Interview: Paul Meikle-Janney on Dark Woods Coffee, Music and Design - MasterSounds

Interview: Paul Meikle-Janney on Dark Woods Coffee, Music and Design

Ryan catches up with Paul Meikle-Janney of Yorkshire based Dark Woods Coffee to discuss their shared interests of Music and Design, as well as hearing about the genesis of one of the UK's most renowned coffee roasteries.

After meeting at a MasterSounds demo event in 2020, Ryan struck up a friendship with Paul Meikle-Janney, one of the founding directors of Dark Woods Coffee, after discovering a shared interest in classic Deep House and Drum and Bass tracks from the 1990s. Ryan recently headed down to Dark Woods’ beautiful base in West Yorkshire to catch up with Paul and chat about coffee, music, and design.


Ryan: "I remember our chats about early LTJ Bukem, and finding Good Lookin’ Records promos
from Black Market Records in London whilst record shopping together. Winding back the
clock, how did you first get into underground music back in the day?"

Paul: “Music has always been an important part of my life from an early teenager. It helped to have an older brother bringing an eclectic range of records into the house (and who would later
open up a house and techno record shop in Bristol). Back then music was more tribal, and I seemed to fall into a gap between punk and hippy; seesawing between Joni Mitchell and The Clash! But by my late teens, I was monopolising the Sixth Form Common Room tape deck with Fela Kuti and Gill Scott Heron. Not exactly crowd pleasers for 16-year-olds in the 80’s!”

Ryan and Paul at DarkWoods

“It was only when I left home to go to Huddersfield Poly that my music polarised more fully to
jazz (and a few years later into deep house too). I spent holidays working in hotels in London
and during any spare time I’d go to clubs like the Wag and the Bass Clef, and scour the racks at
Soul Jazz Records (and Decoy Records in Manchester, when back up North).”
“I only started DJ’ing a few years later. By then a lecturer at Huddersfield Poly, I approached
a guy called Col, who was running a Northern Soul night, to see if he wanted to add in some
jazz. It was only a Monday night in the Union’s “Black Hole”, but it went on to be rammed
every week. 32 years later I’m still playing out occasionally; and still friends with Col (we linked up at WeOutHere Festival in August)”

R: "I know that you took steps from hospitality to focus on coffee specifically, but what were
your first experiences that sparked your desire to dive deeper into coffee and begin to build what we see today?"

P: “From a young age I had been interested in catering and hospitality, influenced by mum
taking her cooking qualifications at that time and peering into the Tupperware when she
returned from classes. That led me to do my degree in Hotel & Catering at Huddersfield
Poly, and despite spells in America and London, I was always drawn back there and the
surrounding moorland.”

Paul mans the decks at Dark Woods

“Years after I was running the commercial catering for the local council and we took on a
new coffee supplier run by David Cooper. David was very entrepreneurial and forward-thinking about coffee quality and training at the time, and I owe him a lot for kick-starting me
into coffee. The company we developed, Coffee Community, started just at the right time (24 years ago now), as the new wave of coffee shops hit the high street. Getting in at the start meant that I went on to advise many of the key coffee brands and assist in writing a lot of the educational material used worldwide today.”

The booth at Dark Woods

“Dark Woods came along later, back in 2014, as the three founders crossed paths. My
training led me to help a local company Bolling Coffee, where Damian was the head roaster and coffee buyer. He in turn was working on a project with Ethiopian refugees with Ian. Damian’s
skills in roasting, Ian’s expertise in social enterprise, and mine in barista training proved a
useful combination. Since then Dark Woods has gone on to win over seventy Great Taste Awards, including two “Golden Forks”, as well as becoming the second roasters in the country to become BCorp certified three years ago.”

R: "Fast forward a couple of decades, and it’s clear to see that Dark Woods has been put together with real attention to detail. The branding is certainly eye-catching, yet also
manages to capture all the warmth and calm comfort that a good coffee can bring. Can you tell us how ideas from style and design inspired the visual development of Dark Woods?"

P: “The name “Dark Woods” was inspired by the farmstead behind the mill we are based in. At
the time we wanted a name that reflected the melancholic moorland scenery we loved, and
this seemed to fit. It was also serendipitous that it provided a host of woodland animals,
trees, plants, and textures to draw from. Back as a lecturer at Huddersfield Polytechnic, branding was one of the areas I taught, but working with hundreds of different coffee companies in my “Coffee Community” days meant that I had a good appreciation of the world of coffee branding.”

Dark Woods Coffee

“This really informed us of what we didn’t want to do though. The specialty coffee industry
back then, and still today to a certain extent, focused on simple “craft” packaging with lots of
details about the variety, process, altitude, etc of the coffee. Information that would only be understood by a tiny niche of coffee connoisseurs – We wanted to broaden the appeal of higher-grade coffees through simpler language, broader styles, and attractive imagery and packaging.”

Dark Woods Coffee Packaging

R: "Stepping into your roastery, a retired textile mill nestling in the beautiful valleys of the River Colne, gives a feeling of an incredible achievement. What was the journey of finding, renovating, and designing the building like?"

P: “All three of us wanted to work in the tranquillity of the countryside and the Colne Valley’s old
Victorian mills provided the perfect, affordable, solution. The site had been a carding shed,
part of the old weaving process, but had fallen into very poor repair. Dull paint covered its
beautiful stonework and beams and there was no floor; the valuable stone flags had
already been sold. We started Dark Woods with very little capital, and what was not spent on the roaster itself, went on renovating the mill. But we could only do so much and it's taken nearly 10 years of organic growth to get us to a stage where we might call it finished.”

Dark Woods Roasting AreaR: "The wider setting here in the Yorkshire Pennines certainly must impact the work you do
too. How does the wider landscape affect Dark Woods?"

P: “It seeps into all we do really. How could it not when you open the doors to see the river
running at the back, people wandering along the towpath to go swimming in the reservoir,
others sitting in the woods opposite on our pop up café days or enjoying a beer from
Zapato, the brewery next door.”

R: "It’s clear that music is a big part of the Dark Woods experience, with live bands
performing and DJs playing in the roastery often, as well as taking Dark Woods Social to
music venues around the UK, such as appearing at Band On The Wall in Manchester. How does live music impact Dark Woods?"

P: “We only do what we love. No event is to make money but between the team, we have a lot
of musical interests and talented musical friends. The mill is such a great space, and so it’s
great to bring all of our interests together.”

Ryan and Paul behind the decks at Dark Woods

“Many of the team have extensive record collections (of all different tastes; jazz, electronic,
reggae, folk, drone, and onwards!) and so it’s fantastic to have our MasterSounds system to
indulge in while we work!”

R: "We’ve also chatted a lot about Jazz, from early Talkin Loud records, Art Blakey, the
prestigious BBE label, etc. I also noticed the Dylan Thomas reference for one of your
most popular roasts  ‘Under Milk Wood’. Could this also be a reference to the wonderful 1969 Stan Tracey Quartet album of the same name?"

P: "Our coffee called, “Under Milk Wood” started as a pun. It’s the Dark Woods coffee designed
to go “under milk”. But I do own a copy of the album as well!"

The decks at Dark Woods
R: "Finally, could you show us a favourite 3 Pieces of music on vinyl that define Dark Woods,
perhaps with a couple of your current favourite roasts to match?"

P: “Can’t really narrow it down to just three, so how about three in each genre!”

Three all-time favourites:
'Pretty Bird' by Terea
'Would You Believe In Me' by Jon Lucien
'Peace Go With You Brother' by Gill Scott Heron

Three jazz dance favourites:
'In Case You Missed It' by Art Blakey
'The Lope Song' by Eddie Russ
'In Celebration Of The Human Spirit' by Fuse One
'Black Renaissance' by Body, Mind and Spirit

Three house favourites:
'Want You In My Soul' by Lovebirds
'Sandcastles' by Jerome Sydenham & Dennis Ferrer
'Innocence + Inspiration' by Elements of Life

Three D&B favourites:
'Everybody Loves The Sunshine' Netsky’s rework
'I Adore You' by Goldie
'Horizons' by LTJ Bukem

Three hip-hop favourites:
'Officer' by The Pharcyde
'Aaah D Yaaa' by The Goats
'Carry Me' by Anderson Paak

Three reggae favourites:
'Big Big Pollution' by Barry Brown
'Falling' by Babe Roots
'Natural Collie' by Freddie McGregor

“And finally, my three favourites of our coffees (recently!)”
Under Milk Wood, our original espresso blend of Brazil, India and Ethiopia
Colombia - El Placer, Pink Bourbon Session Cultured. An amazing rose-scented coffee from Sebastian Ramirez
Colombia - Mikava, Carbonic Macerated Red Bourbon. From another star Colombian producer, Paul Doyle

El Placer Coffee


Thanks so much to Paul and the Dark Woods team. Follow them on Instagram, or check out their website to check out their current coffee range, as well as the news and events available.

Photography by Steve Lovatt.

Dark Woods product photography by Tom Kahler.

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