She sat down across the table from me outside of one of her favorite places to be in Corvallis; Tried & True Coffee Co. Morgan Eckroth adjusted her yellow kerchief tied fashionably around her neck, set neatly atop her denim jacket and set her iced latte down while her hair curled towards her many different ambitions.
Working alongside her for two years now, these are features that I have grown to admire in her, and are qualities that I look up to; her organization, composition of self, and her desire to achieve greatness on a daily basis are all aspects of her personality that inspire the people around her. Through getting to know her, she has become a coworker that I am also proud to call my friend.
This downtown location within Corvallis’ ever-so-connected community are major components of Eckroth’s life and have played a major role in her character development over the past few years.
Tried & True could be considered the birthplace of her passion in the coffee scene thanks to the comfort that she found in the space provided by the people working there at the time, one name mentioned in particular was the downtown Tried & True manager, Amelia Wimmer.
Since that time, the shop has served as a medium for Eckroth’s coffee interests and has allowed her and has encouraged her to develop those interests. Over time, the shop has allowed those interests to flourish into passions of hers.
Through her experiences with the shop, she has learned a lot about coffee. She has learned how to dial in espresso, to develop her coffee tasting palate, the art of pouring beautiful latte tulips, providing excellent customer service, developing long-lasting friendships, and more recently she has learned how to represent the Corvallis coffee scene at the national level in the United States Barista Championships (USBC) in Kansas City in March of 2019.
This was not her first ever coffee competition. Eckroth has competed and taken first place in many latte art competitions around the Willamette Valley, including (but not limited to) a trophy from the most recentRally in the Valleylatte art throw-down held here in Corvallis at the Southtown Tried & True location. That trophy now sits atop the cabinetry at the downtown location, above Eckroth’s head as she serves people on a daily basis with a smile.
Throw-downs for Eckroth have become mere child’s play, as the events are usually hustling-and-bustling with baristas crammed like sardines around espresso machines into whatever coffee shop was hosting that tournament that day. Their coworkers and friends would cheer their respective baristas on as they would move along the competition bracket and celebrate the evening with plenty of beer to go around. Trust me, these baristas get loud!
Eckroth has been to many of these rowdy competitions time and time again and has begun to build a reputation for herself among a network of baristas, particularly in Portland. However, the national barista competition was an entirely different beast for her.
Eckroth was first introduced to the idea of coffee competitions of this caliber when she was given the opportunity to observe and participate as a guest judge during some of the training rounds for Amelia Wimmer’s routine when Wimmer first went to compete in the national competition.
She said that she was fascinated with the intricacies of the routine and was bedazzled by the fancy coffee beverages that Eckroth called “coffee cocktails.” Ultimately, she was impressed by how much effort went in to Wimmer’s routine.
A couple of years following Wimmer’s competition practices, Eckroth became first enamored with the idea of competing in coffee competitions herself when she made a decision on a whim and entered the Barista League competition held in Portland with her fellow coworker and friend, Lorelei Booher.
The two worked as a team and learned a lot about competing, and how competitions function through their experience at the Barista League. After that competition, Eckroth was posed with the question of competing at USBC, to which she agreed to with very little knowledge of the competition, and the steps necessary to get there or what she would need to do once she got there. Essentially, she dived in head-first and had no idea what to expect, an attribute that she carries with her wherever she goes.
Once it was decided she would go to represent Corvallis at this huge competition, she had about two months to work out the details of her routine, which she did on two different occasions. One routine for her regional qualifying round, and a second routine for her national competition.
Eckroth took 18thplace at the regional competition in Denver, CO using a Costa Rican coffee which advanced her to nationals, and she placed 23rdout of 36 baristas at the national competition using a fully-washed Ecuadorian coffee. Both coffees were roasted in Corvallis by Bespoken Coffee Roasters.
Each time, her 15-minute routine was focused around unveiling the many hands behind the coffee industry; transparency in the supply chain was her theme. For Eckroth, it was important for the consumers of her beverages to understand where their coffee had come from, and that she was able to give credit to the farmers and everyone else involved who very seldom receive recognition for the incredible work that they do.
“Baristas and coffee shops get a lot of the glory being the front-end and the most glamourous side,” Eckroth said, “but there are so many other people involved and so many other steps in getting this coffee from (the) farms along the equator belt.”
Part of her routine included a photo book that was presented to the judges including pictures of all the people involved in making that cup of coffee in front of them possible, and her speech included dialogue surrounding these people as she prepared her drinks.
“I thought it was important to talk about the farmers that are spending their time creating specialty coffee in an era that it might not be as valuable for them,” Eckroth said, “I thought it was important to shed light on the work that they do, that importers do, and that roasters do, because they are all on the back-end, doing the hardest part of the job.”
She claims that because of these things, there needs to be a certain kind of respect that goes into coffee due to the slim profit margins for a lot these groups of people involved in creating amazing coffee.
Her drink line-up was served in her chosen order; an espresso round, a milk-based beverage round, and finally her signature beverage round.
For the milk-based round, Eckroth chose to serve single-shot cortados which are small traditional coffee beverages consisting of one-part espresso to an equal part steamed milk (1:1).
Her signature beverage consisted of a shaken espresso combined with honey, rosewater, and apple juice, all shaken with black tea ice cubes.
(Insert Morgan-2.jpg here, right justified if possible)
Back in Corvallis, both coffee shops were writhing with excitement and anticipation as they prepared to watch her compete. The competition was streamed live online for all of her family and friends to see.
Being here in Corvallis myself during the time for both competitions, it was thrilling to watch each time as groups of people crowded around laptop screens at both shops as they eagerly sipped their lattes and cappuccinos, and leaned their ears as closely as they could to get as close to the competition as possible, ensuring that they didn’t miss a moment of Eckroth’s achievements.
While I wasn’t at the same shop as her father was for nationals, I was told that Lee Eckroth bought all the patrons of the coffee shop their drinks as she was competing, which in my opinion really shows how proud he is of his daughter and how his support for her is unwavering.
Her father is someone that inspires Eckroth’s ambitions and is someone that she truly looks up to. Through all of the times I have made Lee an oat hot chocolate, I can truly see why. Like Lee, Morgan shares her father’s ambition and love, and they both have a friendly presence that surrounds them. However, their list of excellent qualities is not limited to their wonderful personalities and greatcurly hair.
Eckroth describes her father as a superman, and she is not sure how he is able to balance the many different things that he achieves in life. She claims that he is one of her biggest role models for work ethic, and whose network of people is as large as his heart (something she particularly notices any time that they go grocery shopping together and they run into one of Lee’s friends).
“I never know how to give back the same amount of support he gives me,” Eckroth said, “I hear a lot of people say ‘I don’t want to be my parents, I want to be someone else,’ but, I kind of want to be my dad!”
As I listened to Eckroth beam about her father, my heart melted a bit and seeing him support her in the ways that he does, and seeing the community share Lee’s support in moments like her competition are really a testament to Eckroth’s character, and show just how truly special she is as a person, and just how much she is cared for by the community.
When Eckroth was finished boasting about her father, I asked her to reflect on the competition, to which she stated that it all happened very quickly.
“I felt like I spent two months preparing and then it felt like it was all over in two seconds,” Eckroth said.
An obstacle that Eckroth faced while preparing for these competitions was finding a balance of work, life, and school, while preparing for her competition, and at the same time maintaining her sanity somehow.
It was funny watching her reflect on this as she energetically expressed her envy for some of her competitors. “I was jealous of the people that only work(ed) full time while preparing for USBC,” Eckroth said, “that sounds so nice!”
Much of Eckroth’s time spent prior to her competition was in a lot of in-between moments; moments she found time to sneak into the coffee shop, often times after hours to rehearse her routine in the Southtown Tried & True training lab in the basement in order to polish her routine down to the very last detail, each moment timed precisely to the second.
“We are super lucky to have that little basement lab, because when Amelia worked here, we didn’t have that at all. She was constricted with only being able to practice in the shops after they close. If I didn’t have that, it wouldn’t have been achievable for me.”
A lot of her time was also spent outside of the shop, re-writing her script an endless number of times only to realize she wanted to change her theme and start over. She also spent a hefty amount of time making ungodly amounts of simple syrups in the kitchen until she finally found ones that worked for her routine.
Being mostly an observer of her progress and experience during her competitions, I can say that I have mad respect for Eckroth and seeing her ambition is truly inspiring. I can’t wait for the day that I see her winning a national competition or creating a big name for herself in the coffee industry, and I can say: “Hey! That girl with the kerchief and curls? That girl is my friend!” And undoubtably, I will be proud of her achievements. Until that day, I am just as happy pouring lattes by her side.