As a youngster Will Priestley didn’t like coffee. Now the beverage is taking him around the world.
Not for the first time, Tasmanian coffee king Will Priestley is about to take on the world, but the beverage that has taken him to the top has not always been his cup of tea.
In fact, before he became the Australian Latte Art Champion in 2010 — he was also runner-up at the world championships in the same year — he didn’t even like coffee.
“Do you know what, when I was a kid I absolutely hated coffee, I thought it was terrible,” he said.
“My Dad used to drink instant, and I’d never tried anything that was good and I’d never tried specialty coffee.
“I’d only ever tried bad coffee, and then when I tried specialty coffee I really enjoyed it, and it’s been really handy because I have that naturally discerning palate between good and bad.”
Will, 31, owns Pilgrim Coffee, and is involved in a number of coffee places and eateries around Hobart.
He is set to take on the world’s best once more in competitions in the US and England later this year, earning his tickets by taking out the nationwide Almond Breeze Breezy Masters Award in Sydney late last year.
It hasn’t been an easy path to the top, though, with an initial dislike of coffee the first of many hurdles.
He gave up an agricultural science degree to pursue his passion, and moved to Melbourne about nine years ago due in part to the lack of opportunities in Hobart.
“I said I wanted to be a career barista — which I actually did — and my Mum cried,” he said.
“Everyone thought I was absolutely crazy, and I really enjoyed making coffee, but no one thought there was a future in it.”
However, in recent years Hobart has seen coffee culture explode, providing Will with an opportunity to return to his home state while continuing to follow his passion.
It is his fiercely competitive streak that Will believes has propelled him to the top of the coffee game.
“When I was training for the worlds I locked myself in a training room for 14 to 16 hours a day and it was mind-numbing, absolutely mind-numbing,” he said. “In retrospect it was cool, but it was hell, I was training so hard.”
Will’s latest latte art victory has opened a number of international doors, with Will set to jet off to the US for the American Barista Championships, and London for a Coffee Masters competition later this year.
He has also been in Japan this week for a rematch with the woman who pipped him in the 2010 Latte Art World Championships.
Will hopes to use his time abroad to learn even more about the everchanging coffee industry.
“What I’m trying to get out of these events is more knowledge so that we can pass it on to our customers,” he said.
“Every three months we’re changing what we’re doing behind the machine, trying to be the best we possibly can be.”
While he still enjoys them, Will said it was getting harder to take part in competitions.
“I don’t know if I can invest the time and the money into it again, it’s so draining,” he said.
“I would like to compete again but I think I’ll just stick to the fun competitions rather than the super serious ones.”