Saša Šestić has been an Olympian, a parent and a World Barista Champion….but one thing he never expected to be was a published author.
So first you were an olympian, then a World Barista Champion and now, an author! Did you ever think that you would have such a varied path in your life?
Definitely not! It is the dream of any athlete to compete at the Olympian Games, so being able to do that was a dream come true for me. Being a World Barista Champion was completely overwhelming and I am so grateful for being able to have gone through that and had the experience.
Author still sounds funny to me. I remember that before I came to Australia to play European Handball, I was struggling to pass the most basic English exams. I still don’t think that my English is perfect, but having been able to put my thoughts and experiences to paper like this is just unbelievable, and it was able to happen due to the efforts of a few good people and the Smudge Publishing team. I wish that I could show this book to my old English teacher back in Serbia, I’m sure she believed I would never speak English, let alone write a book in English!
You’re known to many people through the film, ‘The Coffee Man’. Did you always want to write a book, or did the idea for writing a book come after the film?
The idea for the book came first, but the idea was to write a book about coffee origins and experiments, not so much about me. I tried to start a book, but running two companies, trying to train for barista competitions and spending time with my family meant I didn’t have a lot of time to do so.
I never expected the film to happen the way it did – one moment, Jeff and Roland were with me in Ethiopia filming coffee farms and before we knew it, we were in Seattle at the WBC [World Barista Championships].
Winning the World Barista Championships meant that any idea for a book went on hold and for the next couple of years, I spent the majority of the time travelling across the world to different expos, coffee farms, trade shows and more. I have been writing it on and off for two years and although the timeline in it is not perfect, this book contains the stories and experiences that are closest to me.
What inspired you to write a book in the first place? Have you always wanted to write one?
Originally, I didn’t want to write a book about myself or my experiences – I wanted to write a book about coffee producing countries, including their regions, processing techniques, varietals, flavour profiles and so on. What happens on the farm level is so inspiring to me, and I wanted to share my experiences on these farms and with the producers so that people could understand what happens at that stage in the coffee chain.
There are now a lot of platforms for people to use if they want to improve themselves in specialty coffee, whether they’re a barista, roaster and so on. However, they doesn’t really exist the same accessibility of information to coffee farmers and producers.
So, I wanted to write a book that didn’t just talk about my experiences, but could also be read and used by different people from around the world to have a better knowledge of coffee as a whole. I also wanted to include different experiments and case studies I have participated in over the years and how that has helped various producers improve their coffee.
‘The Coffee Man: Journal of a World Barista Champion’ is quite different from the film in that it focuses a lot more on your journeys overseas and the coffee producers you work with. Was this the purpose of the book and if so, what exactly did you want to share with people?
As I said earlier, the idea of the book has been around since before the inception of the film. They are parallels in that they show what my team and I have gone through to get to where we are.
My hope is that a lot of baristas and other coffee professionals can relate to some of the stories, become inspired by others and use it as a way to get the best out of themselves and the coffees they use.
How long did it take you to write ‘The Coffee Man’?
After some prompting, I began to write the book about about four weeks after winning the World Barista Championship; so around June 2015. The plan was for me to finish the book by the end of 2015 and to release it early the following year – of course, travelling most of the time in the following two years meant that unfortunately, the book was postponed.
So, the original plan was to write the book in six months and in total, it took me 2 years and 5 months. So a bit longer than planned, but at least it was finished!
When and where would you write chapters of the book?
Believe it or not, most of The Coffee Man was written in sitting in airport lounges waiting for connecting flights, or on planes. I found it especially easier to write on planes, where I didn’t have my phone ringing or an internet connection, so I could completely ‘switch off’ and focus on writing.
The main problem was this though was that I love sleeping and I find it very easy to fall asleep on planes. I would get halfway into writing a chapter and all of a sudden, I would wake up with the laptop still open on the tray in front of me.
I found it difficult to write between travels and flights, when I was at home. My days are always so busy and packed with a lot of my work activities, and at the end of the day I would look forward to spending as much time as possible with my wife, Beti and our two kids.
What I ended up doing was waiting until the kids had gone to bed and then trying to pull out my laptop and get some writing done. Sometimes I managed to get some words down but a lot of the time, I was simply too tired.
What was the hardest part of the book to write? Why?
I found the hardest part of the book to be just sticking with one concept. On a few occasions, I would be at coffee farm or in some part of the world and be inspired by something, so I felt compelled to write about it. An example of this is my chapter on coffee varietals, which was about 20,000 words long – this wasn’t included in the book as it was a bit far removed from the other stories, but I hope I am able to include it in something else one day.
Another part that was difficult was just trying to remember everything that has happened, and when. I have been working in coffee for more than 10 years and it can be hard to remember all the names, faces, places, competitions and so on. More than a few times, I would finish a chapter and then go back later to read it, only to realise that I had forgotten very important people, places and events. It took a long time to remember all the different things that have happened over the years, and I’m sure there are things I have forgotten to include.
Do you have a favourite chapter, or favourite photo in the book? If so, why?
I have a few favourite chapters, for different reasons. I really enjoy reading back on the parts of the book that talk about Seattle and the experience of the WBC. It was a really testing time for the team and it inspires me to re-live that time and all the hurdles we jumped to get where we are.
I think that overall, the Rwanda chapter is my favourite. It isn’t the longest or most extravagant, nor does it really talk about coffee or Rwanda that much….but for me, it is an inspiring story and it has helped me to look at people and the whole overall in a different way. That experience definitely helped me become who I am today. It’s a short chapter, but one that means a lot to me.
Unfortunately, there was an issue with printing the book and the final page was cut off. However, we’ve now reprinted those final pages so that everyone can enjoy the end of the book!
My favourite photo in the book is of the ‘dream team’ (p.12) that was in Seattle in 2015. Without these people, I would not be where I am today. For me, what this photo shows is that with great respect, dedication and great people, the impossible can be achieved. This photo will always remind me that success is only possible through teamwork, and I’ll always be thankful to everyone who was there for me.
You launched a 60 day Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of The Coffee Man. Why did you decide to use crowdfunding to publish the book?
When I decided to write the book, I wanted all of the proceeds from its sale to go to helping coffee producers. The idea was that this book would not only share their stories, but that the money from people buying it would be fed directly back into coffee-producing communities in order to help them. Since producing books is very costly, we thought that if we were able to publish it through public crowdfunding, we’d be able to share all the proceeds with these communities.
Using Kickstarter was a great platform for achieving this, as we were able to give people updates about where the money we raised would be going, and it provided us with a means of giving something to those who contributed.
You’ve widely advertised that all proceeds from sales of ‘The Coffee Man’ book will be going to coffee producers and their communities. Where will the money be going exactly, and why?
Our plan with The Coffee Man book was to use the proceeds to fund various projects in different countries. For every $40,000 AUD raised, we would be able to fund a new project. At the moment, we’ve already started two different projects.
The first of these projects is in Ethiopia, in an area of Guji close to the town of Mesina. The infrastructure there is very basic, almost non-existent. The community we are looking to help is located very close to a river, which is about 10-15 metres wide. On the other side are hundreds of small farms, where many of the people in the community earn their living.
After picking coffees cherries from the trees on these farms, they want to deliver them to different washing stations on the same day so that they can earn a better premium and the coffee doesn’t over-ferment. So, every single day, these people walk for several hours to a point at which they can cross the river. After this, they then walk to the farms to pick cherries, back to the crossing point and then to the washing station – in total, they end up walking for more than 8 hours a day.
With the money raised so far through sales of The Coffee Man book, we are embarking to build a bridge across the river. This bridge won’t just belong to the farmers or the washing station, but will be a public bridge that can be used by everyone in the surrounding communities. This project will cost about $50,000 AUD and we are lucky enough to have some of the exporters we partner with in Ethiopia helping us to fund this project.
The second project we’ve already begun is aiding the National Coffee School in Nicaragua. This school educates young people who wish to work in the coffee industry, as well as older people who are already working in coffee and who wish to learn more about processing and various techniques.
The money we have raised through sales of The Coffee Man book has enabled us to purchase and supply the school with equipment and tools that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford. So far this has included espresso machines, grinders, cupping bowls, refractometers and more to the value of $20,000. I’m really looking forward to returning there in the coming months to see how these tools have enabled students at the school to progress and further their knowledge.
Where can people get a copy of your book?
At the moment, we are working with several distributors around the world to sell copies of The Coffee Man book. In Australia, we are selling them through my website at sasasestic.com.au , ONA Coffee (onacoffee.com.au) and its cafes, as well as selling them through partners such as:
Click to order ‘The Coffee Man’ book