Dark Woods Roasters hails from Yorkshire, UK and is nestled between "dramatic moorland and ancient wood". Not the stereotypical urban warehouse many roasters find themselves in. The trio made up of Damian Blackburn, Paul Meikle-Janney and Ian Agnew have established a brand that makes exceptional coffee accessible to the masses. Doing away with the exclusivity stereotypically associated with third-wave coffee they've walked the balance beam of quality and inclusivity. They offer a range of seasonal roasts that "truly reflects what people want to drink" and they have the accolades to back that statement up.
Who is Darkwoods?
Darkwoods started life back in late 2013 as 3 friends who had worked on a variety of coffee projects together, and decided to set up a small roastery in the rural part of Yorkshire, UK, where we all lived. Paul was running Coffee Community, a long standing coffee consultancy and training school, Ian was working on projects with smallholder coffee farmers in East Africa and Damian was working as a coffee buyer, with hands on roasting experience.
The roastery is based in Marsden, close to the Peak District National Park, and we refurbished an old textile mill beside the local river and canal. We started roasting on a vintage Probat UG22, soon to be joined by a 5kg Probat. Darkwoods was named after a tiny area just up on the valley side from where we’re based, and we’ve focused on developing a roastery centred on direct coffee sourcing, quality, with an on-site training school, shop, event space and pop-up café.
SO, why do you roast coffee beans?
I think each of us has been lured by the magical transformation, the sights, sounds and smells, when you roast coffee. For me personally (Damian) I’ve been roasting coffee for nearly 20 years. I got into the industry by accident working for the local coffee roaster (one of only a handful at that time) and was given the opportunity to learn how to roast. Once I’d been lucky enough to visit origin and to see coffee being grown, harvested and processed and the incredible work being done in each of these unique places, there was no looking back.
What is the biggest challenge the specialty coffee community is facing in 2020?
Clearly the Covid pandemic is an overall threat to specialty coffee across the globe, but in some ways in exacerbates problems that already exist, especially in the supply chain. In 2020, coffee producers still face the challenges of climate change, fluctuating prices and rising costs of production, especially with access to labour for vital activities such as harvesting the coffee cherries.
Whether it’s local lockdowns, communities under severe health pressures or being able to find enough coffee pickers for the harvest, this could affect the long term viability of specialty coffee. This area of the industry is very niche, and exceptionally hands on and labour intensive working in challenging terrain and conditions. We can all play a part – from consumer, to roaster and beyond – to help producers through these very challenging times.
Where is your favorite spot to drink a coffee OR WHAT was your favourite place that you had a coffee?
DB: personally, I love to drink coffee outdoors, whether out walking in the hills or enjoying a breakfast mug of coffee when the weather allows! Just a chance to sit in the quiet and contemplate the flavours. But for me, drinking a cup of coffee on the farm where it’s been produced takes some beating. The cup really springs to life at that point.
What is your favourite & least favourite coffee trend at the moment?
A lot of coffee trends have positive and negative aspects, but they all help to progress the industry and our way of thinking and interacting. The science of coffee processing back at origin remains a key trend, and with experimentation and borrowing techniques from other industries (like wine) it can really push the boundaries of flavour and experience. And we’re getting lots more sweet, juicy, fruity coffees.
So on one hand this is great, and it also adds value to the specialty coffee sector, but as roasters we have to be careful not to take away too much choice for the coffee drinker. I know lots of people that really enjoy a full bodied, chocolaty cup of coffee and don’t want to drink an edgy, fruit-bomb coffee every day!
I just hope that we can continue to bring choice for coffee enthusiasts, both in the flavours in a cup of coffee but also the places where coffee can be shared and enjoyed. Life could well be changed permanently after the pandemic, so places that feel very friendly, community driven and safe but delivering a great coffee experience will be the ones that thrive.
Tell us about coffees featured in this month's box!
Kenya Twin River:
Many of the coffees that we buy are direct source, and we return to the same producer or producer group year or year to support what they do. But Kenya is a little different, and we’ll often trust long term export partners to find great examples from each harvest. Many of the larger coffee estates in Kenya have been under pressure for years, especially those near to Nairobi. The land has development value, and it can be a shame to see some great estates lost over time.
But this is one such estate that has survived some of those pressures, and this particular lot is a classic Kenyan coffee. Fruity, very aromatic with a delicious citrus tang.
Costa Rica Las Lajas:
I feel like I’ve known this estate for a very long time. It is a true pioneer of the specialty coffee industry, and the family have been very forward thinking in the way they harvest and process coffees, fine tuning and improving year on year. They are very much celebrated for fruit-forward, honey process and natural coffees with very consistent quality and beautiful flavour profiles.
This is a “red” honey coffee, leaving lots of the sticky sweet pulp of the coffee cherry on the beans as they slowly dry in the sun. A really complex, fun cup of coffee.
We love to present single origin espresso coffees, but we’ve always felt that having a blend that is very seasonal, focuses on the best of the best coffees from that time of year and isn’t too light in the roast has to be a good thing. It’s one of our team favourites, and we always try to ensure that it’s nicely sweet and balanced with fruity aromatics and lots of caramel notes.
Where is Darkwoods headed going into 2021?
We’ve really enjoyed our last 12 months, as we’ve become the first coffee roaster in the UK to be B-Corp certified, we were lucky to have won a Golden Fork in the speciality food and drink Great Taste Awards and have been investing in the roastery, our team and the space here. Covid has put a few bumps in the road, but (fingers crossed) in 2021 we’ll have a new roaster in place, and hopefully be able to return to have more pop up cafes, markets and food and drink events here at the roastery.
And sourcing and partnership is really important too. Travel and visits will be tricky, but we’ve already put contracts in place for coffee for 2021 with our core producer partners, but will continue to showcase more unique micro-lot coffees from across the globe.
We’re exceptionally lucky to have the customers and support that we do.