Darks Coffee Roasters. The Container: 294 Turton Road, New Lambton, Monday-Friday 5:30am-2pm, Saturday-Sunday 7am-12noon. 48 Watt Street, Newcastle East, Monday-Friday 7am-3pm.
Blending the profiles of Trent Alder and Adam Hills creates a perfect depiction of the Novocastrian coffee entrepreneur. Every imaginable aspect about the art of café and restaurant hospitality in this city can be traced back to a time and a place that these guys have lived in. From when the pinnacle of suburban sophistication was a latte out the front of Milano’s to the heady days of award-winning wine lists at Bacchus on King Street, Hills and Alder have been there, won that.
The gathering of their diverse experience over the last few decades is a fascinating story in itself. But even more impressive is how they have applied their expertise to build a lasting and visible presence in the local coffee scene.
Long before a couple of Newcastle baristas had their inconspicuous shipping containers shut down, these two opened one up on Turton Road - in the car park of the Knights’ stadium.
The coffee poured from this location and another one on Watt Street in Newcastle East has been brought to you by Darks – the Mayfield roastery established by Hills and Alder in 2015.
In this short time their coffee has found its way into some of the noisiest grinders in the city. Barista Miss in Lambton and Darkhorse Espresso in Wickham have both established themselves as bustling coffee spots on the strength of blends created by Darks.
When a talented barista I know opened her first café early last year, it was these guys that she turned to. Hills and Alder could have delivered her a few boxes of beans and a couple of free aprons, but they’re just not those kind of blokes. On her first day of business she ran a Darks blend through a brand new La Marzocco machine that the boys had thought to organise for her.
In this short time their coffee has found its way into some of the noisiest grinders in the city.
It is this sort of commitment to the bean, and the customer that enjoys it, that turned my quick visit to their roastery last week into an intensive three-hour coffee cupping session and a vague plan to fly to Sumatra.
Inside a bespoke laboratory, adorned with every imaginable piece of brewing equipment, and research books, was a table lined with roasted samples from Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia and Panama.
After a brief revision of the coffee taster’s flavour wheel – a sacred diagram around which all afficionados plot the characteristics of their origins – we all tested the intricate components of their freshly roasted samples.
With the enthusiasm of young students coupled with the knowledge of eccentric coffee boffins, Hills and Alder circled the table between each slurp, sipping water and loudly praising the farming practices in Honduras.
If this all sounds ritualistic and slightly strange, it is probably because it is. Cupping has traditionally been the practice of clean-palletted industry connoisseurs with commercial and professional motivations for grading one bean over another.
In other words, Hills and Alder.
But what was once the province of the roastery back rooms in the big cities is now being expertly done by two unshaven mates in a Mayfield warehouse.
Makes me think we must have come a long way since Milano’s.