Business, Development, People

A handsome cup of coffee for a ‘magnificent’ city like Detroit

If you like a “local boy does well” story, check out Royal Oakian Michael Phillips. These days, the 2010 World Barista Champion is roasting coffee in Los Angeles to sell in über-cool cities such as Detroit.

Told ya he’s done good.

Kristina Coates

Phillips is one third of the trio that launched Handsome Coffee Roasters in April of this year. Along with world-class coffee lovers Tyler Wells and Chris Owens, Phillips is crafting small batches of the beloved bean for discerning drinkers nationwide.

This good-looking cuppa is featured at Corktown’s newest, Astro Coffee. It is a partnership based on mutual respect for hand-crafted coffee, Phillips told me via telephone. (He is on the MP Handsome Tour ’11 right now, going to the few shops his company selected to sell the wholesale version of the coffee.)

Let me say: I love a mug of hot, steaming coffee in the morning. But I wasn’t aware of just how rich or deep the coffee community truly is. There are entire web sites, blogs and chat rooms surrounding the coffee industry. To many of these writers, Phillips is a legend of sorts: the first American to win the World Barista Championship and a former Intelligentsia leader (a regional roasting company of great note based in Chicago).

To say Phillips loves coffee would be an understatement. He worships at its temple, devoting himself to its perfection. OK, maybe that’s an overstatement. But it’s pretty much true. He gave up whatever it was he majored in at Northern Michigan University to study his dark mistress.

Well, truth was he became smitten with the single-cup coffees he drank at a local coffee shop called Dead River. A single cup is brewed to order – something us folks who drive through or walk through a chain coffee store miss out on. Instead of putting it in a big old pot, each single cup is prepared when you ask for it. And that is what made Phillips see coffee as a way of life, not just something to drink when you need a pick-me-up in the morning.

He took an entry level job at Intelligentsia and worked his way up. He took lotsa mental notes. Then, he quit. And he started Handsome Coffee Roasters with a hard-working team of people who love what he loves.

“We felt like a lot of specialty coffee shops were doing a great job of making coffee, but it wasn’t as accessible as it could be,” Phillips said. “We wanted to create hand-crafted, quality coffee that everyday people could enjoy.”

When he made trips back home, he would stop by downtown Detroit, frequenting spots like Mercury coffee (when it was still open). There, he met Daisuke Hughes, who opened Astro Coffee last month with his wife Jessica Hicks. They clicked. So when Phillips thought about spreading Handsome Coffee across the Midwest, he thought of Hughes.

Kristina Coates

“They impressed the heck out of me,” Phillips said, not only for their slavish attention to detail but for their willingness to take a chance on Detroit.

So you might say Hughes has done well as well. Phillips heartily agrees. So we get a taste of Handsome Coffee – and the hand-crafted coffee movement – before much of the rest of the world. Good for us. Getting that single-cup coffee truly expresses the bean’s true nature…brings out its aroma…highlights its sweetness…and makes sugar or creamer unnecessary.

“It’s a magnificent city. It deserves great coffee,” Phillips said.

I’ll drink to that.

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