Darkhorse Espresso

The Darkhorse Espresso sign, white writing on a red oval.Darkhorse Espresso is the brainchild of husband and wife team Neil and Sarah. It opened in the summer of 2013 and is a little off the beaten track on Exeter’s Magdalen Road. I say “off the beaten track” but it’s all of a 20 minute stroll from the centre. However, Exeter is sufficiently small that it feels a completely different world from the first two stops on my Exeter coffee tour: Devon Coffee and Artigiano Espresso.

However, it’s definitely worth the walk. It’s also worth your perseverance as you go past the local shops and a few cafés before they peter out, leaving you to wonder if Darkhorse is down here after all. Then, just as you are questioning your faith in Googlemaps, there it is!

There are many excellent reasons for taking this stroll. For a start, Darkhorse gets its coffee from London’s Ozone, which makes a change from Origin, the roaster, which, with the odd exception, seems to dominate Exeter. There is also tea from Tea Nation and cakes from another of my Exeter favourites, The Exploding Bakery. Add to that a quirky interior and a wonderfully warm welcome from my host, Sarah, and you’re onto a winner.

June 2016: heard the sad news that Darkhorse Espresso has had to close.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Darkhorse Espresso on the other side of Magdalen Road, Exeter.
  • A view in through the window. You can clearly see the window-bar.
  • Nice sign.
  • The A-board promises much...
  • ... as does this blackboard.
  • Stepping inside, this is the view to your right.
  • A closer view, with the counter on the left and the window-bar opposite.
  • Straight ahead of you is a large, communal table.
  • While at the back, double-doors lead out to a promising space...
  • The bar next to the communal table.
  • Talking of bars, the window bar in close-up.
  • I liked this bench/pew next to the door. What's with the underground signs?
  • I also liked this old clock which was used for punching cards (to keep track of workers).
  • Hmmm... Silver Moose Espresso anyone?
  • Good use of the ceiling beams :-)
  • I do like a nice takeaway cup. To look at, that is!
  • Nice sign...
  • And, talking of which, here it is!
  • If coffee's not your thing though, there's also tea.
  • Nice box!
  • Mustn't forget the cake!
  • So, here are the beans...
  • ... and here's the grinder?
  • Well, maybe they use these instead... The guest espresso is the one on the right.
  • Choices, choices...
  • My espresso came in this classic earthenware cup...
  • My white chocolate and raspberry bakewell slice from The Exploding Bakery.
  • Look what else I found! The pefect pairing :-)
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Neil and Sarah cut their coffee teeth over many years in Toronto and when they came back to the UK, they missed the coffee scene so much that they decided to start their own coffee shop.

As you do.

The result is Darkhorse Espresso, bringing great coffee to the east of Exeter. In many ways it’s an ideal location, away from the centre, where there is already a good selection of independents to do battle with the chains. In contrast, the eastern end of Magdalen Road is an interesting mix. It’s out beyond the local shops, but the whole area is on the up. There’s a nearby school, new housing is being built and, next door, Exeter University’s medical school is expanding. Darkhorse very much has the feel of a neighbourhood coffee shop waiting for the neighbourhood to grow up around it!

The shop itself is an ex-DIY/hardware store. It’s L-shaped, with the door in the corner of the “L”. The counter, with a long window bar opposite, are to the right as you come in (bottom of the “L”), with a long communal table and another bar along the left-hand wall ahead of you (top of the “L”). At the back, double doors lead through to an interesting space, best described as a breeze-block lean-to. However, great things are planned for this space, hopefully opening in the spring, so in this instance it’s literally watch this space!

Another neat feature is the tin ceiling which was imported from Florida, making a nice contrast to the wooden floor. As well as the long window at the front, multiple spotlights make for a bright interior even on a dull, grey day.

The last time I recall coming across Ozone Coffee Roasters was at London’s Four Corners and I remember liking it then. I started with an espresso, which came in a classic, thick-sided earthenware cup. It was smooth and dark, with a hint of bitterness, very different from the Origin I’d been drinking earlier in the day. It also came with a glass of water as default, always a good sign. As well as Ozone, Darkhorse carries a guest espresso and a decaf blend, both from Bristol’s Clifton Coffee Company while I was there.

I followed my espresso with a decaf piccolo. This was quite big for a piccolo, but it was just the size I was looking for (I was having a picky day when it came to the size of my coffee). The decaf was the same bean that I’d had at Clifton and is also being used by Extract Coffee Roasters to supply the Boston Tea Party. As well as being an excellent coffee, the milk in my piccolo had a lovely structure (despite Sarah’s protests that it was too foamy).

I rounded things off with an almond, white chocolate and raspberry bakewell slice from The Exploding Bakery, which was very fine. The white chocolate gave it sweetness, while the cake was the perfect consistency. I’ve always liked The Exploding Bakery’s cakes (and, in fairness, the coffee too) and I was sad that I wasn’t able to pay it a visit on this trip, so this was the next best thing.

Darkhorse is also running events, having already hosted a very popular cupping evening with Andy from Clifton.

135 MAGDALEN ROAD • EXETER • EX2 4TN
www.darkhorseespresso.co.uk +44 (0) 7825 397663
Monday 08:00 – 16:00 Seating Bars, Communal Table
Tuesday 08:00 – 16:00 Food Cake, Soup
Wednesday 08:00 – 16:00 Service Order at Counter
Thursday 08:00 – 16:00 Cards Cash Only
Friday 08:00 – 16:00 Wifi Free (with code & login)
Saturday 11:00 – 16:00 Power No
Sunday CLOSED Mobile 2G, Voice
Chain No Visits 23rd January 2014

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