Morgan Eckroth: Barista, Influencer, Rebel

Morgan Eckroth: Barista, Influencer, Rebel

When browsing on your TikTok or Instagram, you might encounter a girl with a black turtleneck and a short, clean haircut, making jokes about the small moments of the barista’s working life. This is Morgan Eckroth, a social media content creator with nearly 7 million combined followers across TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram as @ MorganDrinksCoffee. She is also this year’s U.S. Barista Champion and World Barista runner-up. Moreover, she has recently become the content marketing specialist at Onyx Coffee Lab. Working three roles, Morgan thrives in fast, busy environments but still keeps consistency and kindness in all her work. The coffee industry has brought happiness and fulfillment to Morgan, and she wants to share it with more people.

Competing to Grow

“The last season I competed it ended with me sitting across a table from my coaches after not moving to the national level. I was devastated and stubbornly promised that someday I’d bring back a trophy,” wrote Morgan at the beginning of her own emotional reflection of her journey to this year’s barista competitions on Instagram. And she did it. Being the 2022 U.S. Barista Champion as well as winning the second place at the World Barista Championship, Morgan has surpassed herself, and all her hard work has paid off. “It was one of the hardest and most rewarding weeks of my life,” she told us.

As a person who prefers keeping herself busy, Morgan’s preparation for the U.S. Barista Championship (USBC) and World Barista Championship (WBC) were quite intense. She would usually spend her time in a training lab for around three hours a day at least 3 to 4 times a week. In her final week, she even boosted her practice time to 20 to 30 hours a week and tried to find little ways to optimize her routine. When she won second place at this year’s WBC, it was an unforgettable moment for her. “It felt like the culmination of everything myself and my team had been working on for so long. It was a moment of contentment like I hadn’t ever felt before,” she said.

Morgan’s quest to the coffee world began when she was still a teenager. Coffee shops were where Morgan found a lot of comfort when she was in high school. She would spend hours watching the baristas making all the coffee drinks while finishing her homework. She said: “I was always intrigued by the combination of emotional skill it took to practice good customer service and the knowledge it took to execute delicious, beautiful drinks.” The seed of being a barista one day had at that time been planted into the young high schooler’s heart. Eventually, she started to work at that one coffee shop where she always went. When she had her very first shift as a barista, she already knew that it was something she would choose as her career.

When Morgan turned 19, she competed in the USBC for the first time. As a green hand, she was still underqualified for the competition. However, she learned something much more precious about coffee as well as barista hospitality in the weeks of the competition than in the year and a half she was working behind a bar in a coffee shop. “Competition has continually led to some of my most significant moments of personal growth, both in knowledge and as a person,” she told us in the interview.

In the past few years, Morgan has continuously competed in barista competitions and achieved various levels of success. Of course, there were failure moments that made her doubt herself. Especially in the 2020’s competition, she didn’t do as well as she wished. And that left her feeling very bad about herself. She confessed that she still didn’t feel she was actually “ready” to compete this year. However, deep down in her heart, she knew that trying and competing in all those professional barista competitions is a fast track to growing, becoming a more professional barista, and understanding the whole coffee industry better. She enjoys the creative process of putting together routines and especially collaborates with all the other coffee talents from all different fields. “Don’t wait until you feel ‘ready’ because that day may never come. If you’re thinking about competing and can do it, then I highly suggest going for it,” Morgan suggested to other baristas considering competing.

It feels surreal for Morgan that this season is over. She told us that it is difficult to explain the range of emotions she felt throughout it. Now it has been a few weeks since the WBC. Looking back, what excited her most was being able to share her coffee and her routine so many times with her coffee peers and the public. She also felt great joy that so many brilliant people are passionate about coffee as she does, and putting so much effort into the industry that she’s deeply in love with.

Officially, Morgan has not yet decided what’s the next big thing for her. This year has been transformative; she only feels she has time to think now. However, one thing for sure is that Morgan achieved personal growth through the competitions. “I’m excited to take everything I learned through USBC and WBC this year and apply it to my life outside competition.” She is also now back to her barista role, ready to serve more customers with even better coffee and hospitality.

The Double Life of Morgan

Morgan actually has a degree in marketing and one look at her social media will make you realize she is very talented in what she does. Apart from being a barista, Morgan also works full-time as a social media content creator. Her social media account @MorganDrinksCoffee is a big hit across all the popular social platforms, including TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube. Most of her posts are short comedy videos meant to bring some laughter to the audience by satirizing the everyday life of a barista, but at the same time, try to help the general public get to know specialty coffee and barista working life. “My goal is to create playful videos that can poke fun at a job that I dearly love,” she told us.

A classic MorganDrinksCoffee video is a 30 seconds short video with light music, simple subtitles explaining the acting, and good humor. The black turtleneck is also a prominent feature in all her videos. It is a style that Morgan intentionally used to make her videos more recognizable a few years ago, but lately, it has been applied to her real life. She told us that every morning when she woke up, she would just put on her turtleneck, not needing to worry about what to wear during the day.

In a competitive social media world, it is never easy to get recognized nowadays. However, thanks to her marketing background and business mindset, @MorganDrinks- Coffee now has over 6 million followers across social platforms. When asked about her secret to success, Morgan claimed that she has “been doing this for long enough to know that consistency, kindness, and a sense of humor can go a long way online.”

Indeed, Morgan has been in the content creation field for some time. Video creation has always been a hobby for Morgan. When she decided to go to university to study marketing, her plan was to work in digital marketing for the coffee industry after graduation. Therefore, she began to make coffee videos in her spare time, but just for fun. It was 2019 when TikTok was only an uprising platform. Morgan wanted first to try if she could make any splash through short-form videos. And her videos very soon took off. Her first coffee video that got hit was a video of her pouring a latte. There’s no music, explanation, or special effects, yet she was surprised to find that people liked it. It was something cool and notable for the audience. That is when Morgan started to take it more seriously and thought about what more she could do through her videos.

Then she realized that, as a barista working in the hospitality industry, it is inevitable to meet some difficult customers or weird situations. For her, it is not a thing that would strike her nerve; instead, she only finds it amusing. She respects both the barista as well as the customers’ experience. In fact, for many people, specialty coffee is still a niche area. It is very possible that some of the customers might feel confused about the choices of coffee on the menu. Video is a light way to help the general public to understand coffee more.

Morgan reflects on her short videos: “Within the coffee industry, there are lots of discussions about how we’re better able to communicate the value of coffee and explain to consumers the intricacies of the drink that they have on a daily basis. There are a lot of questions out there that I don’t have the answers to, but I do firmly believe that a reliable way to get someone to care about something is by piquing their curiosity. Based on this belief, I’ve focused on making playful, silly videos around coffee that can hopefully act as that first push towards more exploration.”

Clips like when a customer comes to get a drink, yet the barista forgets which one is with oat milk or when the customer is confused or unable to decide from the menu, and the baristas have to pretend they were busy behind the counter to avoid awkwardness are the types of clips you might see on @MorganDrinks-Coffee. These are the things we probably all have encountered in a coffee shop. “I don’t ever want my content to be the end-all-be-all of someone’s coffee journey; I just want to create a spark that they can then continue to kindle if they wish,” Morgan commented on her videos.

While @MorganDrinksCoffee aims to showcase Morgan’s own approach to her job as a barista through an entertaining way, she has also found a more rigorous way to do it. Recently, Morgan joined Onyx Coffee Lab, a company that focuses on roasting and barista training, as their content marketing specialist. So far, she has created videos for professionals or amateurs who are interested in the coffee industry, such as a brew guide, coffee variety topics, and so on.

Having three jobs in her life, Morgan tends to fill her current career with coffee-related projects and jobs that excite her. Surely, balancing all the work is never an easy job. However, Morgan believes that “consistency and kindness” are the keywords she applied to all the jobs. She said: “As a barista, I want to provide a reliable experience to customers each time, both in how I treat them and in the drinks that I serve. Similarly, I want to create a space online that’s consistent and safe.”

Now with success in both her media content and her barista career, Morgan definitely has more voice than before. This also gives her more responsibility to help make the coffee world a better place for not only the professions but also the general public. “It’s a privilege to have the platforms that I do, and I don’t take that lightly. At the end of the day, I like to create things, and I’m glad that others have been able to enjoy what I’ve created. My goal is to continue creating and wielding the platforms I have responsibly,” she commented.

Rebel With a Cause

From a family with no avid coffee drinkers, Morgan’s way to rebel when she was 16 was driving to a coffee shop first thing after she got her driving license. Now 23, she showed her rebellion by releasing her signature recipe right before the USBC competition. “I decided to publicly publish my USBC process, including my signature drink, very intentionally,” she told us.

For competitors, keeping recipes and ideas only to themselves is the norm, especially during major barista championships. It usually takes baristas months or even years of effort to develop a strong idea to compete. Therefore, it is natural that they are not willing to leak their recipes to let others get inspired. It is genuinely risky for Morgan to publicize her signature drink and her USBC routine during the competitions, and probably no one has actually done that before. Morgan confessed that she did get anxious before she posted her recipe online. She said: “It was nerve-wracking, of course. It felt like a lot of vulnerability for something that I cared deeply about.”

Why did she insist on doing it anyway, even if it might lead to a failure in this important competition? This would trace back to her first USBC competition experience. At that time, Morgan realized it was difficult to access professional training and preparation processes if you were not part of the “coffee competition community”. It gives a lot of disadvantages to new competitors. By publicly showcasing her preparation process for the USBC, Morgan hopes it can help more baristas who want to compete in major championships get an idea of how to go about it…

Moreover, she also noticed that most of the coffee served in competitions are rare, delicious drinks that are often highly inaccessible. “It is a pity that some of the most precious and wonderful coffee experiences are not able to be celebrated by the general public. I wanted to challenge myself to see if I could find a way to allow people to enjoy a taste of what the judges were,” Morgan told us. When Morgan released her signature recipe, she recommended to the audience what sort of coffee would provide a similar taste experience to what she was serving the judges in the final. Thus, the audience could also sip while listening to her presentation.

The result was stunning. “It was incredibly emotional to see that happen in real-time. When I got off the stage at USBC and looked at my phone a few hours later, it was absolutely amazing to see that there were many folks who had been able to recreate my drink and enjoy it themselves at home,” Morgan recalled the feeling.

It is unknown how much Morgan’s action would change the dynamic of the barista championship. However, her pioneering work will encourage and help other baristas to compete and improve for sure. Also, there is no denying that the coffee industry still has a lot of issues, such as unsustainable wages, and the lack of knowledge of customer service skills, as Morgan reckons. However, as part of the new generation in the coffee industry, Morgan certainly tries to take responsibility and contributes to the industry in her way, no matter if it is through her barista practice or her creative content creation. She stated: “The coffee industry has brought so much joy to my life and the lives of others, but to continue doing so, we have to keep asking how we can do things in a way that benefits all.”

“When I started as a barista, I think I viewed the coffee industry through very rose-colored glasses. I’m able to look a lot more critically at what’s happening around me while still holding a lot of love for the industry now.” Morgan concluded. The next season of the barista competition has already started and even though Morgan has not yet decided how she will be involved, she is determined to challenge herself in one way or another and, of course, keep on trying whatever she can to help the industry grow and improve.