Interview: 2009 U.S. Barista Champion Michael Phillips

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Barista Champion

Intelligentsia Coffee‘s Michael Phillips outperformed 60 other baristas to capture the U.S. Barista Championship. Now he owns an oversized novelty check, a trip to Atlanta to compete in April’s World Barista Championship, and the adulation of the coffee industry. Phillips took time out of his busy schedule to discuss his USBC victory, the upcoming WBC and how he first developed passion for coffee.

What did you learn by winning the United States Barista Championship?

Jeesh… that you should really be prepared to deal with the results of aiming high because you just might hit the mark. I was ready for winning, I was just in it to try and do better, now I need to figure out what comes next pretty quickly.

What does it mean to work for a company that placed four baristas in the Top 5?
It means that I have a support team without parallel. Everyone we sent is immensely talented and was there to support each other without fail. It is not only an honor to represent them but an asset without compare to have them as advisers.

What’s your goal at the World Barista Championship?

To not pass out or wet myself for the most part. I would also like to refine the concept of my routine a bit and give it a good stage to hopefully open up they way some people think about espresso and coffee preparation in general.

Is there anything you could improve upon for the World Barista Championship? If so, what?

I don’t really know… I could not believe the score sheets I got back and am hard pressed to find anything to bump up on them. I would like to refine exactly how and when the split for the signature drink occurs but other than that I’d feel lucky to just keep the bar where it was.

What is your training schedule like leading up to the World Barista Championship?

I have to put in a good amount of time simply getting back in tune with my shop first off. Once that feels a little bit more stable I’ll start doing sessions focusing on a few core elements two or three times a week and then run throughs another day. There isn’t really much time left so I don’t think it will be able to get to steep.

How did you become interested in coffee?

A friend of mine in college worked for a small shop with a roaster. She got me to try my first single origins and gave me my first lessons in espresso prep. After a long period of learning about coffee and how to brew it at this shop (dead river coffee up in Marquette, Michigan) I pushed on trying to find the road that would eventually lead me here.

What’s your first coffee memory?

My moms can of “chalk full of muts” that sat in cupboard. it smelled pretty bad.

If you have a coffee mentor, who are they and what did they teach you?
Wow… i have learned some much from so many. Especially considering the folks I work with with. I learned true passion for coffee from Stephen Rogers and Geoff Watts, I learned the finer arts of how to really serve as a barista from Marcus Boni and I have learned and am still learning the difficult job of relentlessly pursuing an ever higher bar in everything I do from Doug Zell.

How did you come to work for Intelligentsia and since that point, what was your path to becoming a barista?

I answered an add on coffee geek to work in the production department and from there it was just a ton of hard work.. who knows where I will go next.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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