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Chicago Barista To Compete In Championship

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Chicago Barista To Compete In Championship

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Chicago Barista To Compete In Championship

Chicago Barista To Compete In Championship

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Michael Phillips is the winner of the U.S. Barista Championship. He will represent the U.S. at the upcoming World Barista Championship in Atlanta. Philips is a barista trainer at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, and he talks with Steve Inskeep about making the perfect cup of coffee.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our next guest is in the final stages of training for his competition this weekend and this is the sound of his sport.

(Soundbite of espresso machine)

INSKEEP: Yeah, that's the sound of Michael Phillips making coffee - pretty musical. He's the man who will represent the United States in the world barista championship in Atlanta, and he's among competitors from 52 nations for a competition that's like a wine testing and the NCAA tournament put together.

Mr. Phillips, trains other baristas and sometimes works the bar himself at Intelligentsia Coffee in Chicago, where they treat every coffee like an art work.

Mr. MICHAEL PHILLIPS (Barista Championship Competitor): People that are really interested in the speed factor, tend to get a little upset at our shop, but then once they get the drink, they realize that the quality was worth the wait.

INSKEEP: This weekend Mr. Philips has to create that perfect cup while working against a clock. To get to the world championship, he had to first win the national title.

Mr. PHILLIPS: As far as the U.S. goes we have probably one of the largest bracketing systems to get there in the world. We have ten regionals throughout the country, and then from the regionals, people head on the national, and then from the national, the top place from that gets to represent the U.S. at the world competition.

INSKEEP: My goodness, how many cups of coffee have you made to get to the world competition?

Mr. PHILLIPS: That would be a tough thing to calculate. It's - it'd be a pretty high number though.

INSKEEP: 'Cause each competition is probably - you don't just make one cup of coffee, you probably make a bunch, right?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, there's a round of espressos for four judges, a round of cappuccinos, and a round of your signature drinks.

INSKEEP: What's your signature drink?

Mr. PHILLIPS: It's an exploration of a shot, sort of deconstructed. So I would…

INSKEEP: I feel like I'm talking to Picasso here. I mean what are you doing physically with the coffee and the other ingredients.

Mr. PHILLIPS: As a shot comes out of the espresso machine, into the cup, I switch the cup that's catching the shot halfway through, because the flavor in the shot changes and the first beginning part of the shot, there's more of a dark sweetness to it, a savoriness, somewhat of a nuttiness. It's very texturally rich. And then in that last half of the shot, the flavors become slightly better, pleasantly tart, it's got a really nice clean sweetness to it. It's kind of juicy.

INSKEEP: What do you call that specialty drink?

Mr. PHILLIPS: I've managed to escape giving it some horrible name just by giving a very lengthy explanation of the process.

INSKEEP: Why, why? I really appreciate that you don't give it a name, actually, but why? Why do you avoid that?

Mr. PHILLIPS: There's so many bad names for drinks out there, and I've been guilty of contributing mine to the pool in the past.

INSKEEP: Is there a Michael Jordan of baristas?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Well, usually whoever is the reigning world champ or U.S. champ tends to have some social of cache. Currently, it would be a gentleman by the name of Stephen Morrissey from Ireland. He's been globetrotting for the last year with the World Barista Champion Crown. You see him popping up everywhere and doing judgings and teaching classes and things like that.

INSKEEP: Mr. Phillips, the judges, do they drink the coffee, or do they do like wine tasters and spit?

Mr. PHILLIPS: For the competition, they - they drink. They don't necessarily finish all the drinks. Like they're only scheduled to do so many flights before pallet fatigue sets in and we swap out to new set of judges.

INSKEEP: So is it better to get a judge on his first cup of coffee before he's really woken up or on the last cup of coffee before - when she's kind of, you know, jangling.

Mr. PHILLIPS: If you have a well-calibrated set of judges, it shouldn't matter. With that said, I went last at the U.S. and I think it worked.

INSKEEP: Going last?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Yeah, yeah, 'cause then they've seen everything.

INSKEEP: What's the prize?

Mr. PHILLIPS: The prize?

INSKEEP: Yeah, what's the prize?

Mr. PHILLIPS: Barista fame and glory, I guess. Yeah, pretty much.

INSKEEP: Well, Michael Phillips thanks very much and good luck to you.

Mr. PHILLIPS: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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