Photos by Peanut Butter Vibes Photography.
No tattoos are required to pay a visit to Dark Arts Coffee Roasters, but you may be in the minority if your sleeves aren’t made of ink. Beards, flannel, tattoos, and gothic jewelry are aplenty inside the walls of the London roastery. Tucked in a railway arch in Hackney, one of London’s northeastern boroughs, the industrial neighborhood is a fitting backdrop for the motorcycles ridden by the staff and friends of the coffee roasters.
The roastery décor is a mix of Americana and artifacts from motorcycle culture and retro horror films. “We decided we were just going to encapsulate this business in everything we like,” says managing director Bradley Morrison of the quirky, even spooky decor. He says they looked at the modern, clean aesthetic common among coffee roasters and realized it didn’t ring true to who they were. “We felt that if we tried to emulate or fall into the current formula of what a coffee roaster is supposed to look like, we’d come across being somewhat fraudulent,” Morrison says.
Dark Arts Coffee Roasters launched in 2014, after an auspicious meeting between Morrison and director Colin Mitchell at a motorcycle festival the year before. Morrison had been working as a barista and wasn’t loving the coffee served by the shop. Morrison resolved that he could do a better job. “I approached the owner and said, ‘If I can set up a roastery, will you change your supplier?’” he says. The owner agreed, and Dark Arts got the start they needed.
A Diedrich IR-12 pumps out coffees with names like Stone Heart, Cult of Doom, Holy Mountain, Life After Death (their decaf selection), and Mother Tongue. Jamie Strachan, director of coffee, says there’s always a little wink to it. Each coffee bag sports a label claiming to “relieve fatigue,” and their house-made cold-brew is dubbed “Revenge: Best Served Cold.”
Depending on the day of the week, the roastery doubles as Dark Arts’ office and production space, as well as their newly minted café, I Will Kill Again. (The café operates only on weekends, while the rest of the week is reserved for coffee production.) The café is the brainchild of Talia Aitchison, who owns and manages the café. Morrison says Aitchison had the concept in her head for quite some time, inspired by difficulty she and Morrison faced looking for places to go out with friends that could accommodate various dietary restrictions. “Every time we’d ever want to go anywhere, there was nowhere that could cater to everyone. Literally nowhere,” Morrison says. “So we’d end up not going out to brunch and going and eating Vietnamese food.”
During the process of shopping around for a space to lease, Aitchison and Morrison decided to open the café inside the roastery. “We looked at rents and they were high, then the roastery was growing and people kept dropping in,” Morrison says. Wanting to give visitors a place to enjoy their coffee, I Will Kill Again was built in the corner of the roastery, putting out a menu made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients using just three electric burners and occupying a space of roughly twenty square feet.
“The café is something that’s completely taken everyone by surprise,” Morrison says. “We really thought it was just going to be mates turning up. We’re just getting absolutely smashed.” He says that people have really identified with what they’re doing, evidenced by the fact that the same crowd keeps showing up each weekend, and continues to grow rapidly. “After that third time or so, we were like, ‘What the hell did we just do?’” Morrison says, laughing.
On any given weekend, you might find a group of freshly tattooed teenagers wandering the industrial area near the roastery, in search of a killer coffee and brunch pairing. “We’re in a service lane, off the beaten track,” Strachan says. “A lot of people struggle to find us.” Once the wandering herds are guided to the magical coffee and an enticing café menu, they’re in for a treat. The Dark Arts crew slings espresso on a two-group Synesso Synchro, offering filter coffee as a V60 pour-over or batch-brewed on a Technivorm. The tiny café bar also houses a Mahlkönig EK 43 and a Mythos One grinder, as well as a Marco hot water boiler.
The menu at I Will Kill Again is predominantly vegan and vegetarian, and chef Rebecca Grace Lever makes many items in house, like the spicy chorizo sausage made from pinto beans. The café sources bread from Dusty Knuckles bakery in Dalston, and gets a lot of their fresh produce from Brockman Farms in Kent, which also supplies their biodynamic eggs. Dishes on the menu include avocado smash toast with chipotle ratatouille; a chorizo bun with beetroot, sauerkraut, and baked onion rings; and smoked pancetta with goat curd and oven-blushed tomatoes.
As much as the crew at Dark Arts and I Will Kill Again likes to have fun, they’re ultimately driven by their passion to produce quality products. The company hopes to grow the family, and seeks to roast and supply the best coffee in Europe. “We can have a bit of a laugh and whatever, but ultimately we do really like what we do,” Morrison says. “I just want to be able to keep doing it and grow our business.”
—Ellie Bradley is the editor of Fresh Cup.
For a great introduction to Dark Arts (and their humor), check out the video they made earlier this year.