Sasa Sestic, the World Barista Champion with an inspiring story



5:41 26/09/2022

CFRR – Sasa Sestic, of Serbian descent, born in Canberra (Australia), is a former Olympic handball player who became Australia’s first World Barista Champion in 2015.

“One cool thing about coffee is that you don’t have to be gifted to be a good bartender. If you are passionate and willing to learn, you can become a pro” – Sasa Sestic

The story begins

Born on 24 October 1978 in Banja Luka (Serbia), Sasa’s family fled the ravages of war in 1997 in search of a new life in Australia. Unable to speak a word of English, Sasa had a lot of difficulties integrating into her new environment, but things have now changed. Sasa found a home in Australia. Motivated by his love of sport, he represented Australia in European Handball at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Sasa Sestic. Photo: The Star

When he decided to retire from professional handball in 2003, he completed an Advanced Certificate in Hospitality Operations and worked at various establishments such as bar clubs and fine dining restaurants and eventually as a bartender at a local bakery. Since then, he has known that coffee is his greatest passion. Sasa started roasting coffee beans in a garage, trying to learn everything about coffee and create the perfect drink.

“For me, first and foremost, coffee is not working, but the way of life. I love filter coffee for my daily drink, but a great espresso excites me. I like the delicate, aromatic filter coffee. I also love wet-processed espresso in Honduras due to its complex texture and acidity. The cool thing about coffee is that you have not to be gifted to be a good barista. If you are passionate and willing to learn, you can go professional. The key is always to be open and humble. Some people may have a gift for tasting. I am not. I just practiced, and my perception improved.”

Sasa shared in The Star Magazine.

The career of a young talent full of passion and enthusiasm

In 2008, Sasa opened Ona Coffee in Canberra, focusing solely on delivering the best coffee taste. “Many specialty coffee shops rely too heavily on equipment and refractometers to make their coffee taste great. A good barista is anyone who wants to get the best out of their coffee and how it tastes remains their #1 priority. At Ona, we focus on roasting techniques and consistency for optimal flavor – technology and tools only help when the coffee is already good, and someone wants to take advantage,” he said on The Stars.

Sasa and his company have won a host of prestigious industry awards. In the 2015 Australian Golden Bean Roasting competition, Ona Coffee was awarded gold medals in four categories including Espresso/Filter (Pressed), Milk Based, Chain/Franchise Milk, and Chain Store/Franchise. In the TISCAWRBC 2015 contest held in Taiwan, Ona Coffee won the award for the best Espresso and the best Roaster.

Sasa Sestic is now the best coffee master in Australia. Photo: Thesrpskatimes

Sasa’s awards are equally impressive with the series of prizes such as five prizes of Barista ACT champion, two prizes of Barista ACT /NSW Champion, Australian Barista Championship 2015 and 2016, and the World Barista Champion 2015.

Not only serving coffee, but Sasa also wants to apply other aspects of life to his business. He learns everything he can, from coffee beans, plantations, roasting, and even the global coffee industry.

With the goal of more control over the quality of coffee, not just roasting and brewing, but sourcing and processing, Sasa founded another company called Project Origin, which aims to establish direct commercial relationships with coffee producers. Through this, the quality of coffee, also the lives of families from the community of coffee have improved. Project Origin is an ethical green coffee bean company that establishes long-term and win-win relationships with more than 100 growers in developing coffee-producing countries.

“As a coffee buyer, I want to do more than buy the best batches of coffee. I want to build stronger communities around farmers who work with me and share ideas to help improve quality across the industry. I believe that becoming a World Barista Champion will give me more opportunities to do this.”
Sasa speaks in The Star Magazine.

Development work and investments in farms with the conducting target to research and development on a large-scale help Sasa control variables and continuously remove boundaries to improve the quality and process of coffee production. This had a hard impact on the global coffee industry and went beyond just making a good cup of coffee.

He is committed to improving the quality of life of farm workers by paying the highest direct prices for them through a “direct trade” relationship. His passion for community improvement is also reflected in his fundraising efforts and fundraising for health, education, sanitation, and childcare facilities in these areas.

Sasa’s innovation extends to the daily work of the cafe. He designed and created an innovative coffee maker called ONA Coffee Distributor (OCD) in 2016. It is used to share the ground espresso in a filter basket to avoid line separation or uneven extraction. This device is helpful for baristas, helping them create coffee cups of consistent quality.

Sasa Sestic introduced ONA Coffee Distributor. Photo:

Based on a lot of dedication and success, Sasa has affirmed its reputation in the coffee industry. Following the success of the documentary The Coffee Man, which chronicled his journey from coffee farm to winning the World Barista Championship, he also released his first book entitled The Coffee Man: Journal of a World Barista Champion. This book recounts the stories of Sasa’s sporting career, his emigration to Australia, his coffee beginnings, and his path to the World Barista Championship. It also contains many stories from his travels around the world, meeting producers and experimenting with new ways to grow and produce coffee. The special thing is that all the proceeds from this book will be used to help coffee producers, their families, and communities.

The Coffee Man: Journal of a World Barista Champion

Now, intending to contribute to the development of the coffee industry, Sasa is a coach. Widely regarded as one of the industry’s leading educators, training and advising baristas and café owners from around the world, he told The Star magazine: “I’m no longer interested in competing as a barista. I think my values are better served as a mentor. By coaching people, I can allow young talent to shine and develop new exciting things so they can continue to drive the industry forward.” Under Sasa’s guidance, Hugh Kelly of Ona Coffee was awarded the 2016 Australian Barista Champion award and placed 8th in the 2016 World Barista Championships.

The Coffee Man Film

The Coffee Man has directed by Roland Fraval and director Jeff Hann of Jeraff Productions.

This film is a work in the documentary genre that explores the world of coffee, from farm to cup of coffee, through the eyes of Sasa Sestic and shows what makes this man unique in an industry full of exceptional individuals.

Sasa Sestic’s journey to the 2015 World Coffee Championship has been a long trip. The film beginning is Sasa Sestic in the mountains of Ethiopia at 4.30a.m, searching for his life’s pursuit: the perfect cup of coffee. The Coffee Man follows Sasa from Ethiopia to other coffee producing countries of Honduras and Colombia in search of the highest quality coffee, and finally to Seattle, Washington, to compete for the 2015 World Barista Championship. The film revolves around The Coffee Man, Sasa Sestic, and highlights his passion, dedication, and struggles on his way to success as a top bartender.

The journey finding the best coffee bean of Sasa Sestic. Photo: Thesrpskatimes

Sasa’s path was fraught with hardships, trials and setbacks, but his determination, along with the support of his teammates and family, has helped him get where he is today. This movie has inspired many people over the world and has had a positive impact on the coffee industry. His journey must have been similar to other successful ones, without any honors announced without having to overcome obstacles.

That is a must-see movie for anyone in the coffee industry, or even if you are just a coffee drinker, it motivates you to overcome difficulties and pursue your life goals.

The Coffee Man has now been shown in more than 50 countries globally.

Winner of Barista Australia 2015

Sasa Sestic impressed the competition judges with her excellent performance to win the prestigious crown of Barista Australia Champion.

The Australian Specialty Coffee Association (ASCA) National Coffee Championship took place at the Melbourne International Coffee Show (MICE) from 13 – 15 March 2015.

In the tight race, Sasa Sestic took first place in the Australian Barista Championship, Craig Simon of Tank Coffee took second and Matt Perger of St Ali took third.

Sasa is no stranger to the competition scene. He has been participating in the national coffee competition for the past seven years, making his first barista championship all the more precious. “It was a special moment for me. This victory has been in the making for seven years. It is a proud achievement for me, Ona Coffee, my family and the entire Canberra coffee community.” he said.

In this competition, contestants have fifteen minutes to prepare four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four signature drinks in front of six judges.

In sequence, Sasa highlights the importance of the relationship between coffee producers and consumers. In his coffee, he uses the Las Nubes – Sudan Rume coffee variety from Colombia.

After this win, Sasa will represent Australia on the international stage at the World Barista Championships in Seattle of USA June of the same year.

Became World Barista Champion in 2015

In front of huge crowds at the Washington State Convention Center, top baristas from over 50 countries competed in championships together. Sasa Sestic faced off against the hero of the host country, Charles Babinski, from the US, the final of the World Barista Championship in Seattle.

To win, he had to prepare four specialty espressos, four milk-based cappuccinos, and a signature drink for the judges, all in just fifteen minutes.

Sestic has worked hard to prepare and almost from morning to afternoon every day of the week to practice and test for many months. He convinced the judges with his signature drink made with carbonic maceration. This method required fermenting grapes in an airtight container filled with carbon dioxide, and Sasa used a similar way to extract flavor from coffee beans. He also added a cranberry flavor with a hint of viognier Shiraz. It gives Sestic’s signature drink a refreshingly fruity, creamy taste. More importantly, it convinced the judges and catapulted him to the title of the best barista in the world.

Back home in Canberra, Angus Mackie, Mr. Sestic’s friend of 10 years, an assistant roaster at Ona Coffee, said the win was well-deserved. “Getting him on the world stage took eight years of hard work in the field,” said Mr. Mackie.

Clonakilla winemaker Tim Kirk said the win was a testament to Sestic’s absolute dedication to his craft. “Sasa is someone who is truly 100% passionate about creating something incredible and he will stop at nothing to produce it,” he said.

Sasa Sestic realized his dream of becoming the best barista in the world in 2015. Photo: Pavel Zhdanov

Memorable moments

When Sasa Sestic’s name was announced as the best barista in the world, the crowd erupted into a frenzy to celebrate his resounding victory at the 2015 World Barista Championship held at the Washington State Convention Center.

However, there is something the crowd, and even the jury afterwards, did not know was that less than 24 hours before Sasa Sestic lifted the championship trophy, he was lying in an ambulance to the hospital. He was too weak and couldn’t walk on his own, let alone be able to make coffee.

Sasa suffered from severe bronchitis, chest infection and high fever on the eve of the final exam. The doctor advised that he remain in the hospital until he recovered.

Sasa never thought he would do it because everything he did would never give up. That is his seventh attempt at becoming a world champion barista, and he will not let anything stand in the way of his dream.

“I will go there in a wheelchair and do my presentation. There’s no way I thought I wouldn’t compete. I don’t want to say that to anyone in case I’m second or third. I don’t want that as an excuse for me not to win,” he told the Canberra Times. He also hid his illness until after the victory.

Less than 24 hours before becoming the 2015 World Barista Champion, Sasa Sestic has hospitalized with severe bronchitis and high fever. Photo: YouTube

The title certainly didn’t come easy for Sestic. He coughed a lot before the competition started. Only Izaki – his coach, Betty – his wife and a few close friends knew about Sasa’s condition that day. He didn’t want to tell them because he was afraid of losing, and they thought he lost because of his weak health. The real miracle happened when Sasa’s cough stopped at the time before the competition started. He played with a fever of 39 degrees. In the end, a glorious victory as a recognition of all his efforts. Great! Although life is not extreme efforts bring success, in Sasa’s case, the worthy result has existed.

Above are the 3 drinks that Sasa Sestic served in the Barista World Cup competition. Photo: Coffeemagazine

The secret of the world champion

One of the key factors that makes Australia’s World Barista champion coffee taste great is using seasonal beans and understanding their taste. Sestic started preparing for the competition more than 12 months ago on a farm in Colombia.

“I work in many different countries around the world. I would like to know when the barista competition will take place. For this contest, it was March. I looked at the calendar and knew when the coffee would ripen in each country. Seasonality is important, and we know that the crop ends in Colombia from September to October. Like fruits and vegetables, when in season, they taste great. So is the coffee.” Sestic said.

With meticulous and specific planning, Sasa is confident that her coffee flavor will peak in time for the competition. “Our friends in Colombia are actively working to select the best lot,” he added.

The second but no less important factor is a great companion. People often liken Sasa’s secret weapon, his coach, Hidenori Izaki, 2014 World Barista Champion, Izaki, always paying attention to every little detail. Besides the conveying useful things helped him hone his skills and create the perfect routine for the Australian and world championships.

Sasa Sestic and Hidenori Izaki, the winner of Barista Thế giới 2014. Photo: Dailycoffeenews

The moment Izaki handed over the title of The best barista in the world to his successor, was sacred and will probably be remembered forever by this close couple.

As regardst the secret of Sasa’s success is expressed in the following ideas that “extreme perseverance, endless passion, attention to detail, and careful preparation.” A deep understanding of the coffee beans of regions of the world and knowing what to do with them is almost a must if you want to have a day of holding the gold cup in your hands.

Final thoughts

Sasa Sestic is a person full of passion and energy. Before stepping on the podium, he experienced many failures. With the perseverance and determination of a sports athlete, he has step by step towards success and contributed to the development of the world coffee industry. Really, for the writer, this is an inspiring and moving story that goes beyond the meaning of coffee.

To conclude, to borrow the words of Hidenori Izaki, 2014 World Barista Champion, when talking about Sasa Sestic: “His story tells us we all fail equally, but important to create success. The great achievement is never give up and keep pursuing your dream.”

Sasa Sestic, one who is always burning with passion for coffee.Photo: Dailysabah





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