An Interview with Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood

Thursday, 3 December, 2015

What was the moment that coffee captured your imagination?

A single origin Kenya espresso brewed by Taylor Browne in Brother Baba Budan on little Bourke street in Melbourne. It was an epiphany moment where I began to realise the culinary potential of coffee. The next day I changed jobs in order to start a career in Speciality coffee. That was 8 years ago and I haven’t looked back since.

I was there to watch the emotion on your face when they called out your name as 5th best barista in the World, you were in it to take the title, will you be back to try again? Is there still value in the competition for you?

The competition has been an amazing platform for me to be a part of. I feel privileged to have reached 3 world finals. It really allows you to engage with the global coffee community and to feed off of other amazing coffee people. Of course the top spot is the goal. I hope my face wasn’t that obvious… I was thrilled to be asked onto the WBC development board. The goal of this board is to evolve the competition moving forward. To hone what works well and to explore what doesn’t. The goal being to make the competition as relevant and valuable to the changing world of coffee. That means I won’t be competing for at least three years. In the future, who knows.

What has been your favourite moment in coffee so far?

Wow, what a question! I hate to be a spoil sport but this is unanswerable for me. Coffee is so diverse and multi-disciplinary and that’s why I love it so much. Whether its discovering something about grinding or tasting an intensely aromatic and unique coffee or getting to ready to start the timer at the WBC. Coffee is filled with special moments for me. The interaction with other excited passionate people is what often makes the most special moments. Long may it continue.

Most cafes align with just one roaster as their service provider, you have multiple roasters behind the coffee served at your cafe, Colonna&Smalls. Can you explain the philosophy behind this?

We got into coffee, got excited by its flavour potential and wanted to explore what was available. On top of this we wanted to offer customers an extensive and changing menu, multiple roasters make both of these things possible. Its been amazing for us too as we get to taste a broad range of coffee. We are still very particular about what we do buy. We cup and choose the best coffees we feel are available at the moment. We are about to start a roastery ourselves. We still want to continue to collaborate with other roasters as we currently do. For the new roastery we are going to focus on high scoring rare coffees.

Do you think that the very technical arch that speciality coffee is taking right now is sustainable or do you think it's a trend? Will the speciality world ever come back from weighing shots for example or do you believe that's the way it should be done?

Not only do I think its sustainable, I think its aiding and developing the industry. I think it’s a perspective thing. Coffee to me is still very romantic, it’s not being sucked of its beauty. I think It’s because things were maybe so under explored that It seems techy, when really I think it’s more craft focused than ever before. The barista craft for me is changing and its becoming more coffee professional. Maybe I’ve become spoilt but the idea of not trying to make the coffee taste its best every time upsets me.

Tell us the story of how you came upon your intriguing tamper and what eventually made you sit up and take notice of it?

I am lucky enough to have people get in touch with me regarding a variety of new products, In all honesty, most of the time I am not interested. For example Its often an attempt to get a quick endorsement. Pete, from Push, We call him Push Pete, sent a few e-mails and I didn’t really think twice about it, but after a skype call and getting to see it, I though wow, that’s clever. I tested it and chose to use it. He is able to make things to an incredibly high spec. For Seattle he cut a number of bases at varying diameters to get the best fit and experimented with edges etc of the base. He is in the process now of getting the product to market and I am pleased to have been able to showcase it. Watch this space as there may be new products on the way also.

What is exciting to you now about the speciality coffee world, as opposed to when you opened your cafe?

I think the natural development of speciality coffee to be more and more culinary whilst also focusing on its experiential aspect is super exciting. I think it’s just getting better and better. We are discovering more and the speciality sector is maturing. There’s better education, customer engagement, science, but we are by no means done. Its an awesome journey to be a part of, and a great time to be in coffee.

And if you had to nail down one attribute behind your success and the success of your businesses, what would it be?

I would say that for us, Its been about being just as interested in the little details as the bigger, grander concepts.

Beer is also one of our other passions, tell us a bit more about Colonna & Hunter and how it has progressed since opening it's doors last year.

It's been several months and its really found its identity. At its core its pretty simple. Draw and explore the similarities between the worlds of craft beer and speciality coffee by serving them side by side. For those not familiar with the two worlds it can seem a bit odd at first. But they are both primarily commodity products that harbour very specialist potential and exciting surprising flavour. We serve a bit of food too and have a paired back coffee offering compared to Colonna & Small’s with two batch brew filters and two espresso. But like Colonna and Small’s the offering doesn’t include a “house” option and both the beer and coffee change weekly. Its been a great project which has plenty of potential and I get to drink a lot of great beer!

If you liked this article, then you may also like these:

Got something to say? Then leave a comment!