Darkroom Espresso

A lovely latte-art swan in a flat white from Darkroom Espresso.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.

You can read more of my thoughts after the gallery.

  • Darkroom Espresso on Swindon's Faringdon Road, looking, from the outside, very dark.
  • I suspect the A-board looked better before the 20 minutes of torrential rain!
  • Ah, that's better: a view of the front door. From the inside. Where it's dry.
  • There's also a back door, a convenient short cut to/from the car park.
  • Darkroom Espresso, as seen from just inside the back door.
  • Despite the name, it's pretty bright inside, particularly at the front.
  • There's a choice of seating, including this bench in the window to the right of the door...
  • ... and these two comfy chairs in the window to the left.
  • There's also a pair of tables, one on the left and this one, on the right.
  • Next, on the left, comes the counter, with co-owner Arthur & barista Steve hard at work.
  • Opposite is an old church pew, with a pair of coffee tables & a neat magazine rack underneath.
  • Carrying on, there are these two tables beyond the counter on the left...
  • ... and, just where it narrows before the back door, this table with benches and chairs.
  • There's one more table, with a pair of benches, on the right-hand side, after the pew.
  • Darkroom, defying its name, has plenty of natural light front and back, plus lots of bulbs.
  • Up front, on the left, various bulbs hang from the ceiiling, all fed from a single point.
  • On the right, the lights hang more conventionally...
  • ... while at the back, they do away with the whole hanging thing altogether.
  • See what I mean?
  • More conventional lights, in shades no less, hang above the counter.
  • For some reason, I particularly liked these!
  • The walls are adorned with various works of art...
  • ... and maps (including the local area, Australia and the world...)
  • Anyway, down to business. Here's co-owner, Arthur, hard at work behind the counter...
  • ... along with friend of the Coffee Spot, the lovely Steve.
  • Plenty of coffee, tea and coffee/tea-making kit line the shelves behind the counter.
  • More shelves. With more kit. And more tea.
  • Underneath the shelves, to the left of the counter, a handy sign tells you what's what.
  • The filter coffee is bulk-brewed and stored in these handily-annotated flasks.
  • Meanwhile, the espresso machine has its own twin grinders...
  • ... with details of the coffee below.
  • There's a rotating single-origin on one and a (single-origin) decaf on the other.
  • Darkroom also has cake and a choice of (two) sandwiches: one meat, one vegetarian.
  • I suspect that there was slightly more cake earlier in the day...
  • I went for the vegetarian sandwich, toasted.
  • I followed this up with an espresso, Round Hill's Nicaraguan Finca El Cerro.
  • I call this the 'Instagram' shot. For some reason, shots from above do well on Instagram.
  • Steve then got me to try his special cold brew, an Ethopian Kochere.
  • Another Instagram shot. Yes, I am on Instagram by the way...
  • Finally, I leave you with a flat white (not mine) & a beautiful latte-art swan.
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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 07:30 – 17:30 Roaster Round Hill (espresso + bulk-brew filter)
Tuesday 07:30 – 17:30 Seating Tables, Armchairs
Wednesday 07:30 – 17:30 Food Sandwiches, Cake
Thursday 07:30 – 17:30 Service Order at Counter
Friday 07:30 – 17:30 Cards Amex, Mastercard, Visa
Saturday 09:00 – 17:30 Wifi Free (with code)
Sunday 10:00 – 16:00 Power Yes
Chain No Visits 22nd September 2015

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