Canberra's Hugh Kelly wins Australia Barista Championship 2016

Australia's best barista, Hugh Kelly.
Australia's best barista, Hugh Kelly. Photo: Jamila Toderas

For the second time in two years, Canberra is home to Australia's best barista as ONA Coffee's Hugh Kelly has succeeded his boss, Sasa Sestic, at the 2016 national championships.

It was a doubly successful awards season for the capital this month when local group Bean!Roasters by Cosmorex​ took the title of best roaster at the Australian International Coffee Awards.

Mr Kelly's win means Canberra has gone from never having a representative in the Australian Barista Championship finals to back-to-back titles.

The former commerce student has been a barista for about eight years and competing for around five.

He graduated two years ago but "by then coffee had a hold of me, and I wanted to do that [full-time]".

He was coached by his boss, current world champion barista Mr Sestic.

Mr Kelly, 25, said he had never felt so prepared for the Australian competition, which was "one of the hardest in the world".

"You have to really bring a lot to the table to be able to win it," he said.

"You get to that stage you're so prepared, that you're not stressing on the day, you just go out and have fun."


Mr Kelly worked with a coffee bean producer in Colombia to develop a blend for the competition.

Unusually, the former Cupping Room barista said, they used the robusta bean, the poorer cousin of arabica which boasted "few advantages".

"Robusta's the cheap stuff," Mr Kelly said. "It's not considered very good, but we've done a lot of things with it to make it extraordinary."

Hugh Kelly is the Australian Barista Champion!!! Congratulations to all of the competitors!

Posted by ONA Coffee on Friday, March 18, 2016

While elements of the competition included taste and a barista's technical ability, part of the challenge was conveying a message, Mr Kelly said.

"It is, at the end of the day, hospitality, so you are trying to teach [people] something or give them a great experience," he said.

His message was about the use of common bean varietals in a future where the environment could dictate availability.

"With climate change and all the pressures on different areas of the industry, it's having a really clear vision of what a coffee can be," he said.

"And what you can do with a coffee all the way through the supply chain, and tying them together in a way that fits the experience."

Mr Sestic won the Australian championship in 2015 before taking the world title in Seattle.

Mr Sestic described Mr Kelly's win as "unbelievable".

"Me winning the Australian championship has opened up a lot of opportunities for talented baristas in Canberra," he said.

"Having a title stay in Canberra for two years in a row, it's a privilege, an honour. [Hugh's] hard work has completely paid off."

Mr Kelly works for ONA Coffee in wholesale and training.

He planned to take a week off to recuperate before focusing on the World Barista Championship in Dublin, Ireland in June.