Parlor Games with Marcos Iglesias
Every now and then, we'll be highlighting a member of Parlor's team with a bit of coffee talk. The format is a play on the 18th-century parlor game that would later become popularized as the Proust Questionnaire, centered around questions to reveal one's personality. (Admittedly, our version has a coffee-influenced twist.)
Marcos Iglesias, Account Manager
Hometown: Raleigh, North Carolina
Current roastery jam: Childish Gambino, "California"
Where are you from?
I lived in Buenos Aires until I was 8. Then I lived in Raleigh until I was 25. Honestly, I refer to Raleigh, North Carolina as my hometown. I think of Buenos Aires more as my birthplace. But I definitely have strong memories of that city, too.
What are your early memories of Buenos Aires?
I was 8, so take it for what it is, but the sense of independence that’s imparted on younger kids in that city is crazy. I have very distinct memories of taking the bus to school and going to the little kiosk to place my order for lunch. There was only one class for every grade - so you’re with the same kids from preschool all the way until you graduate. So, you know - we would go back to visit BA as I got older. At some point, I really wanted to go back and spend a day at school with old friends. I have this distinct memory of being thirteen and noticing how much freedom they had. When lunch came around, we left campus for a couple of hours... I remember going to get pizza, and then we went to hang out in the park for like an hour.
Is there a siesta in Argentina?
No siesta. It’s just buck wild. The kids were doing whatever they wanted. They were all smoking cigarettes and making out with their girlfriends at the park. I was shocked. At thirteen years old, living in the States, my highest sense of freedom was thinking, “ok, in three years, my high school will let me go off campus for lunch, and I’ll have 20 minutes to drive to McDonald’s, grab food and come back.”
Why did your family move to Raleigh?
The economy in Argentina was tough, and my mom was offered a job. It was their American Dream. When I moved here, I spoke English - but not well. If I’m being perfectly honest, I got made fun of at school. I wasn’t really fluent for another few years. You know - I grew up with kids I had known since I was three. I was always in the same class with them. Then moving to a school with four classrooms in each grade, always being switched up with who you’re with - it was tough. So, you know, for a long time, I thought my parents did us a disservice by moving here.
How do you feel about it now?
Not at all that way. I don’t know if my parents really get that. But I’m super thankful that we live here. I do think I missed out on a lot in Buenos Aires, but I don’t regret it. I think I did before I was 18. Being an adult, now I can see it as it is - the only thing is that now I feel pretty distant from family. If I’m being perfectly honest, I think there’s some resentment on both sides. I don’t really feel that big sense of family anymore because we’ve been separated from it for such a long time. But my parents do and they want me to feel it - they want me to call my grandma, call my aunts and uncles all the time.
But now you’re building your own family.
Right. Exactly. So in a lot of ways - I don’t view it as negative. I think all these experiences have informed who I am now but I don’t view them as negative or positive. It’s just what happened before. And I’m super happy with where I am now, and the relationships I’m building now - and I hope that one day when I have kids, my experiences will inform that.
How did you start working in coffee?
[Laughs] I finished my undergrad in Spanish language and literature. I tried to teach and was really bad at it. I tried to teach high school.
But you're a great teacher!
Oh, I was so bad at it. I liked the high school kids - I was volunteering with a lot of high school organizations so I really jived with the kids. I jived with the subject matter and with teaching in general. I still view myself as an educator. But the public high school education system in North Carolina was just so whack. With the testing, the curriculum, the books, and the constraints that the school system set in place… all these priorities were put in front of language education. Ultimately, the thing that pissed me off more than anything was the realization that I was teaching those kids how to pass tests, how to memorize information short-term, how to bullsh*t. And when they left there, that’s what they were going to hold on to, instead of teaching them that learning can be enjoyable and that they can learn something and be really proud of themselves, I was teaching them how to fake learning. I just couldn’t do it.
When was your first trip to New York?
I drove to New York during that period for the Red Hook Crit [Cycle] Race. The drive up was crazy. I was an emotional wreck the whole time. It felt like everything I’d been working for was kind of crumbling around me and next thing I knew I was in Midtown trying to park at 2am. The first time I crossed into Brooklyn was another memorable moment. It just felt like an entirely different New York than the one I thought I knew. It reminded me a lot of the things I fell in love with about riding bikes through DC. The ride back from the Crit was really the highlight for me though. I rode back some of the way with some people I’d just met and it started pouring and my phone died and I got lost. I just remember sitting on my bike in Times Square, completely soaked very late at night but being so stoked on the weekend. I really think that moment was the catalyst in deciding to quit teaching.
How did you make the shift?
My 21-year-old brain said, "Ok, fine. If I can’t teach in the high school education system, I’ll just teach college instead." So my rational next step was to apply for a masters program. I got in and then I said, "Ok, great. I’ve got the summer. I’m gonna do something fun to clear my brain." So I took a bicycle delivery job and a job at a place called the Yellow Dog Bread Company in downtown Raleigh, serving coffee and baked goods. It was amazing. Summer came and went, and I met Cassie, who I’m now married to.
Were you both working there?
Yes. And I fell in love with making coffee. And I found it was the first time I was actually excited about learning outside of Spanish literature. Summer came and went, and I had the option available to defer my admission further - so I deferred until spring. Then the holidays came and went, it was January, and Cassie and I were dating. By then I’d left the bakery and was managing a full-fledged coffee shop. I deferred one last time until fall. Meanwhile, I got engaged, we got married and life just went on from there.
How did you go from managing a cafe to entering competitions?
Competitions appealed to me as a way to continue to challenge myself. I had decided to forgo the career path that I saw laid out in front of me, and I didn’t want to do so because of laziness. If I was going to work in coffee I wanted to challenge myself and continue to grow and competition seemed like a great way to do that. I also wanted to be able to see what the coffee community was doing at large and compete alongside some of the people that I looked up to in the biz.
How did you train for competitions?
My first year I was mostly training by myself in the shop after hours. I was running operations for two cafes, working bar, roasting coffee and also trying to train for this thing. By the time I made it to nationals my first year I was running on fumes and that showed in Atlanta. The second year was much better! I was training with one of my coworkers (Shane Hess from Jubala) who was competing for the first time. Having someone who was doing the same thing with me was really beneficial. We spent a lot of time pushing each other and training together.
How did you discover Parlor as the roaster you wanted to use for Nationals?
I really didn’t want to settle on my coffee selection. I felt like roasting my own coffee the first time ultimately did me a disservice because I’m just not a full-time professional coffee roaster, no matter how hard I wanted to try to be. I reached out to every roasting company whose coffee I’d enjoyed in the past. We arranged for all of their samples to arrive at the same time and did a massive blind cupping - about 120 coffees total. We intentionally tried to push the extraction of those cups really high because I wanted to be able to pull shots that would extract well at a higher extraction percentage.
Did that process affect coffees in ways that surprised you?
Honestly, that made a lot of coffees not taste their best. A lot of roasting companies I expected to be contenders didn’t fare well. When I smelled [Parlor Coffee’s] Ethiopia Nano Challa, I honestly thought it was a fluke. I asked the baristas that helped me set up the cupping if it was possible that some lemon or floral soap had accidentally been used when washing them. We dumped the sample just in case and tried it again. Same result. The aroma was so overwhelmingly citric and floral I just couldn’t believe it. Of those 120 samples, we narrowed it down to about seven to taste as espresso and then from seven down to two. Nano Challa ultimately came out on top as our favorite. I still remember that cupping experience as one of the best coffees I’ve ever had.
How did that lead to you joining the Parlor team?
After traveling for competitions and seeing what was out there, I knew that I wanted to work with a small team at a roastery doing great work in a city where I could grow. When the Account Manager position opened up with Parlor, the move felt like a natural one. This role brings together a lot of the things I've learned, from teaching to working in the field to helping accounts streamline their systems and build their coffee programs.
When you're training baristas, what do you want them to come away with?
Trainings are challenging because we’re trying to communicate a lot in a relatively short period of time. We want baristas that come to training to be able to walk in with no foundational coffee knowledge and be able to walk out with a thorough understanding of the coffee supply chain, Parlor’s vision, the ability to manipulate extraction intentionally, the ability to make espresso and steam milk to our standard and be able to diagnose problems with and clean all of their coffee machines. That’s a lot. Ultimately if I could have every barista leave with just a couple of things it would be an understanding of coffee as an agricultural product that needs to be referred to as such, and inspired by the attention to detail paid to this product by our whole team. The mechanics of making coffee are important, but most people pick that up really quickly. The challenge of really thinking about how coffee, as an industry, works critically is really what I value the most.
What’s your ideal approach to learning?
I think that’s one of the most exciting things about life - just continuing to learn something at all times. Figuring out what you actually want to learn and what you care about, and how to learn in a way that’s sustainable while also managing real responsibilities, which everyone has.
In terms of discovering the city, what’s one of your favorite bike rides in New York?
The ride from DUMBO to Red Hook is amazing. You can ride along the river, watching people playing basketball on the piers. You feel like you’re not in New York but at the same time, you have the most beautiful view of the city spread out in front of you.
Pictured above: Marcos in the field, courtesy of Francesca Magnani. Below: Snaps from his first New York ride.