May 10, 2022 • 43M

Morgan Eckroth Rebels with Coffee

The 2022 United States Barista Champion and TikTok star subverts expectations through humor and silliness.

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Ashley Rodriguez
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Hi! Welcome to Boss Barista, a newsletter and podcast about coffee, service work, and empowerment. If you’re new here, consider subscribing!

You’ve probably seen a movie or a television show that depicts baristas in a … not so flattering light. Think familiar tropes, maybe a dude with a man bun and facial hair ready to make you feel bad or confused about your coffee order. I can even hear this character in my head: A customer might walk in, order a macchiato, and then receive a 10-minute lecture that begins with, “Well, actually, a traditional macchiato…”

Morgan Eckroth is the opposite of all that. On social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, where their handle is @MorganDrinksCoffee, they both explain coffee concepts and make light of the silliness of coffee culture. In their short videos, they play the role of the customer and the barista, interacting in a coffee shop space.

Unlike that movie barista, what Morgan achieves in their videos is validating the experience of both actors: It can be frustrating to be a barista and work a service job, but it can also be confusing and weird to be a customer in a coffee shop with complex menus and hard-to-discern tasting notes. In a way, all of it is kind of ridiculous—and Morgan’s videos cut right through this inherent tension.

Morgan is also the 2022 United States Barista Champion, and brought their hundreds of thousands of followers along for the ride as they prepped and competed. When the organizing board who runs the competition announced they would not be livestreaming the event shortly before it was held—effectively making it impossible for those not at the competition to watch what was happening—Morgan decided to do so on their own.

As the winner, Morgan will go on to compete at the World Barista Championships later this year, and will continue to bring the positivity and lightness that pours through their videos in service of making coffee information more accessible to others. Here’s Morgan:

Ashley: So let me have you start by introducing yourself.

Morgan: My name is Morgan Eckroth. I am most often found online under the moniker of MorganDrinksCoffee. I do YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, and I've also been working as a barista for the past five years.

Ashley: I always start these interviews in the same place: I was wondering if you could tell me if you grew up with coffee in your life? Do you have any childhood memories of coffee?

Morgan: I actually, funnily, I don't. I grew up in a family that doesn't drink or didn't drink any coffee. And to this day they don't drink any coffee. I frequently say that it was kind of my act of teenage rebellion to be a coffee drinker.

At the age of 16, when I got my driver's license, the first thing I did, I think, was drive to a coffee shop for the first time.

Ashley: Oh, God, I'm trying to think of the first thing I did when I got my license—I don't think it was driving to a coffee shop.

Morgan: My act of teenage rebellion was pretty mild when it comes down to it.

Ashley: It's funny when you set certain expectations within a household, or even just within your life. And then you break out of those expectations and then you're like, “Oh wow. My act of rebellion was pretty mild.”

Morgan: I was like, “That wasn't nearly as dramatic as I meant it to be, I don't think.”

Ashley: But you must've felt like it was at that moment!

Morgan: Yeah, it was definitely one of those things that I kind of wanted to be my own. Part of it was the convenience of like, I was a student and needed a place to study and wanted to be out of the house because I was a teenager.

Also, there was this kind of world of coffee where I was looking at these baristas and I'm like, “They're so cool. I want to be like them.” And so I just kind of stumbled my way into a specialty coffee cafe, and very awkwardly started ordering very, very sugary and delicious drinks. And it's kind of all history from there.

Ashley: Do you remember the moment where you decided, beyond this teenage rebellion moment, that like, “Oh, this is something that I want to do,” or, “This is something I want to learn about or be part of?”

Morgan: I can't remember a very, very specific moment. I do, however, remember the time period of, I think about two years from when I started drinking coffee to when I got my first barista job, that I knew that I wanted to be a barista. That was my, that was my end goal.

I was like, “I'm going to go to college. I want to work as a barista,” and do that sort of thing. I started applying to this coffee shop that I was—it was actually called Tried and True, and was my very first coffee job ever. I remember being 16 and having this inkling that I wanted to do what the people behind the bar were doing.

So I showed up with my resume and like a really awkward cover letter. And I was like, “Please hire me!” And of course, I'm a high school student, zero qualifications, zero availability, anything. And they were like, “Yeah, no, but keep trying because maybe eventually.” Throughout those two years, I think I applied multiple times.

And it wasn't even with the intention of getting a job, I really was just trying to be like, “I want to work here really, really badly. And I want you all to know that.”

Then finally they said yes. I think it was that very first shift when I got behind the bar, and they started teaching me things that I was like, “Oh yeah, this is as cool as I thought it was going to be.”

Ashley: I love that the moment met your expectations.

Morgan: 100%. I remember grabbing the portafilter for the first time, and them being like, “Okay, like put it here in the grinder, and then the coffee comes out,” and I felt like a superhero. I was like, “I'm in heaven right now doing what I want to do forever,” and somehow that has lasted for the past five years.

Ashley: It's funny that you tell the story this way too, because I feel like so many people, when they come on the show and we have the conversation about, “How did you get into coffee,” it's almost always, “I fell into it,” or “I had nothing else to do,” or “I was a student on campus and like, the coffee shop was kind of cool so I just sort of did it for a while.”

And it's so cool to see—I'm going to sound ancient as I say this—but it's so cool to see a generation of people who see baristas and they're like, “Yes, that's what I want to do.”

Morgan: I definitely annoyed my way into my first coffee job and still to this day, I don't know exactly why it clicked as early as it did or what kind of drove me to it, but it was just kind of like that gut instinct of being like, “I think I want to do this.”

Once I got there, “I was like, okay, yeah, I definitely want to do this.” I think I really lucked out with those two things syncing up as early in my life as they did.

Ashley: So, as you mentioned earlier, you make content on TikTok, on YouTube, on Instagram—let's give people a little bit of a backstory about how you got to that point.

So at what point did you start filming yourself—I guess that’s like the proto-version of all of this.

Morgan: Totally. So I started my content journey at the very, very baseline before I even knew it was something I wanted to do as a career—I started making TikTok videos in June of 2019. So TikTok, as an app, was still very, very fresh. It had nowhere near the mainstream adoption it has now. It was an app that I'd like, just kind of spend time on. I enjoyed it as a consumer.

It was about to be summer. And I went, “I am bored and I want a project or like a hobby to do.”

I was like, “You know what? I'll try making some videos.” At the time I was finishing up my marketing degree and it was my goal at that time to go into some aspect of either digital marketing or social media marketing in the coffee, food, and beverage space.

That was my end goal. So I was kinda like, “Well, if I can start to get a handle on some new emerging platforms, if I can get a little bit of the hard skills of video under my belt, that would probably be pretty helpful in the future.” I kind of stumbled upon making videos about coffee just naturally.

I worked quite a bit when I was in college and so I was at my job most of the time. I really loved my job and I was like, “Oh, I'll just make videos about coffee.” And then they started to do well, and that was a true shock. It was very surprising to me. So I just kind of leaned into it.

I was having a lot of fun making videos about latte art, and then I kind of stumbled upon it like, “Oh, I can make kind of funny videos about barista experiences.” And it just kind of escalated from there. They started to take off and I started to take it more seriously.

Ashley: Do you remember the first video where it felt like a sea change—like something clicked or something really changed for you?

Morgan: Yeah. So my first couple of—for lack of a better word—viral videos were very silly. I have this party trick where I can do a pretty impressive backbend and that went viral. That was non-coffee, and then I remember the first coffee video I posted that did really well.

It was literally just me. It was just no sound—or pardon me, no music, just me standing at the bar, pouring a latte, stuff you see on Instagram all the time. I just had the videos and I was like, “I'll just post it.”

I remember posting it as I got off my shift and then I went and ate dinner. Didn't think about it. And I came back a couple hours later to just scroll through TikTok like usual. I remember opening it up and being like, “This video has 400,000 views.” Out of nowhere, I was like, “This is completely out of the realm of possibility of what I expected.” And that was a truly shocking moment because it really was over the course of like two hours that this video grew like that.

And people were excited by it! I mean, in my world latte art is like something you kind of do every day, so it wasn't that special to me, but it was really, really cool to see that it was special to other people. And I was like, “What else can I show them that I do every day that they might be interested in?”

Ashley: It's funny to reflect on those moments where you're like, “I do something like this every day, and this is so fascinating to people.”

I was on a podcast recently, and I think we talked about the stuff that I write about and labor organizations and unions, and at the very end of the conversation, I gave a tip about how to pour a heart into a latte. Just a heart, because I was like, “Everyone likes a heart. Like, don't even mess with it.”

Morgan: It’s classic.

Ashley: It’s classic. And I could tell that was one of the most interesting parts of the conversation. And I'm like, “I've poured at least a hundred thousand hearts in my life. It's something that I could like live and breathe.”

So it's really fascinating to reflect on those moments and figure out like, “Wow, things that I find so normal and regular are really fascinating to people,” especially because, as baristas, there is some alchemy in a way to what we do.

We have these raw ingredients and then suddenly you have a delicious drink. How does this happen?

Morgan: It’s like you're making, like, a potion behind the bar.

Ashley: Right. At what point did you feel like you were refining your message in your videos? Because what I find so fascinating about your videos, and we have emailed about this, is that—so Morgan has these videos and she plays both parts. There's the customer and there's the barista.

Sometimes there is more than one character, which I love. I love when you're two different customers, that makes me really happy. But I think what you do really well is that you validate both experiences. You're never really mad at the customer, but you're also not mad at the barista.

I think there's a really easy tendency in coffee to juxtapose customers and baristas as opposing forces. But you seem to validate the frustrations that both characters have while making both totally valid. When did that start becoming clear to you?

Morgan: Yeah, it was something that was pretty important to me from day one. I mean, honestly, it kind of just leads into how I approach my job as a barista. You know this from your experiences: Being a barista can be really hard. You can deal with some of the weirdest, most awful things happening to you just over the course of your job.

With that context, I've come into my job and through all the stuff that I've experienced looking at everything through the lens of humor. At least for me personally, whenever you have a customer that's being particularly difficult or perhaps angry at you, I think it's really easy to take that personally, as in like, “They are angry at me as a person,” when very rarely I think that is true. I think it's often they're already having a bad day and you just happened to be the person in front of them.

But I also find sometimes I think we get very serious with the sort of interactions we have, when I think, more often than not, they're just kind of funny. We're just a little part of people's everyday lives and it is at the kind of cafe level—like, it's a cup of coffee. I think often there are so many, like, theatrical and dramatics involved in it that is very, very funny for the level of seriousness that it actually is.

When I was making my videos, I really wanted to touch on the ridiculousness of like, you know, how dramatic these cafes scenarios happen.

But at the same time, I did very much want to respect both the customer and the barista experience, because I think more often than not, any sort of friction and stuff that happens between barista and customer is mostly born out of just a lack of knowledge and/or context as to what the barista is doing, and that's not necessarily at the fault of the customer.

You can't expect them to know every single core value that we have in specialty coffee. But that being said, it can still be very funny. So I was like, “I'd like to kind of poke fun at these things that happen.” But at the same time I wanted to have this angle of like, “While it is silly, we don't want to be driving people away.”

The goal is to bring them to specialty coffee and to value coffee at the same level that I do. So how do we get from point A to point B? And I think a lot of that is just acknowledging that there is a knowledge gap and then kind of working through it with something that is relatable, and I think frequently that's humor.

So that's kind of where I came from.

Ashley: I love that so much because I think that you identified so many, perhaps hurdles we face in the coffee industry. And as I was looking at your profile and reading some of the interviews that you've done recently, I was struck by the fact that you said that you make coffee content for everybody, you don't make coffee content for coffee people.

Not to say that they're excluded by any means, but that they're part of the conversation. And I think for a long time, I mean, I struggle with this. I make a podcast that I don't think anybody outside of the coffee industry listens to—

Morgan: They should though!

Ashley: You know, one day, fingers crossed, but I think that we've done a lot of that in the past where we're speaking to the choir, we're kind of speaking to the same people over and over.

And I think coffee has kind of struggled with this hurdle of getting to consumers in a way that feels safe and accessible and doesn't feel like this barista is going to be mad at me. I'm sure you've seen the hipster barista meme—which I'm obsessed with right now. I have an article coming out in Standart about the hipster barista meme because it's so fascinating to me

Morgan: It’s a classic.

Ashley: It's classic, but it's like, that is the perception that a lot of people have of what being a barista is.

And I would posit if we had like a scale of hipster barista—like if we had a scale of how we feel about baristas—hipster barista would be on one end. And I would say that you're on the other.

Morgan: Cool. Thank you. That's a huge compliment. I always kind of hope that is the case, but I could never be sure. You never know how other people are perceiving what you're making.

Ashley: But it seems like you get a lot of positive feedback from people. I mean, you can't equate likes necessarily with positivity all the time, but I imagine when you're engaging with people through your videos, or you see comments, or you're engaging with people on other platforms, there is a moment where you're like, “Oh, this is landing with people. This is sharing an experience.”

Morgan: I’ve been really grateful to kind of cultivate the following that I currently have. I think what you said is exactly true. I have somehow ended up with a pretty healthy community as far as online communities go. I think it's very easy to cultivate a community that is comfortable with dog-piling on people or, or punching down on people.

We have these discussions a lot about whether it is a creator's responsibility to maintain control over their audience, or whether it is—you know, you can't control an audience, they'll do what they want regardless of the creator.

I have always been very much of the opinion that a creative is, to some extent, responsible for their audience's actions, because I do very much believe that what you put out there as a creator, the tone you use, the kind of, for lack of a better word, kind of energy you put out there will be reflected in how your audience both reacts and what they do with the information you're presenting them.

I came into making content with that opinion. I've always tried to do my best, to varying levels of success, but I've always tried to do my best to kind of cultivate an audience who is accepting of all things coffee.

I come to my platform with a lot of love and just passion for coffee, and I want that to be replicated in my audience. I don't want to have an audience that is going to go out to other creators and blast my opinions at them as something that is fact, because very frequently it is not. I just wanted it to be a very fun place full of people who want to have fun with coffee.

I've finally reached that point with my audience. We have a good time together online, which is a really, really cool thing to say.

Ashley: You said that you finally reached that point. So I imagine that there was some learning and figuring it out as you went along.

Morgan: Absolutely. I can pinpoint one kind of direct experience when I started on YouTube. I had started on TikTok, because, as I mentioned before, I was very, very comfortable with short-form content, and with short-form content there tends to be a slightly younger audience.

You tend to be hitting more of the 18-to-24-year-olds. But when you move to YouTube, especially when talking about coffee, you start to get a little bit of a different demographic. At least to my knowledge, a majority of the YouTube audience who watches a lot of specialty coffee long-form content tends to skew a little bit more towards the male demographic, and it also tends to skew a little bit older in age, which makes sense because the cost of being invested into doing coffee things and buying coffee equipment is a lot higher than what most young people can have.

So when I came onto YouTube, I was suddenly faced with this very, very different audience who I think was just expecting something different from me. They were looking for a certain level of information and dissection of topics that I just didn't want to give because I think that kind of initial higher-level [content] can make it a little bit hard for people to jump into specialty coffee. I very much viewed myself as kind of a stepping stone to those sorts of higher-level creators.

It was very much a back-and-forth with my new audience of, “Hey guys, I know what you want for me. That is not what I'm going to be giving you, at least not all the time,” and so there was a little bit of friction there, of dealing with frustration from audience members.

But ultimately I just held strong to my guns. Eventually, there was this mutual understanding of people who didn't want to consume my content just finally being like, “Okay, I can leave.” And I was like, “No worries. There are other people who make the kind of content you want.”

The people who enjoyed my content found their way to me. And now we're in a very happy place together.

Ashley: I like that you were able to create some boundaries around what you wanted to create. I did an interview with [YouTube creator] James Hoffmann and he mentioned, “There are things I'm going to create and there are things I'm not going to create,” and being pretty comfortable with that. I think that took him some time too, and it's really encouraging to hear you say that same thing of like, “I don't have to give people everything. It's okay for me to say, ‘This is what I want to do. And if you want to be part of this ride, that's awesome.’ If you don't, you're always welcome back, but you don't have to consume this.”

Morgan: Exactly. It sometimes can be a little bit painful because you want to give people what they're asking for. But at the same time, I also knew, from my own level of knowledge, that I wasn't qualified to talk about a lot of topics that people were asking for. It was a lot of people being like, “Do this, do this!”

And I'm like, “Look, if I try to cover this topic, I'm going to do a disservice to it.” I would always try to do my best to point them in the right direction and frequently that is like James, or other established content creators. I'm like, “Hey, I don't want to talk about this, but the good news is there are a ton of amazing resources about it already. So go over there and enjoy those. And then come back for the things I am going to talk about.”

Ashley: Did you find it ever difficult to separate the personal from, like, Morgan Drinks Coffee the character—and not to say that this is a character you're playing. I mean, you kind of are in some aspects—

Morgan: But it is curated.

Ashley: Yeah, do you ever have to draw a line for yourself like, “I need to put down my phone,” or, “I need to not respond to this message,” or, “I need to cultivate a safe place for myself that maybe doesn't exist to consume for others?”

Morgan: No, completely. That is the ongoing struggle. I think I'm a lot better about creating that separation nowadays than I used to be. But it is tricky when you're a content creator, but also someone who enjoys spending time online.

I remember like two years ago, I think when I was like starting to really get into it, going online to just consume content for my own enjoyment became very, very difficult because I would open up TikTok and I wouldn't think, “I'm going to just have a nice 30 minutes where I can enjoy videos.” It was immediately like I am being faced with my job. It got really hard to kind of plug out of my job and just be like, I'm just me on my time off.

I think when you're a content creator and especially any sort of person who's self-employed or freelance, you become your own boss, and that's kind of dangerous because you're not always that good at setting boundaries for yourself. So nowadays, I have a lot of good systems and supports in place to know when to get myself offline.

I've also cultivated for myself a lot of hobbies that are not monetized and un-online. Sometimes I think in the creator space, it's really easy to be like, “Oh, I have this hobby. But I could monetize it!” and then it becomes a job, it's no longer a hobby. I've found things for me, reading and writing are my true hobbies.

Those do not exist really on the internet in any way. That's something that I've kept special to me. And that's been super helpful as well. And creating that sort of division.

Ashley: So let’s talk about this very big thing that happened to you.

Morgan: [Laughs] No biggie.

Ashley: What could we be talking about? No big deal, whatever.

So you won the 2022 United States Barista Competition. Woohoo! Let's take a moment to celebrate that. I have my jazz hands up, which doesn't make any sense because we can't see each other.

I kind of want to work backward from that moment. What was it like when—

Morgan: Oh my gosh. It was shocking, truly. I've been thinking back to that moment a lot. I have a lot of footage and videos and photos from those 30 seconds between the announcement and walking up on stage.

I think it was an overwhelming feeling of just joy and relief. For the past year—I've competed now for a couple of years with varying levels of success—but in 2020, when I competed in qualifiers, I did not do as well as I wanted to. I didn't do as well as I thought I was going to do. And so I left competition that year feeling really bad about myself, honestly.

Competition has always been something that’s kind of pushed me, I think, in my career path. And I've always really valued that. So to leave feeling like I had failed myself was something that took a long time to come to terms with. Coming into this year, it was very much about proving myself wrong, that I wasn't stuck at this level that I thought I was at.

To be in the finals, even just finding out that I was in the finals, was shocking and amazing. I remember they were counting down all the names, and it came to the last two of us and we were standing back there just hugging—I think both of us were probably on the verge of like a panic attack just waiting for the announcement, and then it came and I think I just kind of … let go of all that self-resentment and frustration from my past failures. It all just kind of like came out in that final.

Ashley: I would have never guessed that you were carrying those moments of self-resentment. That was a really interesting way to put it, because I think that like—I don't know!

I've competed a couple of times and I've thought about those moments too, of like what I could have done better. I still feel resentful towards myself of making mistakes that I feel like I shouldn't have, but at the same time—

Morgan: You probably had no control over it.

Ashley: Did you realize that you were holding onto this feeling of self-resentment?

Morgan: I don't think I did really until afterward. I had a little inkling of it when I found out that I was competing. I kind of had this minute where I sat back and I was like, “I need to get into a healthy headspace.” Not that I wasn't at the time, but I was like, it is going to be really, really important that I am really steadfast in what I'm doing this year.

Especially with the inherent audience I was bringing with me, no matter whether I chose to publicize that I was competing or not, my audience would have kind of figured it out at some point. It was tricky to come to terms with the fact that I needed to kind of prove something to myself, but additionally, I was bringing a really strong audience with me, that if I felt like I did poorly, or if I legitimately did poorly, I would not hear the end of it for a very long time. Not necessarily a bad way, but it would stick with me. Much more so than in previous years.

So it was, it was a lot of personal pressure that I applied to myself this year, and I'm very glad it all worked out. I do not want to think about the process I would have had to do to decompress hadn't it worked out.

Ashley: Yeah, that must've been a huge decision that you had to make. It wasn't just competing for yourself or the company that you worked for. You were competing almost on behalf of your audience.

Morgan: No matter what, I do everything I do, in coffee and online, nowadays with the context that I have a lot of people watching, which is really fun and definitely an honor, but at the same time, very scary. I had to make the decision very early on with my routine of, “Am I going to involve my audience, or am I just going to kind of let them vicariously view when I want them to?” I think the best possible outcome for everyone was to have them involved along the way.

So they could at least kind of understand the magnitude of preparation that goes into it. And for them to like, have a fun time with barista competitions because they're very strange. They're very weird, as you said before yourself, and I fully agree. And so I was like, “Well, if I can like explain this weird thing, maybe we can all come away with some knowledge more so than just the results of the competition.”

Ashley: There are so many layers to your competition win. There's the fact that you had this decision before you even applied, to think, “Are these folks going to come with me? Am I going to put this on my channel? Am I going to just do it in stealth mode and then be like, ‘Surprise! Here's all the stuff I did!’”

But then there's that second level of, “Okay, if they're coming with me, how do I cultivate content for them so they can understand what's happening for people who probably have no idea what this weird thing is?”

Morgan: For sure.

Ashley: And then on a third level, you made your routine about your audience, about sharing with people. You made your drink specifically in a way that people could make it at home. You made a video that was like, “Here's my drink, and here is how you make it.” I have to imagine that that took so much planning.

Morgan: It was an interesting challenge, logistically it was good and bad. I wouldn't have changed a thing about it, but I will say it added a little bit extra stress to the prep, because we were releasing these videos, and going into deep dives about the different components of my presentation while we were actively preparing.

We released a full video about how to freeze-distill milk and why we nowadays do that a lot in competition and what it tastes like and what drinks I was doing. The minute that video is uploaded, you check the box and you're like, “Well, we're using freeze-distilled milk. Like we can't change it now.”

It posed a very interesting challenge for us, especially at the end. We actually changed my signature beverage, the ingredients pretty significantly. We had a different version of it. We'd been working with it for a couple of weeks, and then two or three days before we left for Boston, we were like, “We need to change it. This—we need to improve this.”

I filmed my video about my signature drink, I think it was less than 24 hours before we got on the plane for Boston. I was frantically sending it off to my editor, and then we were frantically trying to upload it on really bad Wi-Fi. It was a really interesting challenge in that sense.

But at the same time, there was a little bit of relief in checking those boxes and being like, “We're using freeze-distilled milk. We literally can't change it now.” So at least we could like move past that step of prep.

Ashley: Yeah, there is some relief in being able to make a decision and just stick with it.

Morgan: Yeah. Yeah. Very much so.

Ashley: Have you reflected much—I know that I've asked you about this—but have you reflected much about what your win means? Like, I don't know that anybody else winning with an audience like yours would, and I don't want to say [past wins] don’t mean anything, that's not true, but it just means something different because you brought a whole audience with you.

Morgan: I talked very briefly with one of the head judges, after all the announcements, as we were leaving the venue the final night, and they said something that meant a lot to me and was—yeah, I was crying a lot that night—but hearing what they said kind of tipped me over the edge a little bit more.

Because it was really, it was the goal of the entire thing: They said that they don't think they'll know kind of the impact of like my routine for another couple of years. Hopefully, we start to see the competitor landscape shift and change. I started off this year when I found out I was competing, not with the intention of winning—like I'm competitive, obviously I wanted to do well, like all of that stuff—but more so I wanted to create something that could kind of act as a resource for potential new competitors.

It's my process. Everyone's process is different, but I at least wanted to lay a little bit of a foundation for people who might want to compete but have nowhere to start.

To hear that someone else had thought that I had maybe created something similar to that was really emotional to me because that, more so than doing well or even winning or anything, was the overarching goal of the season. I'm really excited frankly, to see future seasons and to hopefully see a shakeup in the type of competitors we see. I'm really excited that in the past couple of years, there's been a really, really great push to open it up to more people. And I'm just grateful to kind of be a part of that.

Ashley: Is the way that you talked about barista competitions being inaccessible, and wanting to create information and give people a resource to turn to—was that informed by your past experiences?

Morgan: It was a little bit. When I competed for the very first time, I was lucky enough that my bosses had both competed in barista competitions in previous years. I had a little bit of help from them as kind of like, guidelines.

But a lot of it, because they're busy, they have lives, and I'm the competitor, a lot of it falls on my shoulders to figure out. It was a lot of me, as like a very fresh, 19-year-old barista, throwing stuff at the walls and just hoping I was doing the right thing.

I studied tons and tons of other competitors’ routines, but beyond that, and looking over the rulebook, there wasn't really any information about what I should be doing or shouldn't be doing. So my hope was to create a little capsule of videos that could at least act as a starting point for someone like me, back when I was competing for the first time.

Ashley: And the idea behind barista competitions, ideally, is that we're pushing coffee to a new place. So we should be borrowing from people who did something that worked. We should be borrowing from people who did something really interesting, and we should be able to access that, be like, “Oh, they did this thing. This is how they did it. Let me try it. Hopefully that will serve the coffee.” That's the whole point.

Morgan: Yep.

Ashley: What are you looking forward to as you prepare for the world competition—which luckily you have a little bit of a breather here. It doesn't happen until September, and we're recording this in April.

What are you looking forward to maybe thinking about or retooling as you prepare for that?

Morgan: Honestly, I'm really excited to sit down with my routine and really dissect it. I think the bones of my routine are probably gonna stay roughly the same, things like the overarching theme, probably where we're getting our coffees from—stuff like that. But this past season prepping for USBC went by so quickly.

We had barely two months, which is kind of nothing in the scale of competition, especially for like, a full, national-level of routine. And so everything that we did, while very intentional, had to happen rapidly. And we had to kind of stick to our guns on all of them.

I'm really excited to take the next four months and really go back on all the decisions we made and also look at my scoresheets and kind of decide, “Were we happy with that? Can we make it better?” Or [look at] the things that didn't do as well. I kind of had some shortcomings and it's like, okay, how do we take these shortcomings and bring them up to the level they need to be at? And then take them that much further.

So I think it's going to be honestly, a lot of really, really structured, thoughtful time. Beyond that, there's just a lot of practice I need to do. I would like to be better at tasting, myself personally, there were some technical things I need to be better at. So I'm excited to dive into those topics separately as well, because they're going to also elevate my routine for the world stage.

Ashley: I think I've asked you a version of this question before, and I kind of want to end on it again because … I don't know, there's something so precisely of this moment of where we're at in coffee and what the future of coffee can represent about you winning this competition. And that's a lot—I know that I just told you a lot of things and that's probably—

Morgan: It’s scary and exciting at the same time.

Ashley: It's all of the feelings at the same time, but there's something about us wanting to be a more accessible industry that I think you represent.

I think there's something about the fact that we're not great at talking about coffee as an industry, but some people are starting to claw out of that, are starting to find ways to communicate that—you being one of them.

When we think about who wins the USBC—obviously there's a scoresheet, there's points that you get and it's a point system, but at the same time, one of the things I think the judges are asked to do, especially when you get to that top level, is to really evaluate, “Is this person going to represent us? Because that's ultimately what the U.S. Barista Champion is. They are a representative of the United States that will be going to the world competition and representing our country.”

They have to think about that. Who's going to encompass that role. And in a way, there must be something so like, mind-boggling and almost—I don't want to say self-reflective because that's not the right word, but like, how do you process all that?

Or like, what do you think of it? When someone looks at you and they're like, “That's the U.S. Barista Champion,” what do you want them to kind of take away from that?

Morgan: When we flew home from Boston, that was kind of like, a very grounding moment, because you get back at home, I did all my COVID tests, and then I went back to work—and it was this weird moment of coming back to what used to be very normal and routine and feeling like there is now this extra layer on top of it, of this title that I hold in great respect. And I know a lot of other people do.

I'm still trying to figure out what that means. I had to have a pretty, pretty lengthy talk with my coach because I was sitting here, four or five days after competition, being like, the idea of making a normal, kind of like funny video seems so like, it just seemed silly.

I hit a weird creative wall where I was like, I have no idea what I'm supposed to do now. And he kind of talked me through some really helpful stuff and what it came down to, he was like, “Don't look at what other champions have done. Don't try to put an expectation upon yourself of what you're supposed to do now because you are your own unique person and you do Morgan Drinks Coffee. Whatever your future looks like with this title is also through the lens of doing Morgan Drinks Coffee.”

That was something that was really helpful for me, because it kind of drew me out of my own head and I was like, “Okay, there is this added level and title and all this stuff, but at the end of the day, I want to continue pushing forward with talking about coffee and having a lot of fun with it.”

I am really excited that there are potentially some new people who are coming to it and coming to me from this win, and that's really, really exciting. So that kind of got me over my creative hump and I'm really excited to continue pursuing forward with what I've been doing in the past. And I'm sure it will continue to evolve as we continue forward into worlds and then after that.

But that being said, the core of what I want to do online still exists and I'm just gonna push forward with it. Title be darned.