World Barista Champion Hugh Kelly Reveals the Future of Coffee, Episode 111

Are you a coffee drinker? My coffee palette has absolutely evolved having been in New York City for most of my life, where it was okay to drink a crappy cup of New York City coffee, to now, living in Australia for about three years and solely having a very Italian-influenced, long black coffee. Just to give you a little context, a long black is a coffee lingo here in Australia for a very dark espresso cup of coffee. 

Coffee in Australia is very personal, and there are tricks to creating the perfect cup. So I decided to ask Hugh Kelly, who placed third in the World Barista Championship in Milan, Italy, why coffee is so important here in Australia, as well as how you and I can brew our best cuppa ever!

Hugh answers so many questions pertaining to how coffee is sourced, some coffee species available, and what it would take to pay a coffee bean farmer. Learn how much you might have to pay for a cup of coffee in the near future. Hint: How much do you pay for a glass of wine? 

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Take this opportunity to learn way more about coffee than you ever imagined possible during a one-hour conversation. Share this with a fellow coffee drinker because Hugh is going to share what it takes to make the perfect cup of coffee.

Hugh Kelly’s Biography

An Australian native, Hugh grew up in Sydney before moving to Australia’s capital, Canberra to study commerce. While studying, he was also working as a barista. He then met the founder of ONA Coffee and discovered his passion for the coffee industry. Hugh has also won the Australian title three times and has been a world finalist twice. He has worked on international coffee projects with coffee machine company, San Remo. 


Curiosity: Rather than staying unconnected to how something gets into your cup, or even to your plate, be curious about its origin and the players involved in the process. Understand a bit more about its sustainability so you can be a more informed consumer and all-around global citizen. 

Courage: Hugh had the courage during a high-stakes competition, the World Barista Championship, to try a different coffee species. It was a risky move that definitely paid off. Translating this to your life, what if in a certain situation, you decided to step it up, shake things up, and discover how much you’re capable of. 

Creativity: Think about your typical at-home coffee routine right now. Why not be creative and support and explore a local cafe in your hometown? Make it part of a ritual. It doesn’t have to be a daily event, but maybe on a lazy, casual Saturday morning, go to a local cafe and learn a bit more about what it takes to get the coffee beans in your cup and make it taste so delicious. 

Standards: Australians having access to things has made them very discerning in what they taste so people expect quality and things to be tailored towards them.

Balance: Hugh explains that as soon as you go to international competitions, you have to be super careful about going too detailed with things because you get people with different languages and different preferences. You’re trying to tread the line between pushing boundaries, but not going so far out there that it doesn’t land with everyone.

Fresh Coffee at Home: Espresso has a high barrier to entry. Many people buy espresso machines at home that aren’t worth their money. Instead, Hugh suggests filtering coffee as a lower barrier to entry. Grind your beans fresh and there are more good options on the market. 

Quality: The biggest key is good quality, freshly ground coffee, the right amount of coffee to water, and the grind size. Managing freshness, grinding yourself, and then selecting a brew method is what’s going to give you the result that you like. 

Ratio: Brew one part coffee to 15 parts of water and manage your grain size on the grinder to give you more or less extraction. Too much extraction means you get a lot of bitterness and not enough extraction means it’s watery. 

French press: This gives you a bit more texture and it’s a bit more intense in character compared to pour over.

Supply chain: Hugh says that it’s not too distant future that coffee could just be gone. Arabica and Robusta are two coffee species that make up 90% of what we drink worldwide. With climate change, Arabica could be gone in 40 years.

Coffee species: There are more than 130 different coffee species documented and we’re drinking only two of them.

Profitability: In Bolivia, there are producers pulling coffee trees out of the ground and starting planting cocaine because coffee doesn’t make any money.

Production: Coffee farmers put all this effort in, traipsing up and down mountains with 100 kilo sacks over your shoulders, and constant blood, sweat and tears. Then they don’t even get the money they need to feed their family at the end of the year. This is a snapshot of the coffee industry.

Extinction: There’s this pressure from the production chain to push up prices of coffee. Everybody’s used to a certain price, but if it’s at that price, it’s not going to continue for the next 10 years. We could start seeing farms disappearing. The production goes down, and the price continues to go up. We’re then left with a niche product that only a certain society can afford.

Impact: Through Hugh’s platform having won the contest, he continues to look for ways to impact the industry. His goal is to grow a specialty a lot because that’s what’s needed to make the industry sustainable.

Goal: From a barista point of view, his goal is to make coffee easier to execute and make coffee taste good. If we line these things up in the right way, we can fine tune it and make it taste absolutely amazing. 

If you enjoyed this conversation, check out these episodes with similar themes:

Episode 2: Dr. Tarek Elgawhary talks about sustainable coffee practices.

Episode 69: Regenerative Food Systems Specialist Eleni Michael discusses easy Zero Waste recipes and how to create a more equitable food system.

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Melissa Llarena

Melissa helps movers and shakers up to those in the corner office rediscover what makes them unique so that they can land their dream job in a forward-thinking company where their ideas are listened to, valued, and supported.

She brings insights from having worked in 16-business units (including Human Resources) in NY, Paris, and London. Additionally, in her former corporate career, she worked on billion-dollar brands for P&G and on IBM for Ogilvy & Mather. Later, as the founder and CEO of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa created a 3-step “sellable strengths” process which has been the centerpiece of her clients' results.

Melissa applies this method consistently to support mid-level professionals up to the c-suite to get into Fortune Global 500 organizations and agencies. She studied Psychology at NYU and earned her MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

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