24-year-old's side hustle brings in almost $100,000 a year—triple what she earns at her day job

How this 24-year-old became the U.S. Barista Champion
How this 24-year-old became the U.S. Barista Champion

Morgan Eckroth didn't buy her first cup of coffee because of the taste or caffeine. She only wanted to show off her new driver's license at age 16, walking down her school's halls with her car keys and a green-accented Starbucks cup.

As many a teenager does, she got hooked. Eckroth, now 24, made $141,000 last year working three jobs — social media creator, marketing strategist and barista — that all revolve around coffee, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It.

The marketing job takes up most of Eckroth's time, up to 30 hours per week. But her eight hours per week on social media generate most of her income: Her TikTok account, MorganDrinksCoffee, has more than six million followers, a following that earned her $96,000 in 2022 from ads, branding deals and merchandise sales.

U.S. Barista Champion Morgan Eckroth, 24, makes $141,000 from three coffee-based revenue streams.
CNBC Make It

None of that counts her status as one of the world's preeminent competitive baristas. Last year, Eckroth won the U.S. Barista Championships and placed second at the World Barista Championships. It's not particularly lucrative, but that's not why she competes, she says.

"I've experienced my biggest moments of growth, both professionally and also personally, emotionally ... in competition," Eckroth says. "It forces you to face your own missteps."

Here's how she turned her love of coffee into a six-figure career — and what it even means to be a competitive barista.

From local barista to TikTok coffee star

After her 16th birthday, Eckroth discovered she liked both the taste and the experience of getting coffee, observing how the baristas at her local coffee shop interacted with customers.

"That was my first interaction with hospitality and finer customer service as a craft," Eckroth says. "I spent the rest of high school camped out at that café. I would meet friends there and really learned how to appreciate the [experience]."

Eckroth eventually became one of those baristas, getting hired at that same coffee shop — Corvallis, Oregon-based Tried and True Coffee Company — in 2017 while studying marketing at Oregon State University.

Her TikTok account, which she created in the hopes of starting a digital advertising career, came two years later. By early 2020, her videos on latte art, barista life and coffee-making tips attracted more than a million followers.

Then, Covid hit, and employment at coffee shops became more difficult. Eckroth graduated from college "fully unemployed" amid a global pandemic, she says. Her most immediate option was to form an LLC for MorganDrinksCoffee, and sign with a management agency — so she did.

On the competition grind

A year after Eckroth started as a barista, she found a YouTube video of a competitive routine at the U.S. Barista Championships.

At the championships, each 15-minute routine involves making three coffee courses — milk, espresso and a signature "creative" beverage" — for four judges. Entrants are judged in two metrics, according to the competition's rules:

  • "Total impression," which involves taste and presentation
  • Passion and inspiration, a measure of each competitor's communication skills, enthusiasm for specialty coffee and "ability to act as a role model for the barista profession"

To prepare, entrants select a theme, write a script and source and roast their own coffee beans before they can even start practicing. Her interest piqued, Eckroth asked two of her bosses about it. Both happened to be former competitors who told her to enter a qualifying round in Denver.

The top 18 would advance to the 2019 U.S. Barista Championships. Eckroth "squeaked in" at No. 18, she says. "It was like this itch that started, realizing that I loved this combination of competition and coffee and crafting a routine so much."

Eckhart says she spent 170 hours over two months practicing for the 2022 U.S. Barista Championships.
CNBC Make It

Qualifying is an accomplishment, but only if you can bite the costs of competing. Last year, Eckroth spent about $4,000 on equipment, travel, practice materials and a nearly $400 entry fee, she estimates. She had about $1,125 in additional expenses covered by a sponsor, Arkansas-based coffee roaster Onyx Coffee Lab.

In the final round, Eckroth performed last. She leaned into the audience's energy, hoping to make her routine feel like a "party," she says. It wooed the judges, and Eckroth took home the title, trophy and $4,000 cash prize.

"I kind of just kept waiting for them to call me and be like, 'We got it wrong. We need you to give the trophy back. Like, you're not actually the champion,'" she says. "I really don't think it was until the world competition [five months later] that I allowed myself to kind of recognize that as like, 'OK, I did that.'"

A career and life in coffee

The cash prize didn't last long, Eckroth says: She used it to fly to Australia for the World Barista Championships, ultimately placing second out of 45 competitors.

Last May, Onyx hired her into a full-time, remote role as a content marketing specialist, while still sponsoring her competitive endeavors. In April, she'll have a chance to defend her national title.

Eckroth says her favorite drink is a cappuccino and she typically prefers oat milk — but because caffeine makes her jittery, she only drinks about 1.5 cups per day.
CNBC Make It

MorganDrinksCoffee remain Eckroth's most lucrative revenue stream. Last year, she made $28,000 in seven months at Onyx, and worked roughly 17 hours per week as a barista at Keeper Coffee Co., a café in Portland, Oregon, where she made $17,000 including tips.

She doesn't anticipate any career shifts anytime soon, she says.

"I get asked a lot what my five-to-10-year plan is, and I don't necessarily know what the exact steps are going to be in the future," Eckroth says. "I'm very open to things changing and being fluid. But my goal, both in my content and in competition ... is to hopefully leave [the coffee industry] in a slightly better place than when I joined."

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How this 26-year-old earns and spends $25,000 a year just outside NYC
How this 26-year-old earns and spends $25,000 a year just outside NYC