Dark Woods Coffee, Holme Mills, West Slaithwaite Road, Marsden, HD7 6LS – Visit Now
Review by Chris Patrick
Merry trills of clarinet fell through the cold, bright space of the new platforms at Victoria Station. The man with the clarinet and the man with the banjo would also be on the train itself, swaying along in time with the carriage – ‘Sunny Side of the Street’ indeed. This had all been specially arranged by Northern Rail to show off the range of interesting places you can get to on their service.
Who knew you could get to Marsden, for example? Obvious to some, perhaps, but not to me – I’ve always kept to my side of the Pennines, for fear of meeting someone with a lot of integrity and telling them I review cafes. I had also been wondering whether there was still such a thing as a grand day out. Half-way through the journey of my life, perhaps finding myself in Dark Woods Coffee Brewery would answer the question.
As the stations were announced, details were given of their local food hot-spots. Ashton-under-Lyne, where you can visit Lily’s vegetarian Indian restaurant. Stalybridge – where you can try out the beers from the Tickety-brew Brewery.
Then, here were the hills, popping up suddenly on exiting a tunnel, catching November sunlight on their gritty surface. What the hills, austere in green and modest tracery of frost, made of the cheeky strumming banjo I don’t know, and I suppose they will never tell us. The clarinet interjected with ‘You Are My Sunshine’. I noticed the uprightness of houses in Yorkshire. They build them like that right up to the border.
‘Picturesque’ doesn’t do service to the winding stone street under a horizon of peaks
Greenfield – where you can try the Station Brew Cafe, where dogs are welcome. Then Marsden, where we got out. Damian from the brewery proudly led us through the streets. Of course ‘picturesque’ doesn’t do service to the winding stone street under a horizon of peaks. It was a natural place to hold an Autumn. There was a derelict mill that looked Byzantine.
We were led at a bracing pace along a canal, arched by trees, then the Sparth reservoir opened up beside us. Some crows flew parallel to a train that followed the canal, as if all things led to the Dark Woods.
Then we were at the Colne Mills Complex where the brewery is set up, and the jazz-men from Silk Street Jazz appeared again, filling out an impressive working space full of industrial coffee roasters and stacks and stacks of coffee beans.
They had laid on a pastry selection from Roger’s Bakery. I had a poppy-seed light ciabatta with olives and sausage baked into it, and the largest croissant I have ever seen. As we know there are two types of croissant – the kind you get in France, which are alive, and the kind you get from supermarkets, which are dead. This one was alive, and I would have grabbed more plus some of the wonderful-looking brioche except I wanted everyone else to have a go too.
I ate these things whilst glancing at a complicated diagram about coffee with labels saying ‘Over bitter’ and ‘Under sour’ and arrows pointing to a sweet spot in the middle. I had a good feeling about this.
Being the sort of person that likes to relax with a Dario Argento DVD, I decided I was going to bite the bullet and go for the hardcore option
There was a choice of coffees to try. Now, being the sort of person that likes to relax with a Dario Argento DVD, I decided I was going to bite the bullet and go for the hardcore option – ‘Espresso Arboretum, Citrus & Brown Sugar’ – but for those of you at the back there were also plenty of softer options and even some teas.
I breathed in the espresso before drinking. There were probably about five levels of aroma. To drink was to open each of these out, like a
wave breaking over a shore. Like eating a proper steak on one day in a week of sad patties, it reminded the distracted mind of the intensity of the real deal.
I don’t think I’ll be able to take a chain coffee very seriously now. I mean I’ll give up trying. As an influencer, I would like to influence you towards making your next coffee a Dark Woods coffee, either at the brewery itself or at a cafe they supply such as Bloc Toast in Holmfirth, or Loafers Vinyl in Halifax.
There’s the taste of the coffee of course, but also the oncoming effect of the caffeine which deserves its own consideration. Supposing that, after drinking a chain coffee, you feel about ready to press control V a few times on a spreadsheet; after drinking this coffee, I felt I could probably help Northern save on diesel fuel by pushing the train back to Manchester myself. I found myself doing some doodles in my notebook which came out as more or less exact copies of Zurbaran’s devotional paintings. To be clear, this is the kind of rush that will help you achieve chiaroscuro with a ball-point pen.
After drinking this coffee, I felt I could probably help Northern save on diesel fuel by pushing the train back to Manchester myself
I looked around me at my fellow critics and prize winners. They all looked pretty satisfied. The music flowed around them. Saucers full of crumbs stacked up and dozens of empty cups. I saw plenty of smiles.
Ian from the brewery gave us a talk about coffee. Good coffee is the world in a cup – a mixture of beans from as far apart as India and Brazil to get the right blend. I knew this already but I didn’t know about the difference between ‘washed’ and ‘natural’ beans. In the former process the coffee cherry is separated from the bean using sluices in water, getting a more acidic edge, whereas in the latter process the whole cherry is put out to dry so that the fruit sugar gets into the bean. Buying from different farms and blending the two in proportion gives the brewery precise control over the nature of the resulting drink.
Ian then began to talk about the most expensive coffee in the world. It’s called 227, and caused a stir when it hit the world market. An awful lot of thought had gone into each stage of the farming process. Dark Woods had bought some. After that, the bean received its rating from the International Standards Organisation.
So what did the most expensive coffee in the world taste like?
Coffee is scored from 1 to 100. 227 scored 97, the highest score ever. Withdrawn from sale and put to auction, it ended up costing $5000 a kilo, making it too expensive to sell in Europe. While we listened, some sample cups of 227 were being set out for us at the counter, gratis.
So what did the most expensive coffee in the world taste like? I won’t try to outdo any expert tasters. I’m going to say that it tasted like honey.
This was followed by a demonstration of the roasting machines. I couldn’t quite make head or tail of it but what you need to know is that our hosts, who had talked about ‘being one with the machine’, reminded me of the engine-drivers at live steam events. What I’m saying is you’re in safe hands.
Speaking of that, Dark Woods also do as much as they can to help the environment and the coffee farmers they buy from. Their coffees are ‘relationship coffees’ which means they do things like advising the farmers on how to build terraces to stop soil erosion, and they work with Cafe Femenino to give women coffee-growers assistance.
Dark Woods also do as much as they can to help the environment and the coffee farmers they buy from
Feeling after all this that yes, it was still possible to have a grand day out – to recap, I had seen wonderful landscapes, heard some buoyant melodies and had experienced the largest croissant in the world (probably) followed by the best coffee in the world (probably) – and with something of a mental map of places you can try just by getting a Northern train (look our for the downloadable Rail Trails from their website and expect much more in the new year), I strode out of the brewery and went home.