What a competition season it has been for Morgan Eckroth. After taking the United States Barista Championship by storm last April in Boston, bringing her nearly 7 million followers on Tiktok, Instagram, and YouTube along for the ride, the Portland-based coffee professional better known as @MorganDrinksCoffee set their sights on Australia and the World Barista Championship.
Always with a flare for the dramatic, Eckroth’s routine in Melbourne included not one but two high end coffees—the Eugenioides and Sudan Rume, both from Colombia’s Cafe Inmaculada and roasted by Onyx Coffee Lab—as well as a show-stopping moment involving the smashing of espresso cups. This before serving judges signature beverages in vessels repaired using kintsugi, a centuries-old Japanese technique of repairing pottery with gold. It was a confident, well-paced routine that saw Eckroth completing service with nearly a full minute to spare. You can watch the routine in full below, where it has been viewed some 3 million times.
Eckroth left Melbourne with the silver, finishing second to hometown hero Anthony Douglas. Now with some distance, both spatially and temporally, from the World Barista Championship, we spoke with Eckroth about their experience at WBC, and what’s next on the competition stage for the 2022 US Champion. Will they be hanging up the apron or giving it another go in 2023? Read on, and enjoy vivid photos throughout the feature courtesy of Wildly, produced in collaboration with Pacific Barista Series.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Something we love to ask folks post competition is deceptively simple—“Tell us about your routine”—and I think we’d love to know more about how the routine was developed, how much time you put into training, how the routine was personal and meaningful to you—just talk to us about this work, and how you’re thinking about the work now.
My WBC routine sort of a follow-up to the theme I presented at USBC. At USBC, I talked about how the pandemic had affected consumers and the changes in ways we communicate because of it. WBC was far more focused on coffee and the recents and accelerating effects of climate change, market movements, and general hardships that have been experienced. The two words that were the core of my theme were extinction and renewal, this continual cycle that humanity experiences of hardship and strength.
I was very happy with how the final version of my routine turned out. I think it’s quite clear to anyone who has watched it that I like theater a lot, perhaps to a fault. During the final course when I broke the judges’ espresso cups, I wanted it to be a startling moment. I wanted to disrupt the smooth, flowing routine with something abrasive. That balance of a curated routine and a moment of chaos where the glasses could take anywhere from one strike to four to break was very important to me. If I’m being really introspective about it, it was also a very cathartic moment in my own personal life. Having worked on the floor as a barista through the entirety of the pandemic, it felt right to be able to share a representation of what the last two years in the industry have sometimes felt like.
The actual formulation of my routine was very collaborative, as barista routines usually are. The entire season of competition was super interesting because I’m located in Portland while all my coaches are either in Arkansas or Portugal. We had to really rely on remote coaching and video run throughs to prepare which had its own challenges. I think one of the most logistically interesting parts of preparation this year was working on signature beverage formulation by sending recipes back and forth over email while trying to recreate the ingredients the other party was using thousands of miles away.
During the peak of my practice, I think I was rehearsing and running through my routine over three hours a day at least four times a week. And frankly, even that didn’t feel like enough time.
You brought in your followers on social media to your competition experience in a meaningful and groundbreaking way. We’re curious—what was their response like throughout your time in Australia and in the weeks since?
I’m incredibly grateful for the overwhelming support I felt from those who follow me. I saw a lot of “I’m not totally sure what you’re doing right now but I’m really enjoying it and good luck!”
Because of how high-stakes WBC felt to me, I wasn’t able to devote as much of my attention online as at USBC so I didn’t take in as much of my audience response as usual. Even upon returning home, I needed a while to decompress before getting back to my usual levels of “being online.”
One of the most impactful moments after the competition though was a few weeks after it had wrapped up. I hadn’t yet watched my routine because I wasn’t ready to notice all the mistakes I’d made but out of curiosity, I took a peek at the World Coffee Championships YouTube page and found that my final routine had upwards of 2.7M views.
I’m still not totally sure how or why that happened but to see that this thing I’d poured my heart into for the past year had been able to reach so many people floored me. I’m pretty sure I teared up a little bit, haha.
Really, no matter what my competitive nature says, my goal in competition is to share coffee with others.
Australia is really far away! Did you experience jet lag? Were you able to find everything you needed in Australia? Did you get to do anything cool in Australia that was memorable for you? Visit any great cafes? See an emu?
Australia was great! I think the pure adrenaline of the week staved off most of my jet lag, also the amount of cafes we visited. We landed in Melbourne and literally the first thing we did after checking into our Airbnb was go to Ona Coffee. We walked in and immediately I looked around and saw what felt like hundreds of recognizable coffee professionals that I’d looked up to for years from all over the world. That was a pretty surreal moment.
I’m pretty sure every moment we weren’t at the convention center, we were at a cafe. There were too many delicious ones to count. I count myself very spoiled in having one of their US locations so close to me but visiting the original Proud Mary location was a standout experience as well.
Another kind of deceptively simple we tend to ask goes something like — “What have you learned from this experience?” — I think this is a coffee question in *some* ways but it can also be personal if you want it to be.
Oh, gosh. Where to even begin?
Competition has continually led to significant moments of growth for me, both professionally and personally. I find myself learning so much at every level, both from those around me and by the very process of creating a routine. I know so much more now than I did last year and there’s still so much more out there. Competition really humbles you to the fact that you’ll never really stop being a student to coffee, no matter how much you know about one particular aspect of it.
One of my biggest takeaways on a personal level was a deeper understanding of why I love working in coffee. For a long time, I hadn’t really been able to quantify it. Usually I’d opted to just say, “Well, something just clicked. I think it’s a really interesting industry.”
What I realized through this year was that my love for coffee comes from an intense appreciation of stories and storytelling. What are barista routines if not stories about rare and beautiful coffees? What are cafes but convergence points of hundreds of individual stories?
Again, the theater and dramatics are talking, but that’s really how I think about it and this competition season really helped me uncover a lot about my inner drive.
Do you plan to compete again? Would you ever consider judging?
If you’d asked me right after WBC, I would have given you a different answer but I can now safely and excitedly say that I am planning on competing again.
It took a lot of thought and time to make the decision, mostly asking myself why I want to do it again but here we are again, already preparing for next year.
I would also certainly consider judging in future years, I’d also love to volunteer. I don’t think competitions is going to be able to get rid of me anytime soon.
Surely these were incredibly busy days, but did you get a chance to check out any other routines at the competition? Any performances you especially loved?
I’ve watched all the finalist routines now and I’ve started working my way through the others as well. I’m still blown away by the level of talent that was shown on the WBC stage this year. One of the standouts to me was one of the very few that I got a glimpse of in person. Takayuki Ishitani, the Japanese Barista Champion, had a beautiful routine and I think it was a standout moment to have Robusta represented on the finals stage. I’m so glad I was able to watch part of his routine in person while waiting for my setup time to start.
A routine at this level takes a village, and we’d love to know if there’s some folks you’d like to thank.
Every person who was around me in the months leading up to competition has my infinite gratitude. My family, my partner, my team at Keeper Coffee, the crew at Black Rabbit, it wouldn’t have been possible without them.
The whole of Onyx Coffee as well. Beyond the immense and immeasurable help that Lance Hedrick and Andrea Allen provided throughout my training as coaches, there’s Dakota and Niki and Jon and Elika and all the folks back in Arkansas who have made all of this possible.