01. Michael Phillips


I recently sat down with Michael Phillips to discuss his journey into the world of coffee.

You may know him from his days at Intelligentsia or as one of the founders of Handsome Coffee Roasters. (yes, we're still sad it's gone) You may also know him as the 2010 World Barista Champion. Or, you may have seen him at one of the Blue Bottle coffee shops opening up around the freakin' globe. 

But his path towards a life in coffee began like many other passions turned professions do, unintentionally. 

Michael has a BFA in Digital Cinema from Northern Michigan University and was on track to work in the film industry.

But the further he got into film, the more he realized he didn't want to be, "that 45 year old guy standing around a craft service table waiting...to start shooting a commercial for a production I don't like." 

It’s hard to figure out when it turned from a side passion to a career.

Well, there was this girl...But first, there's a coffee shop. A coffee shop run by a "crochety old guy" where this girl worked. One he would visit regularly and speak with this girl about coffee and how cool it was. Thus, he kept coming back since he was "fond of her." This coffee shop was Dead River Coffee

"This was around 2002 and he would brew every cup to order, by hand, it was traditional size espresso drinks in a podunk town in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Not metropolitan, not upbeat at all but it was a truly great shop. Everything was roasted fresh, there were single origin coffee's and I hadn't heard of or seen any of this. So just being in that shop, and talking to him - bit by bit - about this process brought it into my life as something that I valued." 

He soon realized that he was no longer coming home at night to read about the newest film production or gear but instead, found himself reading coffee blogs. And it was then that he realized it was time for a change.

So I sold all of my film gear and I bought a home roaster and a dual boiler espresso machine and a grinder and I decided I was going to figure out how to do that.

The transition from having coffee occupy, "no special place in my life other than helping me cram for tests." To having the realization that your passion for a craft is overtaking your profession is an amazing change to accept. 

It's in those moments, where you either stay on track and live that unfulfilled life. Or you say screw it - and head down that crazy looking road that's so much more fulfilling. I freakin' love it when people choose that path. It's the only one I know. 

But there has to be a catalyst to leads us t that profound moment where you are compelled to change. And I feel Dead River was that for Michael. It opened up a new world for him that never existed in his mind. 

It just made me happier

"I am a person who is hungry for challenge - but also gets high off of success. I am driven by big wins. That's where my satisfaction comes from." And that's why he was able to go from one career path and excel in another. 

But we know how the story goes: Four years of competing in barista competitions, leading to him win the World Barista Championship. BOOM! Moving up at Intelligentsia and moving to Los Angeles. BAM! Opening up Handsome Coffee Roasters with Tyler Wells and Chris Owens. POW! And now rocking it at Blue Bottle Coffee as their Director of Education. YE-AH!

But Im not as interested in his destination. Because he's here. He's doing this thing. Cool. 

Im more intrigued by people who excel in a craft simply by being both open to and in having faith in their ability to accept change. 

I know - in my life - there have been times where I needed to be more open to the opportunities that came along. So it's valuable insight for anyone pursuing a craft to hear the journey of others.