Run by the UK Barista Champion 2012, Colonna & Small’s is a small slice of coffee heaven.
This heavenly slice is not where you might expect. When Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood decided to set up a new breed of coffee shop, he forewent trendy Soho, Fitzrovia etc in favour of the twee, unspoilt surroundings of Bath.
Luckily, my day job brings me to Bath now and again. These days a visit isn’t complete without popping into Colonna & Smalls.
On my first visit, Maxwell took time out for a chat. He’s a talker, but then, he’s got plenty of fascinating stuff to talk about. Winner of the 2012 UK Barista Championships, and later a finalist at the World Barista Championships, I can’t think many coffee bods with as much drive and pedigree.
Maxwell’s had a vision for a new type of coffee shop. He says Colonna & Smalls is unique, and I can’t disagree.
It’s kind of a posh wine bar for coffee, based on what I imagine a posh wine bar might be like. The aim, Maxwell says, is to educate. Sugar is discouraged. Milk (unless in flat whites) is discouraged.
Sounds awful, doesn’t it? I hate coffee snobbery. However, somehow, Maxwell and the team pull it off.
Training is important. The baristas undergo months of tutoring, not only in the art of making coffee, but also – just as importantly – in the art of customer service. They are helpful and courteous, and, in my experience, strike the right tone without ever tipping over into snobbery.
Maxwell tells me that getting the right message across to the public is important. In the early days, customers, seeking their usual hazelnut cappuccinos, were put off by the unique approach, and I can well imagine that it was interpreted as pretension. I’m sure it still is, by some. However, in time, the concept sunk in – that this was not a Starbucks clone, but a place to explore the flavour of coffee.
Gradually, Colonna & Smalls began to take off, its cachet boosted by Maxwell’s award wins in 2012.
Even the way customers choose their coffee is unusual. Rather than a menu with flat white, espresso etc, there is a board with that day’s choice of three filters and three espressos. From the latter, you could have an espresso or a flat white. From the former, there are a number of brew methods, including Aeropress, clever dripper and syphon. Often, cold drip brew is available too.
It’s another potential barrier for the uninitiated, but, whether you’re after a new taste or just a black coffee hit, the staff will help as much or as little as you like.
I will always ask to be guided through the options, and I’ve had a variety, from flat whites to filters. All good, some outstanding.
Interestingly, all filter coffees cost the same: £2.80. Compare this with London’s Prufrock, where you could easily spend £4 or £5 for a fancy drip brew. Sometimes, that means Colonna & Small’s bottom line takes a hit. But, as Maxwell explains, it is worth it if customers do not feel pressured into choosing the cheapest option.
If it still all sounds a bit staid, don’t panic. Though coffee takes centre stage, Colonna & Smalls is still a pleasant spot for a relaxing natter. The interior is light, bright and breezy. The baby blue motif runs through the mugs, tiles and the wood. When the sun shines through the large front windows, the whole thing lights up. There’s even a pretty little courtyard at the back.
So, you definitely don’t need to be a coffee geek to go to here. Maxwell and the team would be over the moon if it is your first experience of speciality coffee.
It must have been tempting in those early days for Maxwell to satisfy the tourist crowd and offer milky coffees and caramel syrup, but thankfully he stuck to his guns.
Colonna & Smalls has vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.
6 Chapel Row
We visited on 29 July 2013.