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

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Join us once more for some real talk about life inside and outside the coffee bar with 2022 U.S. Barista Champion Morgan Eckroth.

BY KATE VAN PETTEN
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE

Photos courtesy of Morgan Eckroth

In part one of this interview yesterday, we discussed Morgan’s (she/they) childhood and interest in books. Today, we delve into Morgan’s current projects and how they push against the grain of hollow social media content.

Barista Magazine: What do you do for fun?

Morgan: One of my favorite things to do is hibernate and write because it’s one of the very few in my life that is not monetized and publicized. In my career nowadays all of my hobbies—video, online space, coffee—are jobs. Which I love. I love my jobs! But it’s nice to have one thing that is not a job. There are no deadlines on it. It’s only in my brain. There’s no pressure. I can just do what I want.

What are you writing right now? 

I have been doing various creative writing projects since I was 10 because I was bored and I didn’t have TV. The last two years I’ve been writing a fantasy novel series. It’s probably a four-book series. I have it fully plotted out and I currently have two books fully written. I haven’t shared them with anyone. My husband has never seen a lick of my writing. No one has. It’s a very personal thing to me. It’s not in any finished state where I could give it to an editor yet. Maybe I will? I don’t know if I want to put my name behind it. I’d love to send it out under a pseudonym. I would really like to someday disappear from the internet to write books and no one is going to hear from me again.

Morgan poses, arms crossed and smiling, in front of an espresso machine at the World Coffee Championships. They wear a black turtleneck and apron and have short black hair.
Morgan at the 2022 World Coffee Championships in Melbourne.

How do you experience flavor? 

My biggest insecurity in coffee is my palate. … When I was young I had a lot of steroid nasal sprays and they blew out my sinuses. Coming into adulthood my sense of smell was drastically impacted. Also, I got COVID and lost my sense of taste and smell. Coming out of that and retraining was hard. I don’t know if I’m at the same level I was pre-COVID. It’s hard to compare.

Even though I have these limitations with (scent), I can work with other people. I’ve retrained myself to work this way, but it’s not perfect. I have to choose who I’m going to trust around me to hone me in. 

Taste is so interesting because it’s subjective. There is a scientific component to what you’re tasting so some of it is objective, but all of our perceptions of tastes are based on our own lived experiences. I might taste something and get these flavor notes (while) someone on the other end of the world might taste something totally different. I operate mostly under the phrase that Umeko Motoyoshi puts on their stickers: ”tasting notes are opinions.” You are going to taste what you know and that is different for everyone. That’s a valuable lesson.

Morgan Drinks Coffee showcases the do’s and don’ts of coffee making, with a healthy dose of humor and compassion.

What fueled your recent shift to creating content that centers on simple café life? 

There’s no punchline; it’s just an interaction. 

A lot of my earlier content was edgier. It had more of a bite to it. It was a little bit sassy … a lot of my videos had satire to them. They would start off real and turn into something that would never actually happen.

(In) competition, I talked a lot about the emotional side of coffee. My routines for the past two competitions were very emotion-focused. Coming out of competition with these new titles and new responsibilities, I asked myself, “What do I want to make?” So I found the music I wanted to use where I was able to identify it with café experiences. I tried out one or two videos like that. There was a switch. They did really well. Before the comments were a lot of people saying this is so relatable. (Now) I was getting comments that were like … this touched me or this brought back a memory, and that meant more to me than the other comments.

Morgan sips from a rainbow spoon out of a white cupping vessel. They wear glasses and a black shirt. A black cold drink tumbler and kraft paper coffee bag are faded in the foreground.
Morgan shares that their palate was changed by contracting COVID; relearning to taste and smell has been an ongoing challenge.

Being able to create safe spaces online is something I value. As a barista, hospitality is about creating comfort for people and meeting them where they are. That’s what I wanted to do online, and I don’t know if I was doing it. It was a challenge to take that feeling and put it into content. That was the journey. 

We’re in a moment online where short-form video has exploded. It’s reaching a maturity point. In short-form online there is a lot of noise. You have to capture people in a second or two. So it’s very noisy. Get their attention or they’re gone. So something I wanted to do is succeed with content online that is slower. My content thrives best when you stumble upon it in a doom scroll. Just stop. Hang here. Let’s have a moment. I want it to be a pause. The music helps that a lot. It’s an intentional tone set. Before, my content was trendy with a lot of upbeat trendy audio. For me personally, it started to feel like noise and I didn’t want to make noise; I wanted to make something that was a little more meaningful to me.

Morgan performs their routine in front of a large crowd in the background. They are in front of a competition table pouring for judges, with a black tray on the table.
”My routines for the past two competitions were very emotion-focused,” Morgan shares.

What message do you want to send to future generations of creatives and baristas? 

Treat people with kindness. This is coming from a barista perspective—I’ve had various cycles of burnout behind bar. But coffee shops are so special because they are the third place—not home, not work, somewhere in between. They’re for community. It’s a really unique space where you provide service and interaction. As a barista, you can be back and front of house simultaneously. And I think often it’s easy to fall into the mindset of forgetting what it’s like to be a customer. Especially a nervous customer or one that doesn’t know all the etiquette. I wish there was more understanding sometimes. We’ve all been at the beginning, and it’s not fair to expect people to be at your level of understanding about café etiquette or coffee knowledge.

Just be kind and meet people where they’re at and go from there. Let go of your pride a little bit. I like to instill that into people and into my content as much as possible.

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

Source: Barista Magazine

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