Episode Four – Mike Phillips

Very pleased I could grab Mike for a little while to have a chat about stuff. I’ll confess that I decided to edit this one down quite a bit. I said from the beginning that I wanted these to be about 30 minutes, and I want to stick to that.

In this episode:

- What he’s been up to this year
- Barista training
- Arguing about espresso brewing
- Just a little bit on barista competition

Things that didn’t make the cut:

- Mike and I discussing our mixture of proud and shame at owning these.
- Mike had a great line, in amongst the shoe shopping, that I wish I could have kept in (and still had it make sense.) He said we’re often “making coffee for ourselves” as an industry. Perhaps one for another time…

I hope you enjoy this one. The next one is going to be on aspects of producing coffee and should be really interesting too.

You can subscribe (or leave a review) in iTunes here, and the podcast feed is here. As I say – I’m open to suggestions and feedback!

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19 Comments

  1. I’d love to hear a conversation between Steve Leighton of Hasbea

  2. This has been my favorite so far! It was interesting and Mike is a funny dude

  3. Keep up with the podcasts, they are quickly becoming one of the highlights of my week!

  4. Great post. For every post, I’m increasingly surprised by the parallels of these matters to teaching and music. Tree comments:

    1) one shouldn’t be put off by the fact that when you do barista training you don’t see immediate results. You can’t really stick things into people’s brains of two reasons. Firstly, people actually don’t learn by sticking things into their brains (“the Matrix way”). If one really acknowledges this, it should have a profound effect on one’s approach to training (school teachers struggle with this every day, right?). Secondly, training people is about making them change their habits, which is no straightforward thing to achieve. You’ve probably reflected a lot on what you’re going to promote/teach/discuss before meeting the attendants, whereas they might come in rather unprepared. My experience from in-service teacher training is that you need repetition and (mental) reflection in between. We usually prefer meeting the teachers 2-3 times with a few weeks in between, giving them tasks to carry out and reflect upon in between each session. When meeting them the second and third time, we start off by discussing their experiences since last time.

    2) the way you describe competitions makes me think of music: is being a musician (barista) a craft or is it an art, or both? If competitions are about technical craftsmanship, might tasting an award-winning cup be something like going to a Mezzoforte concert? The music is very advanced and often played in a very flawless manner, but still the music is sterile and uninteresting… I don’t think this is a perfect parallel, but maybe worth reflecting upon… (hope I didn’t put off any Mezzoforte-fans)

    3) the two approaches you describe towards judging resembles me of “holistic” vs “analytical” approaches to assessment/evaluation. Imagine if you wanted to grade an essay: if you read the whole essay and give it a grade based on your general evaluation, it’s holistic. If you use a scheme where you mark of points for various specified traits such as coherence, spelling, language, reference use etc., you’re doing an analytical evaluation. Often, one would like do do both, and give the two evaluations different weights. Say, you assess analytically on crema colour, texture, mouthfeel etc. PLUS “how good a cup this was”. The next discussion would then be how much weight you should give each of the two assessments (60/40? 70/30?)

  5. Great post. For every post, I’m increasingly surprised by the parallels of these matters to teaching and music. Tree comments:

    1) one shouldn’t be put off by the fact that when you do barista training you don’t see immediate results. You can’t really stick things into people’s brains of two reasons. Firstly, people actually don’t learn by sticking things into their brains (“the Matrix way”). If one really acknowledges this, it should have a profound effect on one’s approach to training (school teachers struggle with this every day, right?). Secondly, training people is about making them change their habits, which is no straightforward thing to achieve. You’ve probably reflected a lot on what you’re going to promote/teach/discuss before meeting the attendants, whereas they might come in rather unprepared. My experience from in-service teacher training is that you need repetition and (mental) reflection in between. We usually prefer meeting the teachers 2-3 times with a few weeks in between, giving them tasks to carry out and reflect upon in between each session. When meeting them the second and third time, we start off by discussing their experiences since last time.

    2) the way you describe competitions makes me think of music: is being a musician (barista) a craft or is it an art, or both? If competitions are about technical craftsmanship, might tasting an award-winning cup be something like going to a Mezzoforte concert? The music is very advanced and often played in a very flawless manner, but still the music is sterile and uninteresting… I don’t think this is a perfect parallel, but maybe worth reflecting upon… (hope I didn’t put off any Mezzoforte-fans)

    3) the two approaches you describe towards judging resembles me of “holistic” vs “analytical” approaches to assessment/evaluation. Imagine if you wanted to grade an essay: if you read the whole essay and give it a grade based on your general evaluation, it’s holistic. If you use a scheme where you mark of points for various specified traits such as coherence, spelling, language, reference use etc., you’re doing an analytical evaluation. Often, one would like do do both, and give the two evaluations different weights. Say, you assess analytically on crema colour, texture, mouthfeel etc. PLUS “how good a cup this was”. The next discussion would then be how much weight you should give each of the two assessments (60/40? 70/30?)

  6. Great episode James – thoroughly enjoyed (from Aus).

    On the topic of underextracted/overdosed brews vs. those in the 18%-22% ext. yield parameters. I have on many occasions (though by no means dominantly) opted to serve a filtered coffee using a recipe that will land in the 15-16% ext yield ballpark. There are a number of reasons for this. I’ve found, as Mike points out, that ‘properly extracted’ brews can often be a little too honest, and with coffees that are either not in the perfect age bracket, have certain inherent characteristics that are unappealing or have been roasted a little off, a much tastier cup can achieved by dosing up, bringing out the acidity and juiciness of the coffee, while hiding astrigent/roasty flavours that seep out of the coffee at higher extraction yields.

    Coffees extracted in this aren’t necessarily going to be bland, unbalanced, or simple. Every morning I will brew up a particular coffee to achieve both a 19%-20% ext yield and a 15-16%, and give it to the other staff to taste blind and pick their preferred cup. From there we work out how we want that particular coffee presented for the day.

    This method of dialling in the filter brews has really forced us not to be too philosophical in regards to the way we brew our coffee. Sure, you may not be showcasing all a coffee has to offer at a lower extraction percentage, but if it tastes better, what can you do?

  7. This is interesting, and I’d be interested to (somehow) participate in your dialling in process. I might try the same sort of thing at work and see what the reaction is.

    I assume you are shooting for the same strength regardless?

  8. Thats right, we set out to create two beverages with similar TDS, but do so in two different ways. So to create the underextracted/overdosed presentation of a coffee, we brew using a short steep time, coarse grind and high dose – for instance 18g per 200ml. For the roughly 20% Ext yield brew, we dose closer to the gold cup, use a finer grind and also a longer steep time.

    I would say that lately, 30%-40% of our coffees get the overdosed/underextracted treatment. But that isn’t necessarly for the duration of the coffees life. It many taste better under extracted when its still quite fresh, but will settle into a state where a fuller extraction does the coffee more justice. Or it can go the other way… We try to draw only the most tenuous of conclusions.

  9. Particularly enjoyed this! It helps me to begin to understand what my son is into.

    Mike’s Dad

  10. Thanks for this illuminating comment.

    I’ve also worked in coffee and in the more theoretical side of education. I’d make several observations.

    1. Systematic approaches to training are well known and would help subject matter experts (the very definition of a barista champion or barista trainer) hone in on exactly what they want to achieve, and what they would need to do this.

    2. In terms of those goals and routes to them, strategies are also known. For instance for the very basics of espresso: dose, distribute, tamp are well known, and can/should be taught in a behaviourist manner ie. This is how you do it, repeat practice (at internvals or in one go) until standard obtained. Other skills like taste are good to do in a cognitivist manner, discovering and latching onto what learners already know and extending it in a group discussion. Cup of Excellence do a pretty good job in this regards when they introduce delegates to tasting. And finally, as Mike says, some barista skills are on the edge of being known. A constructivist approach helps here: we start with a problem and build an answer amongst us. For instance. What is the best way to brew (this) given coffee: here are 6 brewing methods, lets find an answer and the implications of it. What’s happening in each method? Why? How would you advise a client?

    3. I can understand why smaller companies don’t have access to this kind of knowledge. It’s normally hired in by large corps to optimise their training. But surely there must be good educational consultancies out there who could help in this regard?

  11. Thank you again a great post , the last third I found very interesting, regarding brew ratios etc. Like you I find it difficult to understand why there is so much resistance to brew ratios and beverage weights. The fact is the ones resisting have probably never made an attempt at trying
    out the theory.
    A great follow on to your pod casts would be to interview Vince ( Mojo )
    Looking forward to your next interview.

  12. You have no idea how great it is for me to hear you call out the 21-22 gram/half to quarter ounce shot. Drives me absolutely insane. The longer i’m in coffee, the more a traditional 2 ounce double is really appealing to me.

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