For the last ten years of my life, I have worked as a barista. People rely on me almost like a dealer for their next hit. I always thought I knew quite a lot about coffee, but that was until I met Sasa Sestic. I was sent to enjoy a special masterclass with the world’s number one barista and attend a preview screening of his documentary titled simply The Coffee Man. Excited is an understatement.
When the masterclass commenced, the amount of passion and knowledge that spilled out of the man’s brain was like an endless stream. If only it could be bottled up and taken home. Here is a man that eats, sleeps and breaths coffee (sometimes literally). The documentary The Coffee Man plays out into two parts. On one hand we get to follow one his expedition to far off lands in search of that perfect cup of coffee. Sestic’s daughter superbly narrates this section us she talks us through our own 101 to coffee making. On the flip side to this we follow Sestic’s grueling journey to compete against 52 other countries and take out the tittle of world's best barista. No matter which way you look at it, though, this film constantly toes the fine line between passion and obsession.
Starting from very humble beginnings, Sestic’s family immigrated to Australia in the Mid 90’s from war torn Bosnia. Driven by his love of sports Sestic represented Australia in the 2000 Olympic Games, but it was his family’s decision to buy and open up a bakery that would see him perusing a new career. Having no experience in the food industry, it was one trip to Sydney that sparked what would be his on going love affair with coffee.
This is where the journey begins, from his chain of cafes in Canberra to the plantations in Colombia, to the overgrown forests of Ethopia - going to places that many people only ever dream about seeing. There is no stone unturned, no bean not picked or bumpy trail not traveled (even if it means scaling a mountain in a tractor pulled cart).
Juxtaposed with this story is that of Sestic’s journey to Seattle to compete among the worlds best. The ultimate outcome was obviously unknown to the film crew when filming began - the film sets out merely to document the lengths one man would go to in order to produce the perfect cup of coffee. With interviews from his family (father, wife, kids) we learn that Sestic is a man with “better coffee vocabulary than normal vocabulary."
He also has the dedication of his ever-supportive work family - the boys even go to extreme lengths to ensure Sestic wins by smuggling Australian milk through their baggage while entering the states, or declaring the secret ingredient for the “specialty coffee” round of the competition as a berry facial scrub. There’s even a Karate Kid element as we are introduce to Sestic’s friend and Mentor Hidenori Izaki, who took at the title himself in 2004. Taking him under his wing, Izaki trains Sestic to be the best he can be and teaches him step by step, what one must do to be the best of the best .
Sasa has yet to watch the film for himself, even stepping out from the screening that I attended. He wants to savour that moment and share it with the people he loves most - his family and the people of Canberra. I guarantee he will be pleasantly surprised with the humble little documentary he started with two budding filmmakers (Jeff Hann and Roland Fraval) in search of that Coffee utopia and ended up with a intimate portrait of man in search of perfection, has he found it? You’ll have to watch.
The Coffee Man is screening through the innovative cinema-on-demand platform Tugg. See their website for screening details.