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Coffee and a chat with Damian from Dark Woods

How long have you been in business and how did the idea start?

Dark Woods Coffee was founded in 2014 by myself, Paul Meikle-Janney and Ian Agnew, and we’d all been working in coffee for a good few years, and collaborating on projects locally. Paul was running Coffee Community, one of the UK’s first barista training schools and consultancy, Ian headed up the Lorna Young Foundation charity (working on development projects with small farmers in East Africa) and I’d been having all sorts of coffee adventures at the Bolling Coffee / Grumpy Mule roastery, which became a part of Bewleys UK.

We all liked the idea of a coffee roastery based in a rural setting, that took the very best aspects from specialty coffee – hands on roasting, direct relationship sourcing and care and commitment to both wholesale and retail customers – and to make it very community focused, and as welcoming and inclusive as possible. We all lived near to each other in Huddersfield, with the Peak District National Park on our doorstep, so the choice of an old textile mill next to the river and canal seemed right for us. We wanted in to be a place that we could all enjoy coming to work every day, and hopefully the same for our staff too.

How did you come up with its name?

Paul had long appreciated both the imagery and craft associated with trees and with wood as a material, and it seemed fated that many of the local place names around Holme Mills, where the roastery is based, are very tree focused. So there is the Lower Wood, the Upper Wood and then the historic Dark Wood on the hillside above us. So this was a direct inspiration for the name.

The landscape around here can quickly switch to wild and moody and the name Dark Woods has always been a reflection of that, and an inspiration to our coffee range.

What’s your favourite thing about living in your town?

Huddersfield, with its valleys and villages, feel both intertwined and crafted by the weather and our industrial revolution heritage, so I love the historic architecture and sense of place here. It’s such an outdoorsy kind of area and the revitalisation of the old buildings, especially by those in the food and drink industry, have created a small, but thriving, local scene of food, art and crafts.

Where’s your favourite place nearby to visit?

On our doorstep, if you travel out of Marsden village towards the hills and beyond the Standedge canal tunnel there’s a beautiful little spot at Eastergate, with fast flowing streams and an old packhorse bridge – it feels like a magical entrance to the moorland above.

A little further afield and we’re relatively close to three of my favourite northern cities – Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds, so I’m often visiting them and seeing the constant changes and development, especially their maturing coffee scenes. And the revived Piece Hall in Halifax (an 18th century cloth hall) is particularly unique.

Do you have any local tips? Maybe there’s a hidden gem you’d like to share?

Our neighbour, Zapato, a taproom and cuckoo brewer is very much worth a visit, then in Huddersfield itself we have some great little independents that are well worth a visit, from Kwas natural wine shop to Vinyl Tap record store, Arcade Coffee, the Parish music venue and the Grove pub (we have a particularly strong line up of breweries and pubs in the area.)

Huddersfield is also worth a visit in November for the annual Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival – perhaps one of the few annual events that puts the town on the international stage.

Which is your favourite coffee/origin and why?

My taste and enjoyment of coffee changes on a weekly basis, and I’ve always been lucky to experience a huge range of origins, process styles and coffees with amazing background stories, from the classics like Colombia and Ethiopia to newer frontiers like Yunnan in China. And seeing and tasting the revival of heritage origins like the Yemen has been inspiring too.

But the one origin I’ve always been drawn back to is Panama, partly for its boutique and very forward thinking specialty producers but also for the sheer beauty of Boquete and its surroundings. It keeps me interested as I’m now seeing more of the very small producers in the background, who have some incredible farms and coffee but have never had the direct access to the coffee market.

What’s your favourite brewing method?

For me, anything based around a filter brewing method from classic hand brewing to a really well set up batch brewer.

But I still love the sheer variety of how coffee can be made, shared and experienced – there’s something inspiring about the traditional coffee ceremony in Oromia, Ethiopia. Coffee is very much about people and sharing, as much as the flavour experience itself.

How do you take your coffee?

Preferably in a mug (it’s definitely the most comforting way to drink coffee)

How did you come to work in coffee?

I stumbled into coffee completely by accident, as I needed some part time work after finishing University, and whilst contemplating a (very short lived) career in urban planning. Bolling Coffee – at the time one of the relatively few coffee roasteries in the UK – was just down the road from home and the owner, Ian Balmforth, took me under his wing. That was in 2001, and I never looked back. By 2003 I had the chance to visit origin for the first time (a whole series of BSCA coffee farms in Brazil) and that was an incredible experience, and the first of many journeys.

What’s life outside roasting like for you?

Fairly relaxed, so enjoying the outdoors, kicking a football, local food and drink and catching up with friends. And lots of music – at least one gig a week, and an ever increasing vinyl collection. One of the key points for establishing Dark Woods was that we would have a turntable and amp in the roastery.

What would you be doing if you weren’t roasting? Maybe you already have a side project?

It’s strange to imagine my life without roasting coffee. I love the fact our Dark Woods feels very much part of the wider speciality food and drink industry, and we’ve always been enthusiastic members of the Guild of Fine Food as much as the SCA, so I’m sure it would involve lots of great food, drink and people.

Where was the last place you travelled to?

I was very lucky to travel with Guus from DRW to Karnataka and Kerala in India in January. Visiting our supply partners Purnesh and Shankar (the family own the Harley and Kalledevarapura Estates) is always a pleasure.

What was the last book you read?

In truth, I just don’t read books any more; I’m more likely to pick up Mojo magazine. If I have that kind of spare time to relax I’d usually indulge in a film instead. Something by David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch…

What’s your biggest passion or love?

Friends and family

How and what do you do to unwind? Maybe you have a tip for our readers? Do you have a mantra you live by?

We’re back to the music on this one – either listening at home or heading out to a small local venue.

I’ve always been a big believer in chance and coincidence, and life gets better if you just throw yourself into lots of situations, get out and about, and get chatting to new people. Life’s much more fun that way, even if it doesn’t always go according to plan.

Check out the Dark Woods website here.