We chat with this year’s U.S. Barista Champion Morgan Eckroth about their routine and how important it was to make it as accessible to everyone as possible.
BY KATRINA YENTCH
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Cover photo by Nathan Lowe
Barista and content creator Morgan Eckroth (she/they) has a mission statement in coffee, whether it be on their social channels or through competition: to make specialty coffee accessible for everyone. It’s the driving principle behind their consumer-focused video content (including a highly trafficked TikTok), as well as their easily replicable signature drink, one of several factors responsible for their first-place victory at the return of this year’s U.S. Barista Championship (USBC), which took place April 8-10 as part of the Specialty Coffee Expo.
With only eight weeks to prepare an entire speech, coffee selection, and signature drink, the pressure was on for all USBC competitors (as this year’s participants were selected based off a lottery system that was announced two months beforehand) to build a routine that resonated with the judges.
Morgan learned only a week before this year’s competition date that it would also be the first barista championship to not be available as a livestream for viewers outside the immediate audience. And so, it was more crucial than ever for Morgan to see their mission statement through by livestreaming the three rounds themself. We chatted with Morgan about their winning routine’s themes around the digital space and accessibility, along with what it was like to train, pick coffees, and craft a winning drink in such a short period of time.
Note: This interview has been condensed.
Katrina Yentch: What first got you interested in coffee, and what was your first coffee job?
Morgan Eckroth: I started working in coffee in 2017, as a college freshman at Tried and True in Corvallis, Ore. I grew up not drinking coffee; nobody in my family drinks coffee. It was my kind of active teenage rebellion to be like, “I’m gonna be a coffee drinker!”
I found a lot of camaraderie and comfort in Tried and True as a high-school student. I was very passionate about wanting to be a barista in college. I started as a barista there, and it clicked instantly. I knew that it was more than a college job, off the bat. I’m also pretty competitive, I played sports a lot as a kid. So when I learned there was a competitive side to being a barista, I was like, “Let me in!” My bosses at the time had previously competed so they were incredibly supportive of my wish to do that. When I expressed it to them they were like, “Let’s do it! Let’s figure it out.” My first year competing was 2019; I ended up going to nationals that year. I also competed in 2020, in which I only did qualifiers. So I’ve done two seasons.
When did you decide you wanted to compete (again) in the U.S. Barista Championship?
I applied this year when the USBC did a weighted lottery to applicants, just because of COVID and timing and it’s a transitional year and it makes sense. So I knew I wanted to compete at the beginning of this year, and I was just waiting for them to tell me how to apply. I found out I was gonna compete roughly eight weeks, two months before the day I was supposed to be in Boston. It was a very short amount of time, in the usual scale of competition. Usually you have months!
The concept of livestreaming is a strong theme in your routine. Can you explain this a little further?
When we began formulating my routine about two months ago, I figured I had this platform (online), I should probably touch on the digital space. I wanted that connection. Another primary goal of competing this year was to not just compete but to create a video series cataloging all the steps to get to competing, specifically because there’s kind of a veil of mystery on competition and how to prep for it.
I remember three, four years ago when I competed for the first time as a very fresh barista, I had some resources. I had some friends who could help me. But a lot of it was just me blindly throwing things at the wall and hoping I was doing the right thing. So this year, my goal more than anything was to create a little capsule of something that could hopefully at least be a starting point for future competitors. My process is not everyone’s process, and it shouldn’t be. But I was hoping that what I could create through a video series would be at least a reference point for competitors. So that was something I also wanted to do. It all came together really quickly. We knew we needed to talk about the digital space. We need to talk about the last two years, where everyone has been remote. It all comes together.
Then we were planning and we were like, oh great! Every year the competition is livestreamed. We were gonna mention that, and the fact that this is livestreamed. We’re gonna talk about how we’re speaking to a live audience at home. And then a week before competition, I emailed the folks asking where is the livestream happening, and that’s when I found out that there was not going to be a livestream this year.
So all of a sudden the crux of my competition routine fell apart in a second. We were all of a sudden like, “Shoot! We need to live stream this.” So we had my partner Graham in the audience for every single one of my routines with a full-on live-streaming video setup. I had a secondary mic hooked up to me. And then we were live streaming to TikTok on stage, actively, every single routine because it was very important to have that component on stage with me, and show the judges that we are live in this moment and going through the extra effort of sharing this competition.
It is so important nowadays to be able to speak to people at home who don’t have access to this competition, to the people who are curious and wondering and want to know what this supposed pinnacle of coffee is. But they have no context or ability to access it. So the overarching concept quickly became bypassing the usual walls of high-brow coffee knowledge. We shared the entire routine online, and everyone knows my signature drink recipe. That quickly became the punchy core of my routine.
We will continue this interview tomorrow.