Gina Di Brita of Numero Uno Coffee Roasters has been named the 2019 Eleonora Genovese Australian Coffee Woman of the Year.
The Australian Specialty Coffee Association (ASCA) in collaboration with the Genovese family presented Gina with the award on 9 February at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo.
The Award recognises the many contributions Eleonora Genovese made to the Australian coffee community. Like Eleonora, Gina was commended for her drive, leadership, and passion to unite the local and international coffee communities.
“I’m still in shock. Initially, someone sent me an Instagram message to let me know I was shortlisted. I sent a text message to Kieran Westlake (ASCA President), asking if it was true, and he replied: ‘Yep, are you going to be around for the announcements and competition finals?’ At this stage, I was still very unsure and nervous. Thank God I booked my ticket back to Sydney for 8pm that night,” Gina says. “It’s just incredible to win. I was still holding the frame as I boarded the plane back to Sydney.”
Gina is the former owner and operator of a multi-award winning tobacco farm, which she ran for 13 years in Far North Queensland before taking on a Marketing Officer role with Far North Queensland Institute of TAFE for five years. She eventually moved back to Melbourne where she grew up, to further a marketing career.
One day while sitting in a café in Melbourne having a coffee, Gina remembers looking through the jobs section of the newspaper, thinking about her dream job – a role where she would communicate with customers and use her expertise to solve people’s problems and make them happy. Then she saw a small advertisement with the words “marketing guru wanted” with a phone number. She intuitively felt this was for her.
It wasn’t until she arrived at the interview that she learned that the job vacancy was at a boutique coffee roaster. From one legal drug to another, after two interviews, the sales and marketing coffee job was hers, and Gina fell in love with coffee instantly.
In 2001, Gina moved to Sydney with her three daughters to help expand the Melbourne-based coffee company, and later in 2003, she started her own roasting business Numero Uno coffee.
“I could see the real need to offer a more personalised service,” Gina says. “There was no education and no support at the time to start a coffee roasting business. I joined the only Association for the Australian coffee Industry (ASCA) at the time, and at every given chance, I would volunteer at any ASCA event. Occasionally, a course from the Specialty coffee Association of America would come to Australia, and I would jump at the opportunity.”
In the early days, Gina would go door to door to introduce her coffee brand.
“I would say to myself before walking in a café: ‘If the coffee doesn’t come first for them, then it’s not a right fit’ and I’d walk out. Funnily enough, most asked about price first.”
Gina has travelled to Central and South America forming direct trade partnerships with producers, but she is passionate about building relationships and helping improve quality and production with Australia’s closest coffee producers, smallholder farmers in Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. Her goal is to see more of the money in the coffee supply chain flow directly to the farmers and their families.
“My long- term goal is to create an exchange of knowledge and information between Numero Uno Roasters and some of the people I’m working with in both Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea. This will be through the creation of a Holistic Barista and coffee roasting Centre for Excellence in Sydney,” Gina says.
“I’ve already received so many beautiful messages from farmers in both Timor Leste and PNG who have heard about my award. It’s been pretty overwhelming.”
Gina has served as a World Barista Championship accredited judge from 2004 to 2015. She was also previously Secretary of ASCA from 2006 to 2008, and in 2011. She has recently helped to establish an Australian chapter of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance and currently holds the position of Treasurer.
Gina says receiving this year’s Women in Coffee Award is an honour and privilege in recognition for her industry contributions.
“I can’t express how grateful I am receiving this award. I must thank ASCA for providing a platform in recognising the importance of this initiative created in memory of the wonderful Elenora Genovese. I was lucky to know Eli and share the WBC judging stage many times with her,” Gina says.
“What I love about this award is that I’ve been recognised and acknowledged within my industry. This is what makes it extra special. I’ve been nominated for other awards in the past outside the coffee industry. There are so many women out there who are just as talented and deserving. I’ve dedicated 18 years to the industry while at the same time raising my three daughters as a single mum.
“It feels like the completion of a very long chapter in my coffee career, giving me the sense of leaving behind the many highs and lows, and propelling me into a new realm, a new chapter.”
Gina says she the unexpected award has reignited a fire in her belly to push forward with my vision for 2019.
“It’s given me a new perspective and focus to keep serving this wonderful community of coffee,” she says. “I want to be a voice in affecting change, to keep raising the bar. No matter who you are, I encourage the individual to continue raising the standards within themselves, so that together we can align as respected equals for a more connected, inclusive and forward thinking, Australian coffee Industry.”