The 4th wave! Are we there yet? – Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood

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This week we are serving you another side of awesome with our newest coffee professional that took time to talk to us about his newest projects and give us their take on the 4th wave.

His name is Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood and has recently released a book called Water for Coffee, alongside Christopher H Hendon (computational chemist).

I first heard of Maxwell’s coffee mad skills while I was a young barista, around 4-5 years ago, when the famous Colonna and Small’s, was just opening, it was the Mecca of coffee shops to every aspiring barista.

This feature was designed to approach the coffee professional that lead this industry and inspire us to become better and more knowledgeable. I also felt the need to gather several leading opinions to create a better understanding of where the industry is and it’s heading.

So here is Maxwell’s take on the 4th wave.

I would love to find out what was your thought process behind the work you have done with water filtration and it interacting with our precious coffee?

When we discuss the idea of water having a huge impact on coffees taste, it seems obvious to us all. It has in many ways, been the elephant in the room when discussing why coffee tastes the way it does. It is easy to forget about the water. In a given location we lose our reference points. It is not like changing the grind and seeing an immediate difference. However, due to the sharing of coffee, increased dialogue and travel, it means we are seeing water’s impact more starkly.
3 or 4 years ago I found brewing water being questioned more and more by the people I spoke to and work with in the industry. Better understanding of other variables in coffee and the search to understand coffee meant that water’s impact was falling under the spotlight more regularly.
At the beginning my thought process was driven by annoyance with a lack of ability to answer the whys. We knew coffee tasted different with different waters. But what exactly was it? My hope or dream if you like, at that time was to understand water in a way where we could predict the general flavour profiles we would get with different mineral compositions in water. Water is complex, and like all of coffee, we will always be able to learn more about it, but I am thrilled that we have been able to realise that hope from the beginning of the project.

You once said that specialty coffee shouldn’t be about water terroir and it should focus on coffee terroir, and although it is true, what lead you to delve into the deep waters of science and what was the research you had to do, to be able to fully understand the science behind the complex reaction between water and coffee?
It is one thing to have the questions about water and something else to be able to answer those questions. This requires collaboration and expertise form a different field. The water project only really became a thing when Chris (Christopher H Hendon-computational chemist) was having a coffee in my store one morning and I started to probe him about water science. He enjoyed coffee but was unaware of all the problems, variables and unsolved conundrums and mysteries we have in Coffee.
We took a few samples up to the lab at the University of Bath to do a few tests, it kind of tumbled from there.
The concept of “science” in coffee is an interesting one and it definitely has its detractors. Some of this is warranted, but I feel that often an illusory and false, hard line is drawn between the ideas of craft and science. I think that science has the potential to improve our craft.
Science is funny though, as from the outside looking in, its easy to feel that if something is deemed scientific it must be right. Instead good scientific practice means that our enquiries into a problem and the answers we arrive at are more likely to be right because of scientific practice. However we may be proved wrong further down the line. On the other hand the answers may become more validated.
Something I have noticed with scientific endeavour and coffee, whether its water or grinding, is how difficult it can be to use scientific approaches in coffee as there are so many moving parts. Data can also often be interpreted in different ways and this becomes more of a Rubik’s cube as the moving parts increase in their amount.
Coffee has so much complexity that collaborative projects and different perspectives can be of real benefit.

How do you think this new information will change the way people are roasting coffee and preparing it? Will it lead to building a standard for water? Do you see roasters writing their water specs on their coffee bags?

It’s a crazy topic. I love giving talks on the subject. You can see the audience start to piece the implications together in their minds and they start to get excited and nervous about what this all means for coffee.
Our hope is that the research and information can help fill in gaps in the larger picture of how we see coffee and how we understand the way it tastes. Water is a crucial moving part in the coffee mechanism. Ultimately it has the opportunity to do several things. It can give each individual, whether they be a roaster, an importer, a grower or a barista, a better understanding of where the flavour in the cup comes from. This should allow for better quality control and common tasting conditions.
There are some interesting questions and Ideas that arise from the research. A roaster could contemplate roasting differently for different clients or for different areas of a country or continent.
It provides an argument for how buying coffee form a local roaster may have some quality benefits, if that coffee was roasted to the type of water in that area. That may be where the best results can be achieved.
Then again water filtration and treatment technology may very well develop in coming years to give us greater control and choice over our waters. Making water is already beginning to become a thing, whether it be to mimic results of a roaster or client from a different location.
A Grower can begin to taste their coffee with different waters in anticipation of where they may be selling. Baristas could check their water regularly and feed this information into how they think about a recipe and coffee they worked with.

Colonna Roastery? Tell us about it.
We’ll be roasting some coffee…. That’s the simple answer, But we do also have some very specific goals and thought processes about how we approach it and what we are looking to achieve.
Colonna and Small’s has been a multi roaster since its inception. We have had, and continue to have great relationships with these companies and people. We have learnt a lot from our collaborations as a multi roaster operation. It’s very natural to be interested in roasting if your into speciality coffee and that interest has only grown with more experience and projects such as the water research. We wanted to do something a little different with the roastery and set ourselves a challenge. That challenge is to get hold of some of the most sought after, high scoring rare coffees in the world and to package and present them in a way that reflects their value, whilst connecting with an audience that is excited by and seeking those coffees.
Its early days, but we have started buying coffee, developing our aesthetic and operations. It’s a thrilling project.

Congrats on becoming NC for Scae UK. What will you be changing? You have had some amazing result in the Barista Championships. Will that experience lead to improving the championships?
It’s a big responsibility but I’m really keen to take it on. I hope I can feed my experiences as a competitor into positively shaping the competitions and chapter as we move forward.
The coffee community is and has been rapidly evolving for a while now. Competitions are entwined with this. I am also on the WBC completions development board and the two roles work well together, Allowing me to gain a perspective at different levels.
There is a lot of support for the UK Chapter and my goal is to channel this into the events we run. My main ambition is to establish each completion into a fully formed event in their own right. I have an amazing committee working with me and we are looking to make each event more dynamic with a strong community and networking focus.
It’s all really just rolling into action for this year, but Its been wonderful to see the support and the amount of the coffee community who are so keen to get involved. The judging applicants this year have already provided a great mix of ex competitors, experienced judges and individuals working at the cutting edge of the UK speciality community.
There are several elements to a national chapter. We are trying to look at each and to then make the chapter as beneficial as possible for all of those involved, whether they be a competitor, spectator or sponsor.
It’s exciting times.

If you were to describe the 4th wave, what would it be?
I find these questions tricky. I feel like I could write an essay musing on this question and even the ability to actually answer it. Don’t worry, I wont do that.
It makes sense to talk about the fourth wave. I think its fair to say that a lot of us working in speciality find the term third wave doesn’t represent us and what we are doing. Part of me thinks the waves are over and speciality coffee as a valued and carefully considered beverage has come into the limelight. With that is an increase in understanding, more sharing of knowledge and a larger recognition within the general public that the pursuit of excellence in coffee is now an accepted notion.
Maybe the fourth wave is the dismantling of the barrier between the industry and the customer. A more educated and engaged customer base, bloggers, home enthusiasts are taking part in the coffee conversation. Whether or not the fourth wave is an identifiable thing, the consideration of it does make think of a lot of positive aspects of coffee and where it is going.

Last but not least, what other future project are you working on?
Blimey. I feel I am at capacity to be honest, but in a very good way. For the moment I am concentrating on the several projects and responsibilities in front of me. The coffee industry is an exciting place to be right now. I feel privileged and thrilled to have been involved in the projects I have been up till this point. None of which were particularly planned. An idea, or certain people come along and If the project excites me I find it very hard to say no. In fact I start to think about how we could make it work. So who know’s.

You can comment on my original post on Coffee Hustle. Let me know how you perceive the 4th coffee wave.