For almost as long as I’ve been writing the Coffee Spot, my friend Sharon has been nagging me to visit Swindon. Initially, there was the well-regarded Cafelicious, but that closed down (the owners going on to open Cotswold Artisan Coffee in nearby Cirencester) before I could get there. Oh well, I thought.
Then, in 2014, two coffee shops opened within a few weeks of each other: Monday’s Coffee Spot, Baila, and the subject of today’s Coffee Spot, Darkroom Espresso. Darkroom almost didn’t survive long enough for me to visit: set up by Anglo-Australian couple, Andy and Jacky, our wonderful Government decided to deport Jacky (the Aussie), almost destroying a much-loved small business in the process.
The good news, however, is that Andy and Jacky were able to sell Darkroom before they left to Arthur and Will, co-owners of Oxford’s Brew, who took over this summer. These days you can find Arthur behind the counter, along with good friend of the Coffee Spot, Steve, the only man to get me to visit a Harris & Hoole…
Darkroom gets all its coffee from the nearby Round Hill Roastery, with single-origins on espresso and bulk-brew. There’s also tea from Cardiff’s Waterloo Tea.
March 2019: some excellent news! For a little while, it looked as if Darkroom was going to have to close, but I can confirm that from today, it’s under new ownership, with old friend, Steve, stepping in to take over the place. If you’re in the area, do pop in and say hello!
You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.
From the outside, Darkroom Espresso looks, well, dark. However, in contrast to Monday’s Coffee Spot, Baila, which really is quite dark, Darkroom defies its name and is quite bright inside, even on the rainy day I paid it a visit. Darkroom is so named, by the way, partly because the dark art of extracting espresso is somewhat akin to developing film in a darkroom…
Long and thin, Darkroom is all windows at the front. There is also a door right at the back, which adds to the natural light. The rest of the décor is predominantly white (with the exception of the concrete floor), which, along with numerous light-bulbs, all adds to the bright interior.
Darkroom is remarkably uncluttered, which helps give it a sense of space. There’s seating in the bay windows which flank the recessed door (a bench to the right and a pair of armchairs to the left) then there are two tables, one on each side. Beyond that comes the counter on the left, opposite which, against the right-hand wall, is a long church pew with a couple of coffee tables in front of it. By now you’re more than halfway down the store and yet it feels as if you haven’t really started yet. Beyond the counter, on the left, are three more tables, while on the right a solitary table completes the seating options.
All the coffee is from Bath’s Round Hill Roastery, which, famously, doesn’t roast any blends, head-roaster Eddie preferring to find a single-origin with the taste profile that he’s looking for. Darkroom takes Round Hill’s seasonal espresso, plus decaf, which is supplemented by a further two single-origins on bulk-brew filter (although if you ask nicely, you can have a hand-poured V60 as well). When selecting the coffee for bulk-brewers, Steve tries to ensure that one is always a washed coffee and the other a natural. While I was there, the options were a Guatemalan Finca El Pilar (washed) and an Ethiopian Kochere (natural).
However, I was in the mood for espresso, which was the Nicaraguan Finca El Cerro (also washed). This, it turned out, was very intense and bursting with fruity notes. Unfortunately this was a bit too much for me in an espresso, although I suspect I would have liked it through my Aeropress or mellowed a little in a flat white.
Steve also got me to try his special cold brew. Interestingly, Steve starts his cold brew off with a hot water bloom, before moving to a cold drip process, something I’d not come across before. Regular readers will know that I really struggle with cold brew, having never found one that I really like. This was one of the more interesting ones, certainly quite drinkable, but still with that underlying cold brew taste that I just don’t like. Sorry, Steve.
Darkroom has a limited selection of (very tasty-looking) locally-baked cakes, plus two toasted sandwiches, one vegetarian, one with meat. I had the veggie one: mozzarella and roasted vegetables, a lovely lunch and a great counterpoint to my coffee.
As well as catching up with Steve and Sharon, I was also delighted to meet with the person behind the We Love Darkroom twitter account, which was set up to help Andy and Jacky in their battle against deportation. Unknown to me, a couple called Annabelle and Rich were also there: I ran into them again in Reading when I was at C.U.P. Fortunately they recognised me and said hello! It’s a small world.
December 2015: Darkroom espresso was a runner-up for the 2015 Best Neighbourhood Coffee Spot Award.
|11 FARINGDON ROAD • SWINDON • SN1 5AR|
|www.darkroomespresso.com||+44 (0) 1793 976266|
|Monday||CLOSED||Roaster||Round Hill (espresso + bulk-brew filter)|
|Tuesday||07:30 – 15:00||Seating||Tables, Armchairs|
|Wednesday||07:30 – 15:00||Food||Sandwiches, Cake|
|Thursday||07:30 – 15:00||Service||Order at Counter|
|Friday||07:30 – 15:00||Cards||Amex, Mastercard, Visa|
|Saturday||09:00 – 17:00||Wifi||Free (with code)|
|Chain||No||Visits||22nd September 2015|
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