Hugh Kelly leaves for 2021 World Barista Championship

Hugh Kelly

Two and a half years since the last World Barista Championship (WBC), Hugh Kelly of Ona Coffee is on his way to Italy to represent Australia in the 2021 WBC.

Having left Australia on 10 October, Hugh tells BeanScene the extra months have just given him more time to work with his coffees and perfect his routine.

“The coffees are ridiculous and the best I’ve ever tasted across all categories,” Hugh says. “I’ve worked with them for three years now and just want to present them to the world.

COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns saw the postponement of the 2020 Australian Barista Championship from early 2020 to March 2021. The 2020 WBC was cancelled and the 2021 event was rescheduled from June to October 2021.

“For nationals, I only had 45 shots worth of the coffee for my espresso and we didn’t get to go super deep into it or finetune the signature drink. The milk coffee was also only the first iteration of the drink and the first time we worked with that producer, so we didn’t really have the time, harvests, and experience to go deep there either,” Hugh explains.

“It’s hard when you don’t have much coffee and know what you want to do to learn more about it, but now, we’ve had the opportunity, more time, coffee, and harvests, to really distil everything down into something I’m super happy with.”

Over the past few months, Hugh’s home of the Australian Capital Territory has been hit by case numbers and severe lockdowns it had so far avoided in the pandemic. Despite the many challenges, Hugh made the most of the situation and dedicated his time to practice.

“It’s been a challenge to get things I’ve needed, but at the same time, I was able to put my day job completely on hold and stay in the training room with my full focus on the comp,” he says.

Managing the logistics of getting his coffee, equipment, and milk to the competition was difficult as well. Hugh says on the ground in Italy he’s receiving help and support from Sanremo Coffee Machines, and back in Australia, Riverina Fresh has made sure he has milk to work with and take overseas.

“Riverina Fresh has given us an esky full of super fresh milk, straight off the production line, to take over with export documents and everything already sorted. The lockdown made it tough to get that milk across the border, but they found a way,” Hugh says.

“We’ve worked with Riverina Fresh for years, in competition and our cafés, and all of our milk-based coffees are designed with their milk in mind. But we still blind tested about 60 different milks with the coffee to make sure we were making the best choice possible and it’s reassuring to know that, without even knowing it was them, their milk came out on top every time.”

With his coffee and milk at a point Hugh is happy with, he says the last thing to do was perfect the routine itself.

“The concept is nailed down, so it’s just about tightening it and making it better suited to the international audience,” Hugh says.

“A lot of people go to Worlds and they want to go bigger, better, and more complicated. They speak to these judges very quickly in English, but for many of them it’s a second language or they’re unused to the accent. It can overwhelm the judges, which means you don’t get the results you want. It’s about distilling your message down to the essentials so they can just enjoy the coffee.”

The 2021 World Barista Championship will take place at Host Milano in Italy from 22 to 26 October.

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