Express yourself . . . coffee and tattoos somehow seem to go together

Dan Hills is pictured at Paddy and Scott's in Bury.

Dan Hills is pictured at Paddy and Scott's in Bury. - Credit: Archant

Tat Dan, of Bury St Edmunds, was into body art long before his days as a barista. Words: Tessa Allingham Photography: Phil Morley

Dan Hills is pictured at Paddy and Scott's in Bury.

Dan Hills is pictured at Paddy and Scott's in Bury. - Credit: Archant

Dan’s coffee is a large black Americano with a cube of ice (“just to bring the temperature down a bit,” he explains), no sugar; he takes great gulps of it, it’s his fourth of the day and it’s not even teatime.

His foxy-red hair is buzz-cut short round the temples, the better to display a dagger tattoo. His beard is neatly trimmed ensuring that an outlined rose on his throat and big swirling letters that remind him to ‘swallow your pride’ make full impact. He pulls down the neck of his t-shirt and it’s clear there’s more art underneath. The tattoos that cover his whole right arm are clearly visible. He’s about to have an open-jawed tiger emblazoned on a patch of unadorned neck, and by summer his back will be covered too. There won’t then be much of his body that’s not tattooed, he assures me. I take his word for it.

In between gulps of coffee, Tat Dan, as he’s known locally, drops that actually he’s off to university in September to study archaeology. I regroup mentally.

“I’m really into history, I enjoy going to museums, thinking how communities and civilisations have been built and what you can learn about them from old objects. I do metal detecting – I found part of a Roman brooch on a field near Westley not long ago. I’d love to be an archaeologist.”

For now, however, Dan Hills is a barista at Paddy & Scott’s café in Bury St Edmunds. A year into the job, he loves it – he reassures Paddy that he’ll be back during uni holidays – and, thanks to his employer’s specialist training, has developed into a knowledgeable, competent coffee-maker.

“I like to really taste my coffee,” he adds, “so I love the Guatemalan made in the Clever Dripper – it’s a bit sweet, there’s some fruit and acidity. Sumatran is good too, darker, more earthy. For me, milk masks the flavour, I always take it black.” He does, however, indulge in the odd latte art contest with café manager, Dan Stocks, his signature pattern a fern as opposed to his boss’s tulip.

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Somehow the coffee thing fits with the tattoos – it’s cool, a bit indy. Dan gets it, though insists he didn’t have the art done to be on-trend.

“I just love body art, I had my first tattoo done when I was 16. It’s a way of expressing myself,” he says. His right arm (it took four eye-watering seven-hour sessions to complete at the Bury tattoo parlour) is an homage to his Romany gypsy heritage, a raven-haired gypsy girl wrapping round his bicep, the image running into a crystal ball, a curling, red-petalled rose and a horse’s head. Other elements – the eagle on the back of his hand, the spider’s web in his ear – are simply images he likes.

“I always think very carefully before having any work done. I’ll have the idea, then wait two months and if I still like it I’ll go ahead.” And yes, it does hurt, he says. I’m sure the discomfort is nothing that a decent single-source black coffee – with one cube of ice – can’t put to rights, though.

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