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Dark Woods Coffee was born on the weather beaten moors on the outskirts of Huddersfield. This simple northern town, has beautiful landscape, friendly locals and an unusual number of coffee companies!
That is how we all met; Damian 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 companies.
Through years of being involved in the coffee industry, judging world competitions, and working with some of the best baristas, we had all tasted and worked with some of the finest coffees around, but precious little was available in the North of England. And so it was time to do our own thing, to have the freedom to experiment with the finest beans, in a beautifully renovated mill nestling in the moorland landscape we love.
We want to be “inclusive” rather than “exclusive”. Roasting coffee that would be loved by the coffee specialist, but also appreciated by the general public, advising and supporting them through some of coffee’s more ‘challenging’ flavours and brewing techniques. This approach goes back down the supply chain as well, working in partnership with those who grow and supply the coffee we rely on.
Damian Blackburn has been working in the specialty coffee industry for around 15 years, as a roaster, cupper and coffee buyer.
He has travelled extensively to origin, beginning with a Brazil Specialty Coffee Association trip back in 2003 at the age of 23 and his first Cup of Excellence competition in Nicaragua in 2004. Since then, he’s been lucky to experience coffee production in Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Burundi and India amongst others.
So far he has judged in 6 Cup of Excellence and 2 Best of Panama coffee competitions, and is a regular Great Taste Awards judge in the UK for speciality food and drink categories. His key influences in coffee were the pioneering micro-roasters from the early 21st Century, particularly those in the US, Scandinavia and Japan, and their holistic approach to coffee quality, respectful sourcing and customer service.
He was first let loose on an electric Probat sample roaster back in 2002, and has since mainly roasted on Probats and a Loring Smart Roast before now roasting on Dark Woods’ vintage Probat UG-22.
Ian Balmforth and his family-owned Bolling Coffee gave Damian his first opportunities in coffee; working in their Yorkshire based Roastery, running the quality and retail departments and also sourcing their specialty and certified coffees.
He developed and looked after their Grumpy Mule coffee, brand and ethical initiatives from its launch in 2006 and worked closely with the speciality food and drink sector, particularly with the historic London grocer Fortnum & Mason. He was the UK coffee buyer for Bewley’s after they bought Bolling Coffee in 2013.
He loves football (a bit too much apparently), real ale and craft beer, hiking, travel and a psychotic array of music.
Paul’s specialism in Coffee began in 1999 when he started Coffee Community Ltd. Before that he had had a long career in catering, working in hotels and restaurants in the UK and US, lecturing at Huddersfield University, and being awarded an Acorn Award from the Caterer & Hotelkeeper Magazine in 1998.
Coffee Community are barista trainers and consultants for many major coffee retailers, machine manufacturers, dairy companies and other companies throughout the coffee industry, both in the UK and Internationally. In 2011, Coffee Community launched their IPhone/IPad Barista Training App.
Paul has had a long relationship with coffee education helping write the City & Guilds Barista qualification, and qualifications for the SCAE. He currently sits on the SCAE Education Committee and is chair of their creators group.
He has been involved in the World and the UK Barista Championship from the start. Being Head Judge for the World Latte Art Championship and the World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship for four years (after being a competitor, coming third in the World in 2006), for four years. He was a board member of World Coffee Events, who run the World Barista Championships, from 2011 -2012.
After all that it’s DJ’ing jazz and soul, then whisky to wind down.
Ian brings a background in international development and social enterprise to Dark Woods. Ian returned to the UK in 2006 from Namibia where he spent four years working with San (Bushman) communities in the Kalahari to create community enterprises, craft and eco-tourism ventures. Since his return, Ian has helped lead the Lorna Young Foundation, a small charity providing support and training to small-farmers in developing countries, mostly Africa.
The Foundation specialses in Farmer Radio training farmer communities to run their own local radio programmes. They have helped set up Farmer Radio programmes in Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, DRC and Burkina Faso, reaching hundreds of thousands of small farmers with vital agribusiness information, news and advice. Ian is now Chair of Trustees at the Lorna Young Foundation.
Ian has worked on a number of social enterprise projects in the north of England including helping to set up the Oromo Coffee Company with Oromo refugees from Ethiopia. He has run ethical enterprise training programmes for young unemployed people, and led several community engagement projects. Ian is a Fellow of the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship for Social Entrepreneurs.