To start this Series, I chose to present a short interview with one of the best experts “Coffee” in the world: Tim Wendelboe.
The world of quality coffee “Third Wave” is expanding ans transformation worldwide, the coffee price increases and the coffee is very often a neglected by good restaurants.
So it was natural to discuss with Tim Wendelboe, an insider who knows all aspects of coffee: The purchase of farms, the coffee business, through roasting and “what is a good barista”. We must not forget that Wendelboe also wrote one of the best reference books on the world of coffee “Coffee with Tim Wendelboe”.
1-(Scoffier) How would you describe the path that led you to be the reference “Coffee” in Norway? How do you explain the concept behind your business?
TWendelboe– It all started in 1998, when I finished school. I did not know what I wanted to study and I wanted to work for a year or two in order to see if anything came about. As I did not have a job I had to look for one and the only one I could get was in a coffee shop called Stockfleth’s. In fact I did not drink coffee at that time as I really did not like it. However when I got a full time position in the coffee shop I realised there was bad coffee and there was good coffee and I actually started to like the drink given it was of good quality. The owner of the store was not very involved and there was no one to run the small coffee shop, so it just came natural to me to take the responsibility to run the shop as I had some experience from working in a grocery store while I was attending school.
After about 6 months, the owner forced me to compete in the Barista Competition in Norway. I happily did and did quite well on a shared 5th place. Of course I am very competitive and I also felt I could do a lot better, so I decided to compete again the next year which was in 2000. I managed to win the Norwegian Championship several times but never did better than 2nd place in the WBC. This really annoyed me and although I always tried to do better but it did not give any results. It was not until I took a year off competition in 2003 and started to work with roasting and blending that I started to understand what I was doing wrong.
I was not a good taster and I did not have references in terms of green coffee quality and roasting. I spent 6 months playing around with all sorts of coffees, trying to perfect the roast and tasting the results. I finally understood what coffee could potentially taste like and started to train a new competition. I also realized that I was neglecting the service part of the competition. Yes, I had great technique, but I payed no attention to pleasing the judges, what are sort of “pretend customers” in the competition. I therefore started to think a lot about service in general and how I wanted to approach the competition and service in the coffee shops I ran.
The following year in 2004, I finally won the World Barista Championship, which was a door opener in many ways. Although I already had made myself a good reputation among some coffee people, the exposure through winning the WBC was enormous. At that time I was running all the Stockfleth’s coffee shops together with a friend of mine, but I felt I was growing out of the organization and decided to quit to work freelance as a World Champion Barista. As a freelance consultant, I was able to travel around the world, teaching and learning from other coffee professionals around the world. My philosophy is that you learn much more through sharing your own knowledge with others because you always get new ideas in return. This is still our philosophy at Tim Wendelboe and I think we have benefitted a huge amount from being transparent and not keeping any trade secrets. In fact I think people with trade secrets tend to be the loosers in the coffee industry in the long run. After doing a lot of barista trainings, I started to notice that a lot of times I could not get the coffee quality that I was looking for. I had been roasting for 3 years already for Stockfleth’s coffee bars, but I quit doing this as I started as a consultant. I also realized that I needed a base where I could train people and experiment with coffee. Therefore I decided to open a roaster, espresso bar and a training center in Oslo. We are focusing our business on wholesale of roasted coffee and I spend most of my time traveling to consult and buy and develop green coffee together with coffee producers around the world. Our goal is to be among the best roastery in the world and that is not possible to achieve if you don’t work closely with the ones who supply your raw material, the unroasted coffee. Therefore we do not only source all our coffees ourselves, but we try to work with the producers to systemize and implement new producing techniques at the farm level in order to develop their coffees in the direction we want. Of course by doing so a lot of costs are added throughout the production chain, but that means we need to pay more for the coffee, which fortunately our customers are willing to pay for.
The reason for opening an espresso bar in conjunction with the roastery was to be able to show our customer what our coffees can taste like. Sort of a showroom for our roasting business. We wanted to open a bar where coffee is in focus and where people can come to ask us questions and learn about coffee. Therefore we decided to have a set menu where a lot of the mocha bullshit and other fuzzy drinks that dilutes and covers up the coffee flavour was not available. The only drinks served was the ones on the menu and we do change the menu daily depending on which coffees we would like to focus on and season. We started selling coffee and some cookies, but now we only sell coffee in our bar. We try to add as little as possible in our coffee drinks, but sometimes we also like to play with ingredients, especially in our Iced coffees during summer. Still there needs to be a clear taste of coffee and it’s origin in everything we serve.
The motto for our bar was not to be a place where our customers came to please their habits, but to be a place where their habits are challenged. We want to push the boundaries of what coffee can be.
2-(Scoffier) With the “Third Wave” in the world of coffee, the barista’s competitions etc., there are more and more people who respect and know the coffee. How do you explain that Oslo is now a place (almost) also known as London or San Francisco?
TWendelboe– I think it has a lot to do with Solberg & Hansen which is the biggest specialty roaster in Norway and the pioneers behind the Barista Competition that we know as the WBC. They started in the mid 90’s to teach people about the barista craft. They were one of the first to buy and market Cup of Excellence coffees and they were always willing to share knowledge and preached about the importance of transparency in the trade and the importance of coffee quality. I think this has affected all coffee people in our industry in Norway and has shaped the Norwegian coffee culture. Since they were dominating the market it meant that competitors needed to find their niche or do a better job than Solberg & Hansen. Since we opened in 2007 we have seen a lot of new roasters popping up in the country, and a lot of the roastery are focusing on improving quality in order to be able to compete in the market. The other important reason for Oslo and Norway being a coffee reference in the world is that traditionally we have been buying good quality coffee and roasting it light for many many years. Even the supermarket coffees you find here is of fair quality, especially when you compare it to coffees in our neighbouring countries like Denmark and Germany. I think this is one of the many reasons why a lot of people still drink a lot of coffee in Norway and has lead to Norway being the second highest consumer of coffee per capita in the world.
3-(Scoffier) The price of coffee just jump in the world. In your opinion, is this a temporary trend (speculation)? Does the consumer can already see a major change?
TWendelboe- I think the commodity graded coffees will stabilise above USD 2 per lb for a long while but I don’t think it will be over USD 3 per lb for long periods of time. The consumption of coffee is growing, but the supply is not growing as fast it seems. This is mostly due to neglected coffee farms during the past 10 years because of low prices and also climate changes has had a huge negative impact on a lot of coffee producing countries.
We see a trend where more farmers are planting more trees and there are always ups and downs from year to year. China has started to grow coffee as well, but I doubt they can supply their own demand if every Chinese drank as much coffee as an average Norwegian.
The top quality coffees is a different story. We see a rise in living standards in many producing countries we buy from. Coffees are getting better because of more sophisticated techniques that involves a lot of manual labour. Therefore the production cost of producing top quality coffees are rising. There is also a boom in the specialty coffee industry all over the world which has increased the demand for these coffees tremendously. I think I can say with certainty that the best coffees will continue to rise in price for the coming years.
4-(Scoffier) A few months ago, you spoke of poverty of “service coffee” in restaurants in Norway (& Scandinavia). You doing the same conclusion for Europe in general? What is the main problem?
TWendelboe- Yes! It is a problem all over the world. I can count on one hand how many times I have had a good coffee experience in a restaurant. The problem is a lack of education. The sommeliers and chefs are not aware that you can get exceptional coffees brewed easily and with higher margins than the convenience solutions can offer. I have to say though that it is not their fault. The roasters and baristas who are dealing with top quality coffees are absolutely terrible at selling their coffees and solutions to restaurants. We need to come up with a solution and a language that the sommeliers and chefs can relate to and that is practical and manageable to handle in a busy restaurant.
5-(Scoffier) You have established a collaboration and helped the restaurant Maaemo (Oslo) has developed a “service coffee” out of the ordinary. How would you describe your collaboration with Pontus Dahlström (sommelier) and Maaemo?
TWendelboe- Pontus contacted me after a customer had complained about the coffee he was serving. He asked me if I could help them improve their coffee service and he really wanted to do the traditional steeped coffee in a kettle “Kokekaffe” in their Nordic Restaurant. We came up wih a solution where they are serving and preparing Kokekaffe (black full immersion steeped coffee) at the table in front of their guests. Simple, easy, theatrical and very tasty. But more importantly, they treat coffee as serious as their wine pairing and every other aspect of their restaurant. Our relationship has evolved a lot since they opened and Pontus has certainly studied a lot about coffee. He is probably the most curious customer we have. He attends cupings on a weekly basis, talks about coffee with us every week and is becoming an experienced coffee taster. After all he is a top sommelier, so he knows how to evaluate taste!
6-(Scoffier) Would you have a suggestion (a “selection of the moment”) of coffee or a useful tip(s) to serve coffee in a restaurant?
1. Get rid of the espresso machine. It only complicates things. It is the most difficult brewing method and in a restaurant it is a logistical nightmare;
2. Get a grinder, water kettle, a manual coffee brewer, some good coffee from a roaster that can teach you how to brew the coffee and off you go. It is not complicated to brew a black filter style cup of coffee, it tastes much better after a delicate meal in a fine dining restaurant and the chances of screwing up is much smaller;
3. Learn more about coffee from the people who knows a lot about coffee. We have done this with several restaurants in Oslo. They are focusing on serving black coffee and we have actually managed to increase coffee sales in several restaurants. If something tastes good, then people tend to want more, but don’t fall into the trap of giving out free refills. Good coffee is expensive, you should charge more for it and make money on it like you do with wine and food. After all, there is no free refill on wine and food in most restaurants I know!
2. Book: Coffee With Tim Wendelboe (English), Schibsted Forlag (2010)
4. Nordic Barista Cup 2012, August 9-12
N.B: Copyright for the photos © Tim Wendelboe.
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