Australia’s Hugh Kelly places fifth in World Barista Championship

Ona Coffee’s Hugh Kelly has placed fifth in the 2017 World Barista Championship (WBC).

Hugh was the top-ranked barista leading into the Semi Finals after day one of heats, impressing the judges with his new take on milk texturing and use of dry ice to cool his espressos.

Hugh was selected as one of the top six baristas to compete in the Finals on 12 November, and the first to take to the stage in the final round, followed by the national barista champions of Hong Kong, the United States, Japan, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

In his finals performance at CafeShow in Seoul, South Korea, Hugh used a green-tip Geisha coffee from Finca Deborah in Volcán, Panama, produced by Jamison Savage. Jamison was in Seoul to watch Hugh perform using his coffee.

“Participating in the WBC and watching my competitors work with the coffees on the world stage has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Jamison says.

To add a new layer of flavour to the green-tip Geisha, Hugh took the whole cherries and placed them into sealed containers, which were fermented at a controlled temperature with CO2 for 80 hours. After the whole cherry carbonic maceration process, the cherries were pulped and washed to help achieve clarity and strawberry notes in Hugh’s espresso.

During his routine, Hugh used different dosing and extraction techniques to achieve different flavours for the judges. In his espresso course, Hugh chilled the coffee using dry ice before being ground to improve grind consistency. He used a 16.5-gram dose, which he stretched to 51 grams in the cup.

Hugh’s cups were also chilled on dry ice before being served to the judges to allow the espresso coffee to cool and develop their flavour profile. He asked the judges to stir for 12 seconds and sip the coffee at least three times. His flavour descriptors for the espresso included “orange blossom, rose petal, orange and strawberry”.

Rather than using a tradition espresso machine steam wand to completely heat his Riverina Fresh Gold milk, which Hugh says adds about 10 to 12 per cent water that can dilute the coffee’s flavour, he unveiled a new machine he introduced as “The Milk Cloud”.

Hugh explained that this machine, designed in collaboration with training partner Angus Mackie and Breville Australia engineers, heats milk at a precise temperature – in his case 58°C. The machine spins milk at a very high speed without adding any extra water to the milk, by removing air bubbles and creating an “incredible texture” unlike any seen before in competition. The result was a glossy milk product that doesn’t appear to bubble over time.

This is a good example of how technology is helping to improve coffee taste, and a new way to heat milk while maintaining the natural flavour of Riverina Fresh’s Gold milk, which Hugh used for the Australian nationals and then again at the WBC.

Hugh says he’d love to see The Milk Cloud occupying café bench, with its ability to increase barista workflow and improve customer interaction.

Hugh’s coffee for the milk round was roasted slower to develop more heaviness in the body. He dialled 21 grams in and 38 grams out.

The milk-based course was described as having “strawberry and caramel” notes, with a creamy texture. The judges were asked to assess the aroma of both of these courses before tasting.

“With elegant, refined coffees such as washed coffees, I usually lose flavour with milk but we’ve developed a whole new approach to achieve intensity and sweetness in the coffee, and a creamier, richer and cleaner milk texture that allows the strawberry notes to shine,” Hugh told the judges.

For his signature course, Hugh again combined two extraction styles of the Geisha coffee. To the more concentrated espresso, he added a blackcurrant reduction he’d reduced over 15 hours to enhance dark fruit notes, using 600 micron-ground coffee, and a 12-gram dose stretched to a 50-gram shot to give an “orange blossom and rose-like aroma”.

He then created a fairy floss from a mixture of raw sugar and freeze-dried Manuka honey, before dissolving this floss with the other espresso.

The descriptors for the signature course included floral aromatics, with orange blossom, rose, peach and a hint of red cherry on the finish.

“Creativity is also a hallmark of the experience,” Producer Jamison says. “The fact that [Hugh] Kelly has been able to bend flavours of the coffee during the competition using different extraction techniques is nothing short of magical.”

As Hugh approached 15 minutes, he completed his routine telling the judges he was excited about the future because, “the journey of discovery has only just begun”.

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