Veneziano veteran barista crowned Australian barista champion for third time

The secret to a perfect latte

Need a little help steaming your milk? Two-time Australian barista champion Craig Simon reveals the secret to making a perfect latte.

Veteran barista Craig Simon has been crowned the Australian barista champion for the third time after a four-year hiatus from competition. Simon, 40, took out the national title on Saturday at the Melbourne International Coffee Expo.

Runner-up Anthony Douglas, 26, is a relative newcomer to competitive coffee making.

Both men, who are friends and former musicians, agree it takes years – and ongoing training – to become a top-level barista.

"There's only so much you can learn from slamming out coffees behind a bar," says Douglas, a manager of Axil Coffee Roasters in Melbourne.

What makes a great barista? "Intuition, mechanical rhythm, an ability to engage with customers," says Simon, a manager at Veneziano Coffee Roasters in Melbourne, who also won the title in 2012 and 2014. There was a time, back in the pre-hipster era, when a cup of coffee usually meant a teaspoon of instant perfunctorily dropped into a mug, followed by a mighty splosh of boiling water and a dollop of milk.

But Australian cafe society has exploded so much in the past 25 years – there are at least 6700 coffee businesses in Australia, worth an estimated $3 billion a year, according to Smart Company magazine – that standards have skyrocketed, along with a dizzying array of variations. Short macchiato. Long macchiato. Mocha. Ristretto. Lattes with intricate designs ("latte art") that are too beautiful to drink.

Latte-day saints … Australia's best barista Craig Simon
(left) and runner-up Anthony Douglas.
Latte-day saints … Australia's best barista Craig Simon (left) and runner-up Anthony Douglas. Photo: Damien Pleming

Simon doesn't have any patience with baristas who behave like coffee Nazis – refusing to serve coffees with skim or soy milk, or piping hot (the perfect temperature is said to be a lukewarm 60C). "If a barista doesn't make what a customer wants, they don't understand hospitality," he declares.

Apart from causing increased heart rate and insomnia, coffee has received a good health rap of late – as long as you don't drink it to excess or spill it in your lap. Neither of these baristas has a coffee machine at home. "The last thing I feel like at home is coffee," sighs Simon.

Simon will represent Australia at the World Barista Championship in Amsterdam in June.

Barista Angus Mackie of Canberra's award-winning Ona Coffee placed third at the Australian competition, which also covered latte art and filter brewing categories.