The Coffee Man: film about champion barista Sasa Sestic premieres in Canberra

Natasha Rudra
Sasa Sestic at the World Barista Championships.
Sasa Sestic at the World Barista Championships. Photo: Jeff Hann

When Sasa Sestic asked two filmmakers to join him on his "bean-hunting" trips and make a bit of a film about coffee, none of them realised they would end up with a documentary about the biggest year in Canberra's coffee scene.

It all began when Sestic had coffee (what else) with a mate who owned a cafe in Melbourne, who introduced him to Jeff Hann and Roland Fraval. They wanted to film his search for the perfect bean and make a documentary about specialty coffee.

"I said this is amazing but there's one problem - I can't pay you, I have no money. They said, no no, all they need is they need to be looked after with accommodation and travel expenses," he says. "So they went with me to Ethiopia, to Honduras, to Colombia, so they got footage of Ethiopia and the farms, and they got footage of us doing this new crazy process of carbolic maceration with a farmer in Colombia."

And then he told them that he wouldn't be able to film for a couple of months because he had a barista competition to enter. Hann and Fraval said, "What barista competition?" 

The rest is history and rightly so - Sestic training full time for the Australian Barista Championships, and then becoming the first Canberran to win the title, causing the capital to erupt in CBR pride. A few months later, the filmmakers were travelling with his team to Seattle to represent Australia at the World Championships, where Sestic - in an extraordinary effort - overcame illness to stun the world and lift the trophy as the world's best barista.

"They recorded me going to the hospital, all the things we do behind the stage that's not seen," he says.  "What made a huge difference is that Roland and Jeff are just amazing people and they are just good friends." 

They were so integrated that Fraval was even roped in as a "milk mule". He flew to Seattle two days after the rest of the ONA team, bringing with him six litres of fresh Australian milk for Sestic to use in the finals.

It was exhausting. Sestic had devoted every waking moment to training for the world championships, determined to put Canberra (and ONA Coffee) on the map. There were moments when he wanted nothing less than to do an interview for the camera - especially when he lost his voice.

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"But now looking back at the footage I was very happy that they recorded it because that was the biggest and most exciting year in my life," he says. "I'm personally happy that I have that footage that I can watch with family and kids and say yeah, that was a crazy year."

Was there anything that came as a surprise when he watched himself on screen in the film? Sestic pauses to think. "I knew I was very competitive - but that was beyond normal. Watching it I was like, 'Did I go to this extreme? Was I really this detailed?'" 

It turns out he was. 

The film is being premiered in Canberra on May 18. Sestic hasn't seen it in its entirety yet but he's very keen to view it in his hometown, with his family and his team of ONA baristas and local coffee lovers.

"There's no one else I can thank more than the people of the Canberra for all these years," he says. 

The Coffee Man premieres in Canberra on May 18 at Palace Electric. It also shows in Sydney on May 19, Perth on May 26 and Melbourne on May 29. See tugg.com.au/thecoffeeman