Hugh Kelly of Ona Coffee wins 2016 Australian Barista Championship

Hugh Kelly of Ona Coffee has been crowned the 2016 Australian Barista Champion.

Hugh has kept the barista title within the Ona family for the second year running after Company Director Sasa Sestic won the event in 2015.

The Australian Barista Championship was held at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE), which took place from 17 – 19 March at the Melbourne Showgrounds.

It was a close battle between the top six competitors, with Veneziano Coffee Roasters’ Jade Jennings placing second, and Axil Coffee Roasters’ Matthew Lewin taking third place.

“It’s an amazing feeling. Winning hasn’t really sunk in yet, but I’m obviously very happy,” Hugh said.

The Ona Coffee Head Trainer won the Central Regional Barista Championship in September 2015 before travelling to Melbourne to compete in the national finals against other regional winners and heat finalists vying for the top position and trophy.

Each year the prestigious event, hosted by the Australian Specialty Coffee Association (ASCA) attracts huge crowds of supporters and onlookers who engage in the exciting format. The competing baristas must prepare four espressos, four milk-based beverages, and four signature drinks for sensory and technical judges to assess over a timed routine of 15 minutes.

Hugh’s routine put the spotlight on varietals and the importance of embracing more abundant ways to make coffee.

“The industry has access to standard common varietals and I wanted my routine to demonstrate how we can get the most out of them. We have a deep understanding of sourcing, processing and roasting but I’m confident we can lift the customer experience even further with common varietals,” Hugh said.

“Last year many baristas presented the judges with stories about origin and the discovery of new techniques, but I wanted to explore what is possible with what we already have available to us. With the growth of the coffee market, changes to climate change and shifts is consumption, we need to look forward at different methods and teaching practices to lift the customer experience, and not decline it.”

For his routine, Hugh produced espresso coffees using a freezer-processed Castillo from El Mirador in Colombia, thanks to producer Elkin Guzman and Ban-Export. The cherries were picked at 25 per cent sugar content thanks to a brix test. In his espresso, the Castillo coffee displayed stone fruit flavours, including apricot.

His milk-based beverage highlighted the same varietal in a different way, presenting distinct flavours of vanilla and blueberry.

For his signature drinks, Hugh was inspired by the production of ice wine. He combined freeze concentrated fresh black currant with ice stones and his Colombian coffee.

“When the fruit recorded a 40 per cent sugar rating I cold pressed the frozen black currants, resulting in a more concentrated, sweet liquid,” Hugh said.

During his presentation, Hugh asked the judges to take two sips of the drink. On the first he said they would experience flavours present from his milk based coffees. On the second sip he said to expect fruit flavours.

In 2015 Sasa Sestic won the 2015 Australian Barista Championship. He then went on to beat almost 50 countries in Seattle, United States to claim the World Barista Championship (WBC) title, the most coveted title of all coffee competition titles. This year, Hugh will follow in Sasa’s footsteps, making the journey to Dublin, Ireland to compete in the WBC from 22 – 25 June.

“It would be amazing for Australian to win the WBC back to back. I can’t promise we’ll win again, but I can promise I’ll do my best,” Hugh said.

This was Hugh’s fifth national competition and he couldn’t haven’t have been in safer hands with Sasa mentoring Hugh in the lead up to the competition.

“It’s been a real partnership. I think going to Seattle with Sasa for the 2015 WBC and being responsible for organising all his equipment was a massive experience for me. It gave me an insight into the level of preparation needed for the worlds,” he said. “Sasa has been great. We have the same work ethic and he’s been really encouraging in helping me to get my message across. Now I just have to convey that to the world.”

Ona Coffee’s Danny Wilson and Yanina Ferreyra also made this year’s national finals.

“Ona has had a great result. This win is a testament to our team, with special thanks Sam Corra who roasted the coffee and made it taste amazing,” Hugh said.

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