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Fair crack and a good grind at Dark Woods

Updated: Jan 16, 2019

A small group of Fair Trader members gathered recently to taste coffees for our new Fair Trader brand at Dark Woods Coffee near Marsden, a few miles from the shop. Dark Woods was started last year by three locals: Damian worked for a large, well-respected company, in charge of roasting coffee for some of the most prestigious accounts in the country; Paul ran Coffee Community in the same village, providing barista training and consultancy to some of the biggest coffee brands worldwide, and Ian, based in the next village, was fighting the corner for the coffee farmers, running a number of charities and an ethical company.


Our session started with a quick tour of the premises – a combined roastery, barista training centre and café in a lovely converted mill by the canal. Ian explained how some beans are roasted and then blended, and others blended first, depending on their characteristics. Roasting times and temperatures are critical and different for every variety and blend. The experienced roaster can hear when the roast is ready by a faint crackling sound, known in the trade as the first crack. Darker roasts are given a little longer – known as second crack. It must then be cooled fast to avoid over-cooking.


For a little start-up, Dark Woods are amazingly committed to minimising their environmental footprint. 650 solar panels on the mill roof provide electricity and they are planning to install a woodburner to provide space heating which will consume old wooden pallets and other waste generated on the adjoining industrial estate. A cyclone removes chaff released from the beans during roasting and this is used for composting by a local permaculture unit.


The cooled beans are then roasted using a burr grinder. We were told that a good grind is vital for producing a really excellent brew – uniformly fine for espresso and coarser for cafetières. Quality grinders are expensive and we are now thinking about installing one in the shop for the use of our customers. This would also improve the freshness compared with selling pre-ground coffee.


Surprisingly, the flavours were quite different and each of us had their own favourites. We tried Indian, Brazilian, Sumatran, Columbian, Peruvian, Bolivian, and Tanzanian. Some of the same varieties were available roasted both to first and second crack so we could taste the difference.


Tasting involves taking a sharp intake of breath just over the surface of the coffee to ‘spray’ it onto the tongue – preferably without choking to death or dribbling it down your front!

During the tasting we heard about the family estates and co-operatives that Dark Woods buy from. Some are organic, Rainforest Alliance or Fairtrade certified, but the cost is not practical for some family smallholdings.

All, however, operate on an ethical basis and the Dark Woods team have got to know and trust them over the years they have been visiting coffee growers around the world.


Our members left having learnt a great deal about coffee and having selected our new ‘members roast’ to be launched later this year.


You will soon be able to visit Dark Woods and sample their wonderful coffees when their café in the roastery opens later this year – see their website for details. Meanwhile you can buy it from our Fair Trader shop in Holmfirth.

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