Interview: 2010 World Barista Champion Michael Phillips

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Barista Champion

On June 25, Intelligentsia’s Michael Phillips outperformed more than 50 national barista champions in London to become the first World Barista Champion from the U.S. His espressos, cappuccinos and signature beverage scored him 706 points, allowing him to outpace Guatemala’s Raul Rodas by 15 points. After Phillips won, he shared his insights about lessons learned, the joys of victory and life ahead.

Why was it important for you to compete again after reaching the WBC in 2009?

I still felt like I could give a better run than I did last year and I found the opportunity to pursue an idea I had wanted to work with for years. The opportunity to challenge oneself through competition is one of the best ways to push your limits and raise the bar. It’s a hard thing to walk away from.

What did you learn about yourself by winning the WBC?

Still trying to figure that out. I learned more about others I’d say than I did about myself. The number of time and ways people stepped up to support me and the team’s run for this years was impressive. It was far more than I had any right to ask for. Add to that the number of people who have expressed happiness at the U.S. achieving this goal and it was really rather wonderful.

Would you ever compete again?

I doubt it. One reason being the tradition that has kept WBC champs from continuing on but that’s nowhere near the main reason. The competition is about selecting an ambassador for Specialty coffee and I think the more of those we have the better, each year giving someone new to focus on. Add to that the simply enormous amount of work I have both at Intelligentsia and that will come with the WBC title and there is little time left for anything else.

How useful was it for you to have a fellow World Barista Champion, Stephen Morrissey, working with you in Chicago?

immensely valuable. Stephen is just naturally good at finding ways to communicate ideas and polish things up. He however was not my coach, that title goes to Mr. Charles Babinski. Charles was there every step of the way and deserves as much credit for this as anyone.

Now that you’re the World Barista Champion, how do you expect that to change your life? Does this affect your role with Intelligentsia?

Its a bit hard to tell. The title has drastically influenced pretty much every barista it has gotten its hands on. I however am in a unique situation in comparison. Many of the past winners have gone on to open their own roasters, find jobs at other quality cafes or do consulting… I already have what in my opinion is one of the best jobs in coffee. At Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea I am the imminent Director of Education. This means I get to work with some of the most talented green buyers, roasters and baristas in the industry in the relentless effort of trying to craft peerless shops. Everyone one inspires me to push harder and give the support necessary to do so. In short I won’t be using it as a way to go job hunting as much as I will use it as a platform to promote my belief in the importance of rigorous training for anyone making coffee. I’ll also be pushing for more shops to take brewed coffee as seriously as they do espresso, focusing on brewing to order with solid, well researched methodologies.

What’s your upcoming schedule like?

I dont really know to well aside from the fact that sunny California will play a role. We are opening a new shop in Pasadena and I am heading out shortly to oversee the training program for it. Other than that I’ll go where the winds take me.

What’s your preferred brewing method when you’re at home?

I’m a big fan of the Chemex if I have someone to share it with me and the V60 if I’m on my own.


Joshua Lurie

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

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