Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood, co-owner of Colonna and Small's and Colonna and Hunter in Bath, has won the 2015 United Kingdom Barista Championship. Held over the past two days at the ScotHot Exhibition in Glasgow, Scotland, the 2015 UKBC nationals featured the top 20 competing baristas from across the United Kingdom, each of whom qualified for the nationals by competing in a series of regional heats. From the top 20 baristas in the UK, and then to the final six, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood now moves on to represent the United Kingdom at the 2015 World Barista Championship in Seattle, Washington (April 9th–12th).
This is Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood's third UKBC win, following wins in 2014 and 2012. On the international stage Mr. Colonna-Dashwood has excelled, advancing to the World Barista Championship finals in both of his tournament appearances, placing 6th in the world in 2012 and 5th in the world in 2014.
Experience is one thing, but that's not to say that Mr. Colonna-Dashwood is getting up there each year and turning in a rote, rehashed performance. Quite the opposite: his 2015 winning routine could not be more different than his past wins, focused as they were on pure coffee obsession and childhood flavor memories (2012) and the science of water, its effect on coffee extraction and flavor, and teachable moments (2014). Last year Maxwell's routine came replete with an iconic image, of the competitor donning a lab coat and wielding a lecture pointer, talking his judges through a science chalkboard crammed with notes. This year's routine has no such image, and relied not on gimmickry, but rather, a rapid-fire and intellectually jam-packed script.
Mr. Colonna-Dashwood served a coffee to his judges from Tolima, Colombia's Gaitana cooperative, comprised of 100% Caturra variety coffee. Neither of Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood's businesses are coffee roasters, and so the roasting of his 2015 UKBC coffee was handled by Notes Roastery in London, and personally overseen by roaster Candice Madison, herself a longtime competition judge. Milk in Colonna-Dashwood's cappuccinos was sourced from Ivy House Farm in Beckington, Somerset.
For a signature drink Colonna-Dashwood and his team, led by wife and collaborator Lesley Colonna-Dashwood, built individual ice blocks that wrapped around glass vessels. The effect here was to gently cool shots of espresso pulled by Mr. Colonna-Dashwood at the beginning of his routine. To these, he added a series of infusions made from pomegranate, black grape skins, cranberry, and walnut, finishing with a dash of brown sugar syrup and arrowroot syrup.
For 15 minutes on stage, Mr. Colonna-Dashwood pulled shots, broke the fourth wall with his judges, gave direct instructions towards the score sheet, and did not, for even one moment, shut up. It was an absolute delight to livetweet, a challenge and pleasure to document, crammed with minutiae and intentionality, every inch of it an internationally worthy barista competition routine. Playing to the score sheets—memorizing those damn things front and back, in fact—is currently quite en vogue among top barista competitors, and for good reason. This is a competition, after all. There's room for self expression up there on stage, sure, but don't you bloody want to win?
If our UK readers don't mind me borrowing from American sport, “You play to win the game.” Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood doesn't just want to win; he does win, and did so this year by daringly directly acknowledging the score sheets throughout his routine, and using those score sheets and his coffee as a form of shared language between himself and the judges.
Between a judge and competitor, score sheets can be a great yawning gap, a point of contention, and a sort of terrifying final judgement, with the head judge as a kind of macabre caffeinated St. Peter, wielding the ultimate, inarguable summary of your journey. But if you know those rules in and out, and bake them into your routine, the score sheets can become a kind of shibboleth: a common language and known set of phrases, knocking down the tower of Babel so that you and your judging panel can finally, assuredly, speak the same tongue. There's points in the rules, and the rules have a point. Good competitors know this, but great competitors—national champions like Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood—learn to speak the language with immersive ease and fluency.
The record-keeping necessary for advanced statistics and sabermetrics unfortunately don't exist for competitive coffee (yet!), but an inexact eye test tells us that, year to year, competitors who advance through tournaments perform at a higher and higher level each time. Having won the UKBC twice, and placed in the WBC finals in both ensuing world tournament appearances, we'll go out on a limb and say Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood is a favorite to make another WBC finals appearance this year in Seattle. Indeed, for all you punters out there, he may well be the smart money bet to win it all.
Heaps more UK Barista Championship coverage is available on our sister site, SprudgeLive.com, the Worldwide Leader In Coffee Sports.
Our coverage of the 2015 UK Barista Championship was sponsored by La Spaziale UK. All of our 2015 barista competition coverage around the world is underwritten by our partners at Urnex Brands and Square. This coverage has been produced in proud partnership with the volunteer heroes at SCAE UK.
Jordan Michleman is a co-founder and senior editor at Sprudge.com.