Jack Hanna from The Grounds up

Jack Hanna The Grounds

Former World Latte Art Champion Jack Hanna reflects on his journey through the coffee industry and what comes next.

Jack Hanna has left his mark on the Australian – and world – coffee industry, from winning the third World Latte Art Championship (WLAC) in 2007 to opening Australia’s “most Instagrammed” café, The Grounds of Alexandria, in 2012. Now, for the first time since leaving high school, Jack is stepping away from hospitality to focus on his family and follow new passions.

“I wanted to begin a new chapter in my life,” Jack says. “For me, it’s always been about doing what I love and having a purpose for doing things. I never wanted to be in a job where I wasn’t fulfilled. When it stopped being fulfilling was when I made the decision to leave coffee.”

Jack didn’t set out to establish such an illustrious career in hospitality. In fact, when he began his first café job, it was just to earn extra money.

“I worked at a local pizza shop and simultaneously at Gloria Jean’s. At the start, I was just doing it to earn some money but quickly realised I actually really enjoyed making coffee. I distinctly remember that every time I’d go to work, I’d hover around the coffee machine to see what the guys were doing and how,” Jack says.

He quickly developed an affinity for latte art and set out to learn everything he could about the discipline.

“I was always fascinated with people drawing things on coffee,” Jack says. “I did some online research and watched latte art videos. YouTube wasn’t around yet, so it required a lot of digging. Eventually, that led me to Caffe Artigiano.”

Caffe Artigiano is a Canadian café operated by former Canadian Barista Champion Sammy Piccolo and his brothers Vince and Mark. Jack says it was, at the time, one of the busiest cafés in the world and widely recognised for its latte art.

Jack Hanna The Grounds
Jack says the secret to running a successful café is to keep reinvesting in the business.

“I contacted Sammy Piccolo and told him I’m keen to learn everything I can. He invited me over, and two weeks later, I was on a plane to Canada,” he says.

“That’s where I believe I had more advantage than most [baristas]. I learnt how to work very quickly within a system that emphasises speed and consistency with quality.”

While in Canada, Jack trained alongside Sammy to compete in national barista competitions. 

“I wanted to compete in the Australian Barista Championship and spent a solid year with Sammy, who at the time was training for the World Barista Championship,” Jack says.

Jack returned to Australia in 2006, where it wasn’t long before his attention turned to latte art.

“The WLAC was just introduced one or two years before and while I was preparing for the Australian Barista Championship, I knew that my latte art was pretty decent,” Jack says.

“Scottie Callaghan was nominated to go to Berne, Switzerland to compete for Australia in the 2006 WLAC and won. Me being me, I said to myself: ‘If he can win it, I can win it for sure.’”

Jack won the first official Australian Latte Art Championship the following year and went on to claim Australia’s second consecutive world title in Antwerp, Belgium.

“It was a weird feeling after I won. The moment they announced I was the winner, I actually thought: ‘But, I know so little about coffee’,” Jack says. “It made me want to be better.”

Despite this, Jack went on to realise what his win meant for the global coffee community.

“I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was the first Asian champion of any world coffee competition. Still to this day, I have people come up to me and say ‘when you won, you gave a lot of Asian baristas hope’,” Jack says. “There was an idea that Asian baristas weren’t respected in the industry. I guess the perception was they didn’t know coffee.

“I didn’t know it would impact so many people. Even the Thai 2017 World Latte Art Champion [Arnon Thitiprasert] said I inspired him to compete. Retrospectively, that was the most satisfying part of winning the WLAC.”

After the WLAC, Jack operated a wholesale roaster called Jack & the Bean. He says cleaning product supplier Cafetto helped him establish this business and was a constant support during his WLAC journey.

Jack Hanna The Grounds
Jack Hanna has left hospitality to spend more time with his family.

“I’ve always gotten along with [Cafetto Managing Director] Chris Short. He was one of the first people to support me after the WLAC and I’ve since had a good working relationship because of the wholesale business,” Jack says.

“We’ve always bought his products – at The Grounds too – because we believe in them and Chris has always been a gentleman. Over the years and as I’ve grown up, I’ve spoken to him about many things, not just being a barista but life and whatnot.”

Jack soon met Ramzey Choker, with whom he went on to form The Grounds. Based out of a former Four’n Twenty pie factory, its Alexandria, New South Wales flagship is renowned for combining an industrial décor with flowing greenery to create a café that houses a flower market, roastery, and wedding reception area. Jack says the venue has gone on to influence many others.

“We wanted to do something unique in an industrial area, where we have space to roast as well as serve coffee and food. It was my business partners’ idea to come up with the garden, which was quite out there because there were no venues in Australia that had that kind of layout and setup,” he says.

“Since opening, we continued to put money back into the business and kept growing. What a lot of business owners don’t do is invest back into the business. How we got to where we were is we kept reinventing ourselves. Every year and a half or two, we’d change things up. You have to do that, or you become irrelevant and lag behind the people copying you.”

Jack says that baristas interested in opening their own venues need to remember that it takes more than coffee to create a memorable experience.

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is to not focus too much on the coffee. As coffee professionals, we might like a sweet fruity coffee that’s very aromatic and floral, but the general public just wants a flat white or a cappuccino,” he says.

“If you want to open up a successful business, I really suggest you look away from just being a barista. Take on more responsibility like managing staff and rostering people. Be in a situation where you’re used to being able to manage problems. That is essentially what you do as a business owner – you’re consistently solving problems.”

In his new profession as an investor/consultant, Jack aims to share his accumulated business knowledge with others in an array of industries. His investment company, Jacks Full, helps fund small companies and guides them through their growth. Click HERE for more.

Learn about more baristas Cafetto supports:
• Jade Jenning’s journey
Scottie Callaghan in the fine print
The Sam Low down
2016 Vietnam Barista Champion Han Tran makes tracks
Dove Chen soars to great heights
André Eiermann’s Swiss success

For more information about Cafetto, its support of industry members, and latest product range, visit www.cafetto.com

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