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Champion Barista Matt Lewin of Ona Coffee Helps Turn Amateurs Into Barista Pros

For some, coffee is more than just a morning pick-me-up. In partnership with Vitasoy, we speak to the coffee expert about delivering work-ready barista training to regional towns in need.

Making coffee is something many of us do daily, probably without more than a bleary-eyed second thought. Whatever our own standards, though, there’s a long way between our morning brew and the coffee of an expert like 2019 Australian Barista Champion Matt Lewin.

“I guess there’s excellence in everything,” says Lewin, also the wholesale manager at roastery Ona Coffee.

“Nothing pushes you to be better in your field than competition,” he says. “You spend weeks and months putting this routine together and it just makes you make the best coffee in the world – it makes you a better coffee professional.”

Competing in and winning the Australian Barista Championship in 2019 gave Lewin more than just a souped-up knowledge of specialty coffee and techniques. A connection with then-sponsor Vitasoy has led to a brand ambassadorship and a mutual desire to bring about positive change through coffee. “The values that we share are wanting to do good and add value to the world,” Lewin says. “We want to make amazing quality approachable for everyday people, and we want to reach as many coffee drinkers as we can.”

Through a shared desire to spread the gospel of good coffee, Lewin and Vitasoy have partnered to bring barista-level coffee training and employment opportunities to regional communities with their Homegrown Baristas program. Vitasoy’s roots and base of operations are in regional Australia, so giving back to the community is one of its big commitments. “We came up with the initiative to reach out to regional Victoria and create a training school, teach young students how to make coffee and add some real-world skills and value to the community,” says Lewin.

The first Homegrown Baristas Coffee Academy kicked off in Ballarat in 2023 with support from CafeSmart, the Ballarat Neighbourhood Centre and Phoenix P-12 Community College. Four students from the school – Blake, Bree, Charlie and Ashley – were taken under Lewin’s wing. The idea isn’t necessarily to turn them into cafe owners or Australian barista champions – though they’re taught plenty of the skills required, like dialling in espresso machines, latte art and how to handle dairy and plant-based milks. Instead, the goal is to bring work-ready training to communities that might have limited training opportunities otherwise. “They can use these skills in the real world either straight away while they’re at school or, if they really love it, they can pursue a career in coffee,” Lewin says.

And the program seems to be working. “They have a coffee van in the school that runs like a business. Before the training program, it was inconsistently operated, it didn’t make money, there wasn’t a lot of love for it. We visited three months later and the thing is up and alive, it’s like a jewel in the crown of the school,” says Lewin. “The students are all behind it, everyone’s buying coffee, the thing’s making money and they’ve turned this coffee van into this thriving business through their coffee skills and passion.”

The first run of the program has succeeded beyond expectations, and both Lewin and Vitasoy hopes to take it further. “There’s a lot of cafes and coffee training schools and opportunities in major cities, but beyond that it starts to thin out,” Lewin says. “I think the more that we can add value in the areas that need it most, that’s probably where we can get the most impact.”

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Barista's Choice by Vitasoy. Photography: Jamie Alexander

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