Head barista Ben Loebell pulls a shape for the slo-mo camera
A few weeks ago, we received an invite (on Twitter, no less – how trendy) from La Bottega Milanese: an authentic Italian-style espresso bar & speciality coffee shop in Leeds (anyone venturing into that beast of the (relative) south would do well to pay them a visit). They were hosting a cupping with Dark Woods Coffee – a newly established speciality coffee roaster in the north, with more than a few tricks up their sleeves, as time would soon tell.
Baltzersen’s head barista Ben Loebell was in London for the weekend, so it was up to barista-in-training Paul and Rob, the marketing managing, mild-mannered coffee enthusiast to check out what was going down with our fratelli. These two relative newcomers to the cupping scene were promptly blown away by what was on offer; as the relative authority, Paul was compelled to produce a detailed account of the events.
Dark Woods Coffee’s cupping @ La Bottega Milanese:
I’m all for new experiences in life, which is one of the reasons why I thoroughly enjoy both my job and coffee in general. There is always another coffee bean to sample, another brewing method to try, another piece of equipment to learn to use and lots and lots more information to take on board and understand.
Bearing all that in mind, the cupping that Rob and I attended at La Bottega Milanese in Leeds counted as an excellent day for me.
After recovering from the delights of the Falcon Speciality Coffee cupping at North Star Roasters a couple of weeks earlier; Rob and I were back in action once again; we had been invited to attend one of the inaugural events of the recently formed Dark Woods Coffee, based in Marsden. Dark Woods is a company comprising the expert barista skills of Paul Meikle-Janney and the experienced roaster Damian Blackburn.
The event was hosted by the genial Alex at the Bond Court branch of La Bottega Milanese, just a few minutes walk from the Leeds Station and took place during a relaxed Sunday afternoon’s trading at the far end of the café. What awaited us were six coffees that Paul and Damian were hoping would show off their prowess. From our own experiences, and from the feedback that we overheard, I could only conclude that they succeeded admirably.
I think it is fair to say that Rob and I were blown away by what was on offer. Given the individual and collective experience of Paul and Damian; expectations were high and yet despite this mine we’re utterly shattered. The flavours that came through throughout the selection were big and bold, but at the same time very much under control. Comments such as ‘this is the best coffee that I have had in a long time’ were commonplace; and I for one can do no more than echo such sentiments.
Furthermore, another aspect of the day that shone out for both of us and added a great deal to the experience was the educational element that both Paul and Damian bought to the occasion. Given that they were dealing with an audience ranging from experienced coffee professionals to enthusiastic amateurs; their clear and concise explanations of some fairly advanced coffee-related points were very concise and easy to understand for beginner and professional alike.
A good example of this would be their explaining the effect that growing speciality coffee at higher altitudes results in harder, denser beans; and this alters how much coffee has to be used/how it should be ground to get the maximum flavour out of it. Also, coffees grown at different altitudes have different flavour profiles; further details and a good illustration can be found here.
The star of the show for me was undoubtedly the Panama Natural because it was what I really like in my coffee – a wonderfully bold and balanced flavour profile, consisting of strong chocolate notes, lovely fruit flavours and a gently pervading floral overtone. Hoppers Heaven!
However, I would also advise you to watch out for the Geisha. Speaking to Damian after the event; he said to me that although he thought it was good, as a roaster there was more to come. Just when I thought the news could not get any better…
All-in-all my advice would be to keep a very close eye on Dark Wood Roasters. It is still very early days for them, but if they are producing speciality coffee ‘this’ good early doors; then I think the future can be looked forward to with great optimism and a healthy dollop of anticipation. Paul and Damian also said that they are planning on furnishing their headquarters with a small cafe. For those of you who are fans of the odd road trip; I suggest that this is one that deserves to be pushed to the top of the list.
So, thank you to Alex at La Bottega for inviting Rob and myself to his fine establishment; and well done to Paul and Damian for coming out of the blocks flying. Having attended three cuppings in recent weeks I can thoroughly recommend them to people of all coffee persuasions.
Ultimately, my passion for coffee stems from trying the final product in the cup. However, in my fledgling life as a barista I have been educated, humbled and thoroughly enthused by meeting some of those who work at various stages in the process of bringing me that wonderful final beverage. Independent coffee shops are on the up and up at the moment, but I think it is only fair to point out that there are many more behind the scenes who are also upping their game to raise the standards of the coffees that you find in front of you. Attend a cupping and you can meet these people, learn from them and undoubtedly increase your appreciation of coffee, both in terms of the drink and the industry as a whole.
These are exciting times.