Morgan Eckroth Gives Us A Behind-The-Scenes Look At The U.S. Barista Championship - Exclusive Interview

Did you know that 62% of Americans drink coffee every day? The National Coffee Association does, and they also know that the average American coffee drinker consumes three cups per day. If you fall into this category, then you know that drinking coffee isn't just a hobby — it's a lifestyle. TikToker Morgan Eckroth, who has approximately 5.5 million followers and 345 million likes, happens to be immersed in this coffee culture as a barista and one of the reigning champions of the U.S. Barista Championship.

Eckroth is a part of the Onyx Coffee Lab team that took home second place in the World Coffee Championships — she created an espresso, a milk drink, and an original signature drink for the judges. In an exclusive interview with Mashed, the social media personality revealed the details of the competition along with her top coffee tips. Eckroth confirmed the hype of the pumpkin spice latte while giving her stamp of approval to drinking iced coffee in the winter. The coffee enthusiast also shared the craziest order she's ever received as a barista.

Eckroth on the U.S. Barista Championship

You recently took home the U.S Barista Championship. How does that feel?

It's good. It was a very, very hectic beginning to the year. It was a lot of fun, and I couldn't have asked for a better result.

I'm sure. How long does it take to prepare for something like that? What's the process like?

This year, for the national level of the United States Barista Championship, it was a little bit different than previous years. Usually, there are lead-up competitions into the national levels. Time-wise, that wasn't possible this year, so the U.S. Competitions Committee opted to do a lottery system, which essentially meant that the competitors were already competing before. Generally, as a competitor, you would have essentially as long as you wanted to prepare.

This year was a bit truncated. We had exactly two months, and it was a very, very intense two months. It sounds like a lot of time, but ultimately, it's a very short amount of time because in that time you need to write a script and form a theme. You are selecting and choosing and also importing and roasting the coffee you're using. You are formulating signature beverages and then you are practicing all of that ad nauseam until you can do it backwards and forwards and in your sleep.

It was a lot of practice. Toward the end of my preparation time, I was probably practicing two to three hours a day, four to five times a week. It becomes a part-time job.

What drinks Eckroth made for the U.S. Barista Championship

I understand you have to prepare an espresso, a milk drink, and an original signature drink. What exactly did you make for the U.S. level this year? Can you walk me through that?

This year, for both the U.S. and the World Barista Championship, I used two different coffees. They're both from Colombia. They're from a farm called Inmaculada — really, really wonderful farm and people. I used one coffee that is a species called eugenioides. It is a totally different species from what we usually experience nowadays in cafes. It is very sweet. It's low acidity, low caffeine, and I used that with my milk core.

It was the eugenioides as espresso. Then I used something called freeze distilled milk, which is this method of taking whole milk, [freezing] it, and then [thawing] off about 30–50% of it. That first 30–50% that thaws off is primarily the fats and sugars that you find in milk, so you end up with something that's a lot sweeter and a lot creamier than a standard whole milk. Put together with the eugenioides, it makes this super confectionery, delicious milk drink.

I served a second coffee for my espresso. It was a Sudan Rume varietal. It was arabica. It was incredibly tropical and acidic and delicious. Then for my signature beverage this year, we essentially did a shaken espresso with a lime oleo saccharum, a couple different types of tropical juice shaken with ice. It was so good. In the end, it tasted almost like a lemon yuzu melted gelato. It was incredibly tasty.

How Eckroth really feels about the PSL

Do you have any tips [on how to make the signature drink]? Maybe someone wouldn't be able to make that at home because it's a little more intense, but would you have any tips maybe on how to make that or get a similar technique?

Absolutely. I actually have a great resource available online for anyone who wants to make my signature beverage. One of the main components of my theme this year was talking about transparency in competition through the use of the internet. Prior to competing this year, I actually released my entire signature beverage recipe on YouTube, as well as guidance of how to make it and recommendations for alternative coffees people could use. If you search "Morgan Drinks Coffee signature beverage," you're able to find the exact recipes and instructions for making it.

Now that we're in the fall season, I'm going to switch gears a little bit. What are your thoughts on the pumpkin spice latte? Do you think it's over-hyped? Do you like it?

I have enjoyed many pumpkin spice lattes. I'm a huge fan of the incorporation of baking spices into coffee — that's a phenomenal flavor pairing. I have to admit, I'll usually give myself one or two per season to be in the festive mood.

You mentioned other fall spices. Is there another one that maybe is underrated that you enjoy in your coffees or lattes?

The good thing about pumpkin spice is for the most part, it includes all the baking spices. Cinnamon is such a classic pairing with coffee. Some that you don't see as much that are maybe a little bit more underrated would always be cardamom and nutmeg. Those two together with coffee [are] almost always delicious.

The wildest order Eckroth has gotten as a barista

As a barista, what is the craziest order that you've ever gotten?

That's a good question. I have had more orders than you would expect for hot cold brew. That's one that always throws me a little bit.

How would you go about making that?

My gut instinct is to push them toward a batch brewed coffee. Usually what people are looking for ... Cold brew in general tends to have a different flavor profile than batch brew or even a traditional iced coffee due to the way it's brewed. When people ask me for hot cold brew, they're often looking for that flavor profile, but hot. In that case, there's not a ton of great ways to reheat cold brew. It's mostly about explaining why there are these differences in flavors and perhaps guiding toward a better option that is on hand.

What would you say is the hardest aspect of being a barista?

Certainly, one of the hardest aspects of being a barista is often the expectation of what the job is versus how it's valued. Especially in the specialty coffee space, there are very high demands of baristas, both from a physical standpoint of it being a service job that is long shifts, and on top of that, there's a very high level of expectation for knowledge and skill that goes into it.

Then on the other side, there is this train of thought where baristas are still very much considered a basic job, a very entry-level job. In that way, these skill sets are often not valued at what they should be. That's a really big discussion that's happening nowadays, which is exciting, but it definitely leads to being the hardest part of the barista, figuring out where that balance is between what we're expecting from baristas and the value we're actually giving them.

What Eckroth orders from Starbucks

You specialize and probably prefer specialty coffee shops, but out of the fast food chains, do you prefer Starbucks or Dunkin'?

I have actually never had Dunkin' before. I've always meant to go to one. But living primarily on the West Coast, there aren't any in my immediate area, and I've never made it in. We were in Boston pretty recently and there was one on every single corner, and I was like, "We have to make it to a Dunkin' on this trip," yet we never did.

That's so interesting. So you go to Starbucks?

It has to be Starbucks by default.

What is your go-to coffee order? What would you order from there?

It's tricky. I tend to find Starbucks drinks nowadays a little bit sweet for where my taste palate is. But when they introduced the shaken espresso oat bean — I want to say a five- or six-ounce latte in total — if you order a small one, that's the sweet spot. If I'm going to Starbucks, that will always be my order.

That's great — I'm the kind of person that goes for refreshers.

Also a very good bet, yes.

The secret to making coffee at home

Iced coffee in the winter is a controversial trend. How do you feel about that?

I'm fully on board with this trend. I am a die-hard iced coffee fan. Usually, that is my preferred shift drink, although I do drink a lot of hot coffee. But in terms of efficiency for drinking coffee, iced coffee is definitely up there.

What is the secret to making a perfect iced coffee?

More ice rather than less ice. There's often this push, especially on the cafe side, to ask for less ice in order to get more beverage, which usually doesn't end up working out in their favor. I am very positive toward ice. A lot of ice makes a good, balanced drink. That's always my tip for people. I'm like, "Add more than you think you need to."

What would your number one tip be for making a great regular cup of coffee at home?

Don't be afraid to practice. Oftentimes, people will brew coffee at home and be unsatisfied with the result, and then think that's the end-all-be-all, and they're not enjoying it. [There are] so many different variables that come into play, whether it's grind size or the water you're using or the contact time with your coffee. It's such an incredible science, and I always want to encourage experimentation and curiosity in brewing coffee.

Chances are, you fully capable of brewing an amazing cup of coffee. But like anything, it's going to take practice, and that practice comes from experimenting and messing around with different variables.

Eckroth names her favorite coffee city

What type of coffee do you normally make for yourself at home?

It switches. I'm a very seasonal coffee drinker. In the summer, my coffee menu at home differs from the winter. Right now, I'm in that fall zone of hot coffee every morning. I've been enjoying quite a few incredible coffees from Guatemala and Colombia recently. Those have been my favorites. I'm also a huge fan of natural coffee, so most of what I drink at home is going to be natural coffee.

Some cities are better known for their coffee scenes than others. Do you have a favorite coffee city that you prefer to visit, or maybe it's where you live?

I'm lucky enough to live in Portland, which is pretty renowned for its coffee scene. It is a real honor to be able to walk out my door and find a coffee shop on every single corner. That being said, in my travels so far, there is some incredible coffee in Denver. That's a city I found quite a lot of delicious stuff in.

Also, there are some real standouts in New York City. I've had the opportunity to explore that coffee scene a little bit, but frankly, there's good coffee pretty much everywhere. I feel excited every time I get to go to a new city to be able to explore what the local scene looks like. But at this point, top of mind would be Denver and New York.

Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share, with TikTok or otherwise?

I don't have a ton that I can share right now about future stuff. I would merely say keep a very close eye out on my socials in the next coming months. We do have some exciting stuff planned, and I'm really excited to announce it.

Keep up with Morgan Eckroth's latest stories and recipes on her TikTok page.

This interview was edited for clarity.