Interview: WBC Michael Philips

Credit: confusedbee via flickr
Credit: confusedbee via flickr
This month’s interview is a great example of achievement you gain from working hard and truly have a passion for coffee.

Michael Phillips from Intelligentsia in Chicago, recently became the first American to win the World Barista Championship (WBC) last month in London. It’s more than just making a yummy drink. The combination of science, creativity, and craftsmanship to tell a story about the coffee in which Michael is judged, is a level of obsessive passion that takes month’s to perfect.

After all the buzz around his winning and the competition itself, what about Michael’s journey getting to this point and life ahead? How does one gain this title and what’s next for the coffee ambassador and rest of his team?

When did you start drinking coffee?
I started drinking coffee in the late teens. Strictly medicinal though, preferable with the horrible taste covered up with sugar and milk.

How and when did you decide to become a Barista?

It was only after I had been seriously into coffee for awhile. I had gotten a job at Intelligentsia working in the production department and hoping to move into roasting someday. Then I got involved in Barista competitions and I realized just how much I really enjoyed that side of things.

How long have you been in the industry?

I have been in the industry for over 4 years now.

How has your appreciation for the bean evolved?

It went from realizing that coffee isn’t produced as a ground powder to traveling to origin to learn about processing from the people who grow it. Its been a loooong road.

What all are you involved with in the coffee industry and Intelligentsia?

I do my best to support the SCAA and the competitions as I feel they are one of the few tools we have as an industry to really put an image forth. Inside of Intelligentsia I am the assistant director of training and work with the educators and wholesale accounts that we have.

What does winning WBC mean to you and Intelli?

I think it means the same for both of us. Even though I was the one on stage this is much more of a team victory than an individual one. Some many people from the farms the coffee came from to the roasting team that helped develop the profile to my coach Charles Babinski who helped the entire thing evolve were responsible. I think it was a wonderful credit to everyone for all of that hard work.

What’s next?

Lots and lots of hard work. Intelligentsia is pushing hard on a new training program and opening a new shop in Pasadena. Both of these endeavors are asking for a lot of work. I’m guessing there might be some traveling coming up as well…

What advice do you have for other Baristas who want to pursue their career within the coffee industry?

The best thing they can do is find a reputable retailer and do their best to get a job there. Coffee is still very much a trade that one needs to have the proper resources to learn well. This means working with good coffee and good people. Being inquisitive and relentless in their pursuit of knowledge is essential as well. The biggest problem I see in young baristas is that they show up to a new job not looking to learn but rather looking show how much they know. This is the wrong way around. Granted you should not trust unconditionally everything you hear but you should be open to learning from folks that know more.

In a recent post, I compiled the main links to keep up with the WBC. To find out more about the WBC and relive the competition, check it out here.

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Jennifer has been in the coffee industry since 2003. She started Daily Demitasse to educate and share her experience with other passionate coffee enthusiasts, from a Barista, Cafe Manager, shop Owner and freelancer perspective. When she's not working or blogging, you can find her at Transpire Life.

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