Local Hero, Intelligentsia Savant Michael Phillips Places Third Best in Coffee Universe (Okay, World)
By David Shuey, April 20, 2009
Good to know a hard-working man, isn't completely losing his libido. In between texting his friends about attractive Russian baristas, Michael, ahem, Mike Phillips was on his way to winning 3rd – THIRD! – in the World Barista Championship competition. That's like saying your friend down the street is, oh, I don't know, the Michael Phelps of the coffee world. We just won't print the naughty pictures. (Which ones were you thinking?) Just the inappropriate texts, which, I admit, I baited him on the Russian, as that's the only round I saw Friday before gearing up for his Saturday sensational showdown of espresso-pulling skill and finesse.
The all-male final round of six only had two hotties, and Mike was clearly one of them. Certainly, his hometown crowd at Intelligentsia on Broadway, and his friends in Ukrainian Village were thinking so (and saying so). Mike was only 5 points shy from beating the winner from the UK, who had 623 points. I'm not sure how the points are extracted and totaled – and don't ask how the 4 espresso, 4 cappuccinos, and 4 "signature" drinks are judged in the 15-minute performance of shots, hip music, and articulate explanations of Rwandan beans – but I do know 618 to 623 is flipping close. Considering there were 52 contestants, representing 52 countries, this is nothing short of the immaculate reception for this Chicago coffee Renaissance Man.
Seriously, we're only teasing because Mike's among the sweetest, most humble men we know. The unqualified kudos write-up of his performance in the official World Barista Championship blog – there may have been some pro-American bias – only hints at his intense skill and purely decent nature. And just look at this adorable picture with his parents on the right. Add comment below, with a subtle request for his digits. You might just get them.
For obvious reasons that the Atlanta event kept pressing – Yo, where's our respect as coffee aficionados? – many may have missed that this was going on at all, let alone exists. From the official website with the live feed, one could see up to 600 fellow watchers at any one time, and mostly were Chinese based on the comments section, which puts its global popularity up there with skeet shooting. If even. But just you wait. With tales of glory like Mike's interview here on NPR's Morning Edition with Steve Inskeep to the Sun-Times, it may go from tiny niche to a sizable niche entertainment. Heck, someone did it with it poker.
A little history to Mike's remarkable run: His first place placement in the finals of Nationals qualifying him as the lone American representative was a improbable story unto itself. Imagine getting 6th place in the previous regional qualifier – a competition you won the year before. Instead of giving up, you fly out West on your own dime. Then win the whole shebang in a come-from-behind fashion. That's exactly what Mike Phillips did. He's our Rocky, our Black Stallion, our El Mariachi of local heroes.
Congratulations, again, Mikey P.