First Crack and a Good Grind at Dark Woods

June 1, 2015 / FairTrader

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 who worked for a large well-respected company, in charge of roasting coffee for some of the most prestigious accounts in the country. In the same village, Paul ran Coffee Community, 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 ethical company.

The tasting

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 roast using a burr grinder. We were told that a good grind is vital for producing a really excellent brew- uniformly fine for expresso and coarser for cafetieres. 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.

First hot water at 93 degrees centigrade is poured over the ground coffee in small bowls and left for 3-5 minutes to brew. The grinds float to the top and form a crust. We were then invited to give each variety a little stir and smell the aroma

Surprisingly some 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.

The crust is removed before tasting and we proceeded down the row of bowls with our teaspoons sampling each one, spitting out, and rinsing the teaspoon.

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.

Damian  first  visited  the Antioquia  region  of Colombia  back  in  2012,  meeting  the Andes  Co-operative  organization  deep  in  mountainous  terrain  outside  Medellin.

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 for details. Meanwhile you can buy it from the fair trader shop or via our website.

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