Review #14 – Dark Arts Coffee

Today, let’s take a walk on the dark side.  Or as we sometimes quote around the Snob household –

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Dark Arts Coffee are based in Hackney in London, and have been in business since 2014. Their blurb on the site reads “We had visions of funnelling the profits into a cult based on our love of the occult, bikes and all things unholy” and I am totally down with that.  Coffee, the occult and motorbikes? Where do I sign up?

For future reference, as well as being a coffee lover, I love motorbikes as well.  I am the current owner of a 2005 plate BMW R1200RT, a huge, mile-munching tourer that I semi-regularly ride to Scotland and back.  But anyway, once again, this is a coffee blog and not a biker blog so let’s move on!

Dark Arts

Dark Arts have eight different coffees on offer at the moment that break down into one decaf, one geisha and six other regular coffees.  Prices range from £8 to £19.50 depending on which variety you choose. with an additional £3.30 in shipping for a 250g bag.

  • Dead Flowers – Ecuador – £15.00 (Out of stock at time of writing)
  • Eat the Rich (Geisha) – Costa Rica – £19.50 (Out of stock at time of writing)
  • Goat – Colombia – £9.50
  • Life After Death (Decaf) – Colombia – £8.00
  • Lost Highway- Nicaragua – £9.00
  • Maggie May – Kenya – £12.00
  • Satan Lives – Bolivia – £12.00 (Out of stock at time of writing)
  • Scarlet Woman – Rwanda – £9.50

Lost Highway is the seasonal espresso so, as that’s the closest to a house blend they had on offer, that’s the one I went for.  As is reassuringly common in these reviews, I encountered no issues at all when placing my order and my coffee was not only shipped same day, it arrived the day after.  You can’t get any fresher than that unless you go knock on the roastery door yourself.

 

Let’s talk packaging.  While the box isn’t quite letterbox friendly and did come inside additional packaging to protect it in the post, I’m adoring the design. It was almost a shame to cut into it! It’s just a lovely, well made thing.  Full marks for both the design, and the blurb on the box and label.  Love it!  Getting inside, we have the actual bag with the beans.

What’s the catchphrase?  “Business up front, party in the back?” The unexpectedly cheerful sticker made us chuckle.  Again, we have a twisty-tie bag but my feelings on them are well known by anyone who reads this blog so I won’t bang on about things again here.

So we’ve got nice packaging, a straightforward website with some lovely music/movie inspired coffee titles, but how was it to drink?

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Again.  Argh, again.  I hate damning coffee with faint praise but here we are once again.  This coffee was…okay. Just okay. I had some problems getting it dialled in, I will admit, but there was this lingering sharp note I couldn’t quite get rid of no matter how much I fiddled with the grind and the amounts.  I’m starting to think that chocolate notes are ones I need to be wary of, my luck seems very hit and miss with them.

It is interesting how many of these coffees are so much better in a hot water based drink as opposed to milk.  In a latte this was almost overwhelmed by the creaminess of the milk.  The sour note was gone, yes, but you were left with a drink that was just kinda…generically coffee flavoured.

Now this all said, I don’t regret the purchase, it was far from terrible, and I’ll definitely be ordering from these guys again as I love the ethos and the packaging.  Maybe I’ll try the Maggie May instead, I rather like Kenyan coffee.  If/when I buy from them again, I’ll be back with a re-review.

Next month, though, we’re going to be looking at a little shop in London called the Algerian Coffee Store.  If you’re ever in Soho this place is worth a looksee.  But is their coffee any good?  Guess you’ll need to wait and see!

TTFN.

Intermission – A Coffee Cupping Experiment!

Hello again, lovely people, and welcome back to my ongoing journey to true coffee snobbery.

Before I pick up the reviews, I wanted to talk about the coffee cupping experience we attempted a few weeks back!  We had four coffees on offer from three different roasters. One each from PocoEspresso and TAP Coffee, and two from Dear Green.  We found that the instructions on the Dear Green card left room for confusion in the instructions, for example on things like how fine to grind the beans (I ended up grinding too fine. Oops) but we went on and we tried it out anyway!

So, a quick explanation before we go any further.  What is coffee cupping and why would you do it?  Basically it’s how they analyse coffees to put those tasting notes on the bags that you buy.  It’s how they check the aroma, the taste, the body, all that good stuff.  Sort of like wine tasting, you’re not necking entire glasses/mugs, you’re taking sips from spoonfuls to see what tastes hit your palate.

You can find a really good description/explanationof cupping at Has Bean’s site HERE

So, back to our attempt.  We ended up consulting the actual SCA guidelines at one point to see how they compared to the instructions that came with the cupping kit to double check if we were doing things right and….wow.  That’s a whole new level that I have yet to even come close to attaining so in truth Dear Green did a really great job of breaking down an immensely detailed process into something that fit on the back of a postcard.

Here’s a few photos from that weekend!  Huge thanks to my friends Rob and Carole, and to my wife (the one wearing the Progress Wrestling hat) who really isn’t that much of a fan of coffee but stepped up to give it a try all the same.  You can see from her photos that she really wasn’t a great fan!

So we quickly found that we had broadly similar opinions about the coffees, though we disagreed over which of the Dear Green offerings was better.  For a while the kitchen was full of slurping, and debates about exactly what we could taste with each coffee on offer, with much consultation of the flavour wheel printout (also supplied in the cupping kit!) till we came to a consensus.

Ladies and gentlemen, your winners in order from left to right!  PocoEspresso won hands down.  A lovely coffee in every way!  The Dear Green’s were a solid second and third, but when it came to the TAP Coffee…It’s a very strong, very distinctive taste, mixed berries assaulting your tongue like you’ve just taken a swig of forest fruit squash and then gulped some coffee. It was just way too weird for most of us, though that was actually the one my wife preferred over all the others (as per usual, we agree on nothing!  This has been a long running thing)!

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Closing thoughts?  It was a fun experience, something a little different for us all to try! Would I do it again?  Probably, if I had friends round to make a bit of an event of it. I don’t think it’s something you’ll see me doing all that often, I’m content to just make my cups of coffee and write about it rather than go through this somewhat more convoluted process.

That said, I hope you’ve found my little experiment educational!  You can pick up one of the cupping kits I used from Dear Green HERE.  I went out and bought some more of the cupping bowls myself, you can get them from eBay and Amazon for not a great deal of cash.

That’s it for today, I’ll be back with a review of Yallah Coffee!

TTFN.