Interview: 2010 U.S. Barista Champion Michael Phillips
This past weekend, Intelligentsia’s Michael Phillips outperformed 59 other top baristas to retain the American coffee crown in Anaheim, at the United States Barista Championship. He’ll be in London from June 23-25 for the World Barista Championship. In the meantime, Phillips shared his insights about his accomplishments and the challenge ahead.
How did your 2010 USBC experience compare to 2009?
Last year’s USBC was fairly emotionally charged for me in that I was never really in contention to win. I was just fighting for the opportunity to do better than I had done in the regional. When I made it to the finals and eventually won it was a level of redemption I doubt I’ll be able to recreate again. This year having already had a bit of success behind me, I felt that everyone’s expectations were elevated to the point of it being rather stressful. For me it was a moment to judge if I had simply been lucky last year or if I really had the chops to justify that success. As far as the competitors go, while I would not say that the top end of the field this year was higher in ability than last year, it is certainly larger. The number of people bringing Top 6 skills to the competition was intense.
What did you learn about yourself by competing in Anaheim?
I learned that sometimes greater joy can be had in the success of others. I was very invested in a number of other competitors this year that I had helped to practice… co-workers, wholesale customers and even simply friends that worked for different companies. I was just as happy when I heard that my friend and reciprocal coach Charles Babinski made Top 6 as I was when I won on sunday. It’s a great thing to see people who deserve to do well be rewarded and equally distressing to see it not happen… these competitions will make you old before your time.
What did you learn about the barista community?
I learned two things of note. First off is that it is alive and vibrantly progressing. The coffees, concepts and technical ability being brought nowadays is significantly stepped up and it shows no sign of slowing down. The other thing is that help is only a request away. I reached out for advice to more than a few folks outside of Intelligentsia and found great support.
Since this won’t be your first time competing at the World Barista Championship, what’s your goal in London?
My goal in London is to have prettier spoons than Colin Harmon… We have an online bet going. If it wasn’t that, then it would probably be to simply do my best on behalf of the U.S. In my opinion winning at these competitions is mainly about being an ambassador for your company, your region and your country. Showing up prepared to make amazing coffee in the name of everyone who is a part of the USBC would be more than enough.
Are there any areas where you can improve for London?
There is always room to improve for anyone. I will more so need to recalculate though. I am very familiar with the U.S. competition, its competitors and what the judges are and are not used to. The WBC with an international panel and more diverse field will require a different approach. Exactly what that is only time can tell…
Will you be able to use Coopedota coffee in at the WBC?
Unless something tragic happens I fully intend to use Coopedota in the WBC. They are an amazing cooperative and it is only with their support that I was able to make it this far. Saying that we were a team would almost be an understatement as it feels more so like family by this point.
What’s your schedule like between now and London?
Work, work, work and more work. I need to pick up all of the slack from being gone for a week to Anaheim and get back to training baristas in my shop. We just deployed a massive training initiative and have a great deal of work to do with that. Add to that some tweaks to how we will be brewing, wholesale training, customer classes and what ever other events Intelli has on the horizon and I’ll be looking at a fairly constant work load from here until forever. I wouldn’t have it any other way though.