Welcome to a post that has been on our agenda for quite some time now. This post is one in which we are discussing, dissecting and responding to a conversation we had, at the London coffee festival, with a dude that, frankly, seems to encapsulate a big wedge of what we do here. Namely he’s chilled as fuck, has a soft spot for gaming and, oh. Yeah, REALLY FUCKING LIKES COFFEE… We’re not sure about the metal, the beer and the Sci fi/fantasy but, hey, lets assume he’s down with that program.
‘Who is this fella then?’ I hear you cry. Well folks… Its this dude
‘cept he’s now grown a bit of a beard and looks more edgy.
So who is this guy, well folks, his name is Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood. Otherwise known as Mr UK Barista champion. Yeah. That competition exists… And he won it.
So folks, I think it’s at this point we need a little disclaimer. You know all that crazy pseudo philosophical hyper real faux intellectual crap that I throw out all over the place in star trekkin’? Guess what? It ain’t got nothin’ on the shit we gonna discuss now.
Why is that? Well, it seems Mr Colonna-Dashwood handed us some epic shit on a plate. He compared making, tasting and enjoying coffee to, wait for it, PLAYING MAGIC THE MOTHER FUCKING GATHERING!!! Yes brothers and sisters, that’s what he did. You know what? We didn’t even tell him we were gaming fans until after he slapped this engorged tidbit all over the London coffee festival table. (lovely image Dwalin, lovely…-Bifur)
How did this conversation pan out, what actually happened, how will we ever live our lives in the same way again?
Well, friends, the answers to the above won’t come easily, but at the end we here at sfjy, in conjunction with the fine spinal column of Max, will have liberated you and ourselves and coffee will seem not like a rigid land of do’s and dont’s but as a playground offering a microcosmic reflection and foundation of our world, our identities and our interactions with others.
Or, you know, drinking funky coffee will seem less daunting and less pretentious… Oh and you may have some tools to tell stinky territorial hipsters just how to go fuck themselves if they’re acting in a way that makes you feel you can’t be in their club. Yeah, this shit will be worth it just for that.
Let’s start this from the beginning. How’d we end up meeting Max?
The story starts with the world barista championships; Max is competing, banging out some espresso and WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT DEVICE HE IS USING TO TAMP… Is what I’m sure people all over the world shouted whilst watching his routine when affronted with this image:
I, unfortunately, didn’t watch the world barista championship… I was at work. If I wasn’t, and my lovely partner lady was out, then you bet id have watched it. Judge me not folks; I’m a nerdy fuck, I’m allowed to endorse shit like this. I don’t judge you with your silly FA cup stuff… Well… Ah… Ok, I’ll stop digging my grave and get back to the narrative.
I read about this crazy hockey puck type tamper thing that helps get a perfect tamp, and thereby an even extraction (stop yawning Bifur!), without needing a perfectly honed skill set.
For those that know me, I’m pretty shit with anything involving a finely honed skill set. (Apart from waffling, I’m alright at that.) so this lil’ thing got me salivating.
I contacted the dude who invented this miracle, Peter Southern of Clockwork Espresso in Durham, and arranged to hook up at the coffee fest to see the dream machine in action.
Well folks we hooked up – I’m happy to say he’s an agreeable chap and, what’s more, a scientist par excellence. Bif and I were ultra impressed by his red blood cell accurate device (seriously) and absolutely see the benefits for a fast paced coffee churning environment. We’re going to do a whole article on this delightful device with pics, videos (if I can work out how to do that – Bifur) and maybe some trials (if Bifur manages to find some gold in his mines…)
It was through Peter that we had the fortune to meet Max.
How did we meet him? Well, he was hanging out with Mr push tamper, merrily banging out espresso for all and sundry.
That included us.
So what was special about this guys espresso? Well folks, and I think we may offend some people here, the answer is… Nothing.
WAIT before you burn us at the stake for uttering such caffeine blasphemies hear us out…
Maxwell gave us exceptional express. It was sweet, sticky, harbouring a beautiful tang. If we’d have been more exhaustive I our note taking you’d no doubt have a list of sensations, comparisons and flavours that abounded through our minds whilst supping these delights. (but I was getting a bit tired and grumpy by this point, having only had time for one beer and one ciggatette since we arrived at the festival, so my note taking ability had slipped to an unprofessionally low level. That and Dwalin was so star struck he nearly wet himself…)
How then, you may wonder, do we have the audacity to say that what Max dished up wasn’t special… Well friends, it’s because he wasn’t in the role of Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood mighty champion of the UK barista scene. No, he was humble Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood the exceptional barista amongst many exceptional baristas. Incredible espresso, yes, but in a game where all incredible espresso is on a par. He wasn’t here to show off the best of the best coffee because, let’s face it, there’s no such thing. He was here to show good technique, good coffee and, what’s more, his take on what those two things mean. He was here to guide taste buds alone, and in this he did not need to stand screaming about his barista being. Unlike a championship in which he embraces a very, very, different persona and presentation to affect the outcome of the subjective interplay with his coffee. Indeed it may well be different to the persona he adopts in his store. Here though, he knew what he had to do; make good, layered, coffee that challenged and provoked attention… Just like all the other baristas in the building.
Was it the best espresso of the day? It may have been, but who knows whether that’s because of the latent psychological fact it was meant to be?
One thing is definitely certain, in all three potential spheres of Max-dom you, and I, are going to get an appropriate coffee. In every sphere we will feel right. Fuck it, more importantly in every sphere you are going to get a beautiful beverage that you will absolutely love.
Whys that? It’s because max knows coffee, and he knows how to play the game
We engaged young Mr Maxwell in conversation shortly as we threw his delectable espresso down our throats and we asked him a question that is on our minds fairly prominently. It may have been slightly more awkwardly worded than this but the drift was ‘how do we demystify speciality coffee to the uninitiated, how do we promote good coffee at home and, importantly, how do we strip away the pretentious, elitist, aspects of the scene?’ (actually that’s pretty much how Dwalin asked it, he can talk waffle as well as write it…-Bifur). His answer was akin to this ‘we can’t, but we can promote the game of coffee and allow people to play by the rules they want to play by and promote the various different sets of rules currently agreed upon to play with like minded individuals’.
Again, our terrible note taking leads us to a realm of paraphrasing, and hell we could have totally misunderstood his gist but, fuck it, this is what we picked up on and, well, since his point was pretty much about how we communicate with each other we stand by our understanding.
So how did Max outline this ‘critical theory of coffee as mode of communication and extension of the role of games within society’, well folks he said something like this… ‘sometimes you want to jump into a game of Articulate. There are a finite set of rules and, if this is the kind of game you’re looking for, you can be satisfied. The rules are simple, others understand them as well as yourself easily and herein lies a way to communicate with one another and embrace in a togetherness of playing. Then there’s a game like Magic The Gathering. A complex game with ever evolving rules, wherein you need to carefully piece apart how the game is played and need someone to equally do the same for an understanding, and ultimately, a satisfying social experience, to occur. This game can be rewarding because of it’s complexity, because of the nuances of what happens, because of the rich tapestry of meaning one can create within it’s set of rules. It takes a lot more work and is probably something the layman wouldn’t want to engage in because it is a specialist game. For those that do, the rewards can be endless’ (Again, i must apologise, Max’s response has been heavily paraphrased due to my bad note taking – Bifur).
So the basic idea here, and when I say basic I mean basic because, again lets face it, you don’t really want to sit here reading my continual yammering, is that everyday coffee is Articulate. It’s quick, it’s simple, it’s understandable to a great swathe of people, there’s a minimal investment of time and, ultimately, the outcome is still enjoyable. Magic the Gathering is Speciality coffee – it’s a pain in the ass to get to grips with the basic rules, but once you’ve cracked it there is a fuck load of exploration you can do, including defining your own rules. There’s also the inference here that once you’ve started rolling around in Magic The Gathering heading back to Articulate is never going to be as satisfying an experience. (he did blog about this himself, by the way, links at bottom of page)
This was and is, of course, an allegory Bif and I greatly enjoyed. LOOK AT OUR BLOG FOR FUCKS SAKE, and there is definitely a basis of an incredible thesis here. Start throwing around our mate Sartre and his theory that all our lives are games we play with ourselves and others, or Wittgenstein and his language is a game doodad, or even Foucalt and his whole ‘let’s make our lives art’ stuff and, well, we have a rock solid philosophical basis of what’s going on in the world of coffee and we have a bunch more reasons for me to get all excited about smashing out espresso. (and playing games…I’m off to the darkest depths of my game cave to find my MTG cards, get a brew on Dwalin…-Bifur)
There’s more to this, though, I feel. For a start we reach the complex heights of Magic the Gathering and we start playing around with those rules but, oh fuck suddenly someone’s just introduced us to Warhammer, or D&D or any other myriad wonder of complex systems of gaming. Do we stop enjoying Magic the Gathering? Probably not, we’re probably able to expand our gaming repertoire and play what we feel like, when we feel like, and in the appropriate environ. Think on that point I made about Max’s espresso. That drink wasn’t his slowly chilling espresso pulled into an ice glass, topped with an infusion of Unicorns tears, because right then and there it wasn’t needed. What it was a damned fine espresso, which was complex and rich, but not off the chart insane.
So here we have a notion of the speciality coffee drinker not just as a player of Magic the Gathering but actually as a multiplicity gamer, someone who enjoys various different systems at various different points. Now let’s reflect back on that Articulate thing, actually let’s now change the idea of that game to Snap. Snap is instant coffee. It’s a simple, simple game, with pretty much zero rules. The step from snap to Articulate isn’t a big step, it’s a step that everyone can make. Let’s call that the step from instant coffee to a caffetiere of something off the shelf and a little stale. Now think about what the next step could be… and on and on. My point is that everyone knows how to play a variety of games, and they have the capacity to learn slightly more complex rules incrementally to enable a new form of ‘play’ for themselves. Why then would it be beyond anyone’s grasp to ‘play’ the next stage of the coffee game? It might mean that they stop at some stage, maybe before they hit the ‘Inquisitor’s of this world (that was a complex game, let’s call that the pro-barista game) but they might certainly hang around with a Love Letter (good espresso based drink from a store) or a Munchkin (aeropressing some good coffee at home)… hell they might even get on board with some Warhammer (let’s call that the Gaggia classic/Porlex hand combo) and just be waiting to step up to Forge World when they have the cash.
‘Cos let’s face it, the next level of discussing this thing takes in socio-economic standing and the balance of financial accrual and expenditure. But hey, a couple of quid once a month for a good cup of coffee is within everyone’s grasp, it may be a treat (indeed surely there are ways and means of getting the best out of even basic pre-ground supermarket coffee that will make a more satisfying and enjoyable drink? It’s something we’re going to be testing out throughout the time we write this blog.
Its comforting to know that the guys who really know their shit, like Max and others, notably Matt Perger (Australian number 1 barista)… And hell, even roasters, like Dave and like Steve from Has Bean, don’t act like dicks. They’re inviting, humble, explorative chaps that invent, reinvent and invite others into the game, prepared to allow them to play however much they want, in whatever way they want, but with a guiding hand and a welcoming smile. Evidence if this? Max spoke with us and seemed to enjoy our luddite ways, Matt Perger has a brilliant blog/website that discusses all kinds of coffee stuff in a really nice, non judgemental way, and have you seen the Has Bean Website? Or even Steve’s killer suits from world barista championships (google a pic).
Freud is judging elitist scumbags