Behind the Art and the Lens: An Interview with Morgan Eckroth—Part One

In a new two-part interview, we delve into the mind of this talented barista champion and content creator to gain insights and inspiration.

BY KATE VAN PETTEN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Photos courtesy of Morgan Eckroth, except where noted

Morgan Eckroth is a barista and creator at the forefront of creativity in coffee. They showcase their skills and creativity through short-form videos on TikTok and Instagram, long-form videos on YouTube, and captivating performances in the U.S. Barista Championship. (Morgan is the reigning U.S. Barista Champion.) In this interview, we sit down with Morgan, who lives in Portland, Ore., to learn about her journey into the world of coffee, her approach to content creation, and their thoughts on the current state and future of creativity in the specialty-coffee industry.

Barista Magazine: What is your name and what are your pronouns? 

Morgan: My name is Morgan Eckroth and I use she or they pronouns.

Do you identify as nonbinary?

I don’t know! I can’t tell you how little I think about gender in my life. It’s never something that influences really anything for me. Especially online. I view myself as a neutral slate. The whole turtleneck thing kind of started as a joke but I’ve continued it because I love turtlenecks. I just want to be a blank slate for whatever emotion I’m trying to portray. That’s something that has carried into real life. I don’t want to be this or that, I just want to be a really good barista. So I don’t really think about it … I think nonbinary is probably the closest, but I’ve never really put a label to it.

Morgan and another competitor sip coffee from spoons during a cupping.
Morgan cupping at the U.S. Barista Championship.

Where did you grow up and what did you dream of doing?

I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon, which is an hour and a half south of here. The very first thing I wanted to be was a spy in the CIA or FBI. Then I wanted to be a movie director, ironically. It’s kind of come full circle! That’s what I wanted for a long time. That was back when I just started to watch YouTube videos. In high school, I thought I wanted to work in forensics or criminology. The first quarter of college that I took was in criminology and criminal justice. Very quickly I realized I wanted a more creative career so I switched to marketing. I went through this big arc of career paths.

What do you do for work?

We are working on a website that is a hub for my favorite things and people I like working with, and hopefully building it out to be a coffee resource for education. I have three jobs right now. I work as a barista at Keeper a few days a week, mostly on the weekends. I work for Onyx as their content marketing specialist. I fill a lot of gaps and do a lot of short-form video creation and editing.

Morgan Drinks Coffee (MDC) is my full-time job essentially, but it’s all very fluid where all these jobs complement each other. It’s all just one homogeneous coffee career. I just deliver things to different people.

You sound busy.

I am very busy. I really like being busy. I experience my biggest dips and boredom and stagnation when I’m not working on projects. I am not very good at resting. But I don’t need a lot of rest. I don’t have weekends anymore and I know that sounds really bad. When I talk to people I say don’t do what I’m doing. This works for me but I wouldn’t want people to, like, strive for it. … I know where my limits are. My rest time is in the evenings. I’m very careful about ending my days at 5 p.m. and the rest of my day is for myself. I will turn everything off.

MorganI’s performance at the 2022 World Barista Championship finals.

When people ask what you do, what do you tell them?

When people ask what I do I say I do a lot of internet things. I tell people I’m a content creator. I’ll say I make coffee content around education and barista life. If I’m in a professional setting I’ll say I work in marketing at a coffee roaster. I’ll usually go to the lengths of describing my three facets. There are a lot of people who know me from working at Onyx. There are a lot of people who know me through MDC. There are a lot of people who just know me as their barista. I think it’s fun to shed light on the other bits. But also the answer changes depending on who I talk to.

Morgan stands between two other competitors, all wearing black and white, and boots. Behind them is the Boston Championships banner with USCC logo and logos of the event sponsors.
Morgan after winning first place at the 2022 U.S. Barista Championship.
Photo by Niki Weegens.

Tell me about reading and the books that changed your life.

I have always been a massive reader. I was homeschooled growing up with my brother. It was stereotypical homeschooling. We watched zero TV. We got to watch Mr. Rogers once a week and that was all we got. My mom instead took us to the library. Every other day we were there loading up on books. I grew up reading a ton of fiction. A few years ago I rediscovered my love for reading, which felt great. It was a coming back home. 

One of the books that has stuck with me the longest and the most is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. It was one of the first adult fiction books I read. It’s a really long, very dense book. His writing takes some getting used to. This was one of the first I could read to completion. To this day he is one of my favorite authors. I love how he builds mythology into our world. 

There is also one other book I always think back to. It’s a nonfiction book called Gunn’s Golden Rules by Tim Gunn from Project Runway. (It’s) his guide to etiquette and how he carries himself through life. These are golden rules of politeness and how he approaches problems and discussions. That stuck with me. I really respect this person and I wanted to be like him.

Morgan, steaming pitcher in hand and wearing a dark apron and black turtleneck, smiles at the camera behind an espresso machine. In front of them on the wooden counter is bagged coffee branded with Morgan Drinks Coffee logo.
Together with their work in marketing and a barista job, Morgan is a popular content creator at Morgan Drinks Coffee.

What are you reading right now?

A book called My Trade Is Mystery by Carl Phillips. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction, mostly science fiction, and fantasy. It’s this dissection of how he views the world as a writer and how he approaches everything, and it’s a deep dissection of how his humanity has been impacted by his writing. How he sees the world through it.

What does your creative process look like? 

I find myself pretty scrappy with how I do things. A lot of what I do is how I’m feeling in the moment. I like to work organically. I have an idea folder on my phone and as ideas come to me I’ll jot them down. I won’t, like, schedule them. I will film them when I feel ready and prepared. I will post them when they feel right. Similarly, with YouTube, I’ll have a deposit of ideas I can pull from when I need to. But I’m focused on what feels relevant, what feels right in the moment. A lot of it still is just me. People ask about my team and it’s just me. I have a YouTube editor now, which is great, but I do all my own filming. It’s just me and my phone. I still have my hands on everything I make, which is very important to me. I don’t feel ready to release that.

Stay tuned to Barista Magazine Online for part two of this interview.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kate Van Petten (they/them) is a writer, musician, and coffee professional based in Seattle. They have worked in the specialty-coffee industry for years with a focus on creative storytelling through marketing. You can find their songs and poems in Coffee People Zine and you can listen to their debut audiobook, For Someone, on cassette tape or online via Hello America Stereo Cassette. They are currently an editor and publicist for Poetry Northwest, the Pacific Northwest’s longest-running literary journal. If you want to share a story or connect, you can reach them at katevanpetten@gmail.com or find them at katevanpetten.com.

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