Chicago's Top Barista Shares Home Brewing Tips

Intelligentsia's Michael Phillips teaches Wayne the “pour over” method for brewing coffee at home.

In the world of coffee, there are so many factors that can affect that perfect cup, and to be honest, I’m not an expert.  So, I decided to get the facts and some tips from one of Chicago’s most talented baristas.

Michael Phillips, of Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea, is the first back-to-back winner of the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2010 United States Barista Championship.  In this competition he had to make four espressos, four cappuccinos and four specialty drinks in 15 minutes.  To win back-to-back titles, he’s obviously fast and efficient.  But, more importantly, he knows his beans.

Because coffee beans are harvested seasonally in different regions much like other fresh produce, Michael explained that a good coffee shop will only stock beans that are in season and have been freshly roasted.  The roasting date of any beans for home use should be with a few days of your purchase.  Additionally, grinding your beans at home is also critical to capturing the best flavor.  Purchasing a good quality grinder is a smart investment.

If you want to make your own lattes and espressos at home, be prepared to spend a bit of money on the right type of machine.  For consistency and quality, espresso machines that Michael recommends range from $650 to $7,500 depending on the volume of use.  

But, if your goal is to brew a great cup of black coffee, the equipment you’ll need is very affordable and the process is rather straightforward.  The “pour over” method being used at Intelligentsia is the same method you can use at home.

In addition to freshly roasted coffee beans, you’ll need a grinder, ceramic dripper with filters, a collection container, a weight scale, and a method for boiling water and transferring it the dripper.  For a single cup of coffee, follow these instructions below:

Home Brewed Coffee "Pour Over" Method
courtesy of Michael Phillips, Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea Cafe

28g Freshly Ground Coffee Beans
12 oz Water, brought to a boil

Key Equipment
- Weight Scale
- Grinder
- Ceramic Coffee Dripper and Filter


Place filter in the Dripper and wet it.

Set dripper atop a heatproof glass container.

Add ground coffee.

Place hot water in a heatproof pitcher or vessel.

Begin pre-infusion of the coffee by pouring 4 oz of water onto the grounds as evenly as possible.

Allow the grounds to “bloom”, expanding as the water is absorbed.

Once the “bloom” begins to fall, evenly pour the remaining water over the grounds in a spiral fashion starting in the center of the dripper working your way to the outer edge.

As the water in the dripper begins to transfer into the bottom container, maintain a consistent water level in the dripper.

Once all of the pre-measured water has been distributed to the dripper, allow 1 - 2 minutes for the brew to complete and the coffee to transfer into the bottom container.

Remove the dripper and pour coffee into a serving cup.

I’d like to thank Michael and the folks at Intelligentsia for all the tips and advice.  Michael will be taking his skills on to London in June to represent the United States at the World Barista Championships.  We wish him luck.  If you want more information about Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea, including where to buy home brewing equipment and their locations in Chicago, check them out at

If you have any additional questions or comments, please send me an email at or follow me on facebook.

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