Stopping for coffee in London? Stop here
e were in Rebels Alliance (see p48), chewing the fat, drinking really good coffee. “It’s from Dark Arts,” says Dean, who owns RA. “They’re just down the road. They’ve got a cool cafe as well as the roastery – and they’re all bikers too…”
So we popped around to check it out. It was buzzing: bikes outside, packed with people inside, five staff working flat-out serving a range of trad English breakfasts and vegan delights washed down with copious amounts of the Dark Arts.
The business, in Homerton near Hackney, started in 2014 with a chance meeting of like minds. Brad was riding around London on a purple Honda CB750 F2 and was encouraged by a mate to go the Trip Out – a laidback, old-school custom bike and hot rod gathering near Bedford – where he met Colin.
“We started talking up the idea of opening a coffee business. I was working in a coffee shop in Shoreditch and I could see the coffee thing was taking off but all the coffee brands in the UK seemed the same. It was the stuff going on in the States that interested me, people like See See Coffee Motor Coffee Co in Portland, Oregon and Flat Track Coffee in Austin, Texas.
“When I looked at them I thought, ‘I could have a crack at that’. I’ve been riding bikes forever and there’s things about their two businesses that fit me.”
Brad didn’t copy either but instead came up with a unique atmosphere where Americana meets motorcycles in a coffee roasting shop. They invested in a brand new roaster from the States which they put in one railway arch with a couple of tables and a sofa. Since then they’ve added the cafe, which is only open on weekends because the table space is needed for packaging the roasted coffee during the week.
“We buy from intermediaries who deal direct with farms all over the world,” says Brad. “In the long term, I hope we can deal with the farms direct. We get sent samples, which we roast and then taste. There are high levels of skill involved to pick out the flavours and then accentuate them in your roasting.”
Dark Arts have the potential capacity of roasting a ton per week and they supply 40 shops in London but how can Dark Arts achieve Brad’s heady ambition of producing the best coffee in the world? “It’s about gaining experience,” he reckons. “It’s also about sacrificing the margin to make sure we get the best coffee to the best shops. Even some of our customers tell us the price is too low but we know how hard it is for them to keep going with the high rental on premises and the constant staff turnover. We want to help our customers and if that reflects on us in a positive way then that’s good for our business.”
The cafe at Dark Arts is called ‘I Will Kill Again’. It’s another success story. “It’s priced well and people come from all over,” says Brad. “When we opened here we wanted to create a space that was a bit of fun, somewhere to relax and somewhere to go for good food, and great coffee. We’ve ended up being flat-out.
“We get lots of people in here on bikes – we’re on the Saturday ride route. People do The Bike Shed (p8), then Bolt and stop by here. Plus we get people on bikes just because it’s a place to stop off. They know there are lots of girls here and the reason there’s lots of girls here is because of the guys on bikes!”
The bike element is an important part of Brad’s life. He’d been riding motorcycles since he was a kid and his dad was always on bikes too. Brad reckons the roads around his hometown of Napier, New Zealand, are the best he’s ever seen.
“When I lived there I had a 1979 Z750 Kawasaki twin which was a great bike – until I stacked it in a gorge. My dad had owned the bike in his late 20s, sold it then managed to buy it back later. He and I rebuilt it – I wish I’d paid more attention and learned more. I can fiddle with a carb and that’s it.”
Brad then worked in banks in NZ when he was in his 20s and he quickly realised that wasn’t the life for him.
“I dealt in mortgage debt – it was a horrible, depressive job. I came to England five years ago and after a fledgling career as an illustrator I didn’t know what to do so I took a job in a coffee shop.” That’s when he started getting interested in customs which led to being at the Trip Out event and meeting Colin. Talk about fate…
‘Brad came up with a unique atmosphere where Americana meets bikes in a coffee roasting shop’
Not Nescafe When a cafe roasts their own coffee beans, you know you’re in for a treat. Bosses Brad (left, long hair, beanie) and Colin ( Destroy hat) supply 40 shops around London. And yes, their cafe is called ‘I will kill again’