing, to have the freedom to experiment with the finest beans”
Before Dark Woods Coffee came to life all three owners, Damian, Paul and Ian, were exploring coffee in different parts of the world. You name it – they have seen it.
With the first cup of coffee almost finished, Paul quickly sets up a V60 to make sure we don’t run out. In the mean time we start realising how much experience, dedication and long relentless hours of work Dark Woods guys have put into their business.
“Last week we were reviewing Speciality Coffee Association standards for both Europe and US. There is a big quality change these days and it’s a great sign”
It’s rare to meet a person who talks about such achievements so casually. Paul is not only a part of Speciality coffee Association (SCAE) education committee, but also managed to snatch a few awards himself. Throughout his career he worked and consulted many coffee retailers, machine manufacturers, dairy companies and many people in the coffee industry with Coffee Community LTD.
With Jazz music playing in the background and a constant supply of coffee, we talk about the core Darkwoods team. Damian has been working in the industry for about 15 years being a roaster, cupper and coffee buyer and extensively exploring South America and India. He judged in 6 Cup of Excellence competitions and is a regular Great Taste Awards judge. But probably the biggest influence is with micro-roasters across the globe working on coffee quality, ethical sourcing and customer service. Attention to detail and quality seemed to have an influence on their own Probat equipped roastery, which is a sight to behold!
Meanwhile, Ian worked in Namibia to create community enterprises and develop eco-tourism. Upon his return to UK he worked with Lorna Young Foundation improving small farmers in developing countries. Ian has accomplished a variety of social enterprises with charity organisations, including Farmer Radio programmes in African countries and working with Oromo refugees from Ethiopia.
With the right attitude, passion and respect for the industry, the three decided to put their heads together and create what’s now Dark Woods Coffee.
“Precious little was available in the North of England, and we wanted to be inclusive rather than exclusive and support, advise not only coffee specialists, but also anyone who wants to learn”
The Mill & Roast
History, Quality & Soul…
“Nestling in the West Yorkshire Pennines, on the banks for the River Colne and alongside the Huddersfield Narrow Canal we are surrounded by dramatic moorland, dry stone walls and reminders of the area’s heritage”
The Mill was built in 1850s and is now newly renovated, with many other great businesses around. Dark Woods have created an open space roastery and cafe which makes you feel inspired. Coffee bags from all over the world, two fabulous roasters, a coffee bar and a fresh coffee scent in the air continued to distract me away from conversations.
With coffees from Africa, South America and India and so many varieties, I couldn’t resist asking what the most interesting destination is that the coffee comes from.
“We even get coffee from places like Yemen and try our best to support farmers. Which can be difficult at times due to conflicts in the country”
Dark Woods have established a direct relationship with farmers from Brazil, Colombia, Panama, India and many more countries, but admits that sometimes you need to find other ways to get it, especially in cases like Yemen.
“It didn’t look like that when we got it, it had a complete makeover and restoration, but the soul is still there”
For an exceptional coffee you will require exceptional tools. Two actually. But let’s start with Probat UG-22. I can talk about the techniques and software that are used during the coffee roasting process, but the most interesting story is the roaster itself.
Made in Germany in the 1950s, it has probably seen more coffee beans than any other machine in existence! It was eventually found in Croatia by Dark Woods, but not in the condition that it’s in now. This gas-fired German innovation needed more work and it would probably have been easier to buy a new one, but the soul and history of the roaster just cannot be beaten. The brand new Probatone-5 next to it would seem to do most of the job, but that’s not the case. Most coffee from Dark Woods need to pass through UG-22 before it goes into customer’s homes. It’s amazing the way it looks today and the coffee tastes even better knowing how much history the roasting process has.
All about Coffee
Creativity, Respect & Partnership…
“I never understood when coffee shop owners or baristas say we need to educate the customer. If someone wants to know more they will and some people will just want a cup of coffee”
Our conversation expands onto the coffee experience and customer approach. Calling upon his experience in hospitality and catering, Paul adds that if customers want to learn they will and that you will be there to guide them, but educating them like children is not a good approach.
Supplying a lot of companies and coffee shops, Paul explains that concentrating on the whole coffee experience and not just the coffee is key. I personally tried Dark Woods for the first time at Eve’s Kitchen in Sheffield, where their Barista Nick recommended La Huella. It was a delight.
Now Dark Woods work with coffee shops like Mrs. Atha’s, La Bottega Milanese & Laynes Espresso in Leeds and Tamper, Bragazzis & Marmadukes in Sheffield. They continue to deliver their coffee outside the northern scene, creating perfect coffee batches and selling under different companies such as Liberty Coffee down south.
The creativity doesn’t stop there. Whiskey barrel aged Yirgacheffe Konga and a collaboration with Huddersfield’s Magic Rock Brewery to create a triple coffee porter that everyone loves in Sheffield! If you haven’t tried it yet – do it. The way both roastery & brewery teams came together is worth your attention.
“Panama Lot. 227 went on the auction for about $5000 per kilo making it the world’s most expensive coffee and we managed to get our hands on it”
A few years ago I heard about Lot. 227 and how complex the taste is. But I never knew I would be able to try it. And just like that Paul casually offered to make some. The coffee came from Ninety Plus Panama estate where it received the highest score ever of 97. It is truly a complex coffee, that in the same way as artisan wines, is worth nurturing and enjoying in small amounts.
The story about the journey, experience, passion, dedication and being so free to enjoy what they do, makes Dark Woods Coffee so special. There is just no way to write about everything in one story, but before I finish I just want to say that encounters like these makes me excited and passionate to write about coffee and the people that make speciality coffee happen.
And before we wrap it up here are some coffee answers from Paul:
- Favourite beans? At the moment my favourite are Ignasio Quintero from Columbia.
- Preferred brewing technique? Definitely Filter Coffee.
- Favourite drink? Filter or Espresso.
Thanks for sticking around!
Story and photos by Augustinas & Paul
Review of: Dark Woods Coffee
Speciality coffee Roasters, Holme Mills, West Slaithwaite Road, Huddersfield HD7 6LS