Farming? Roasting? Cafe? YES! TIM WENDELBOE!

Hello Everyone!

It has been a long break for coffeepav readers. I do apologize for that. The reason is probably known for many of You. I have decided to move to Sweden, where I will work and live my happy life. Using this opportunity, I would love to thank everyone I have worked in London with, all my happy customers and people I have met.

I would like to send my warm regards and say, how thankful I am, to Prufrock Coffee. Those guys have showed me how to be a better barista, and more importantly, better person. Thank You guys! I will never forget that.

Now, I know how many of You were waiting for this…

(For those who would like to listen to us as well, here is an audio interview. I am sorry for ,,coffee shop” sounds, but it is 100 % possible to listen and enjoy. All music used in interview file is composed and produced by me. Download option is available, so feel free to get a copy and listen on your way to work).

Another surprise, under the interview, You can find the video from Tim’s talk in Prufrock about his farm! (Not full, but still very enjoyable  50 minutes)!

Without further ado, I give You, Mr. TIM WENDELBOE!!!!

P: Hello Tim! Thank you very much for your time now! Firstly, you just bought the farm, didn’t you? Can you tell us about the project? Are we going to see Tim Wendelboe the farmer, or will it be a project on the side of your current activities?

T: Yes, I bought some land that I will be turning into a farm. We already named the farm Finca El Suelo. The reason why I bought the farm comes from having travelled to farms for many years. I found one thing that all of them had in common: they don’t really know much about farming. I mean, they are good farmers — they know how to deal with leaf rust and how to fertilise well — but if I ask them how their farming practices affect crop quality, often they cannot answer. Most of the farms in South America that I work with don’t think about coffee quality as a result of what they are actually doing in terms of farming practices. The problem is that once you have picked the coffee cherries, you cannot improve the green beans anymore. My idea was to start a farm in Colombia where most of the farmers are growing the same varieties. The processing is very similar farm to farm, though there are thousands of variations. Most will use dry fermentation and washing, and work with Caturra or Typica, Bourbon and maybe Castillo varietals. The idea behind my farm was a shade-grown, organic farm focussed not only on yield, but how to get best possible quality. I started to take classes in agronomy and I have since learnt theories on how to achieve better quality whilst keeping the same, and often higher, yield. If I can get this to work in real life the great thing is that I can achieve all this at a much lower cost because I don’t have to use mineral fertilisers or expensive pesticides; rather, I will make my own compost. It will for sure take me some years to figure this out, but if I succeed, the idea is to take this system and knowledge and apply it to the farm next to me, Finca Tamana, the farm I already work with. With the new system, I could turn Finca Tamana into an organic farm which hopefully would be a very big and important step in improving their crop quality and lower their input costs. But I have to prove that my approach will work first.

P: How do you turn a regular farm into an organic one? What does it mean to be an organic coffee farm?

T: Well, most farmers currently use mineral fertiliser which is not organic — they are basically salts that you give to the tree to feed it. Fungicides, pesticides and the like are also used. Turning a far, organic would mean they no longer use mineral fertiliser but instead make their own compost to use as a fertiliser, that way managing, growing and feeding the microorganisms in the soil that again will provide nutrients to the trees. I think it will be a very big challenge for me. There are many ways of growing organic produce but I don’t know anyone who has been taking this particular way of organic approach to coffee that I am currently taking. I know tomato and wine producers that are doing it, but no coffee producers.

P: That sounds really exciting. So you are going to start something completely new?

T: Yes, in a way. It is a more pragmatic way of doing organic farming, using microscopes to assess what is in my soil and trying to give the right conditions for the coffee tree to live in. Plants are designed to send out sugars to attract microorganisms that again will provide the plant with the necessary nutrients. I am basically putting my plants in charge of their own diet instead of feeding them with minerals they might not need. People say that I am stupid to start farming because I am not a farmer, but some of the great farmers that I work with also started from scratch without any agronomy background.  What they have learnt has either been passed down by their forefathers or an agronomist that often is a salesperson for farming products. The way I see it, though I have much less experience in farming than most farmers, I still have the same potential to succeed. Especially now that I have taken some education I feel that I have a better starting position than a lot of other farmers have had in the past.

P: I think, after Aida Batlle, you might be seen as a significant figurehead who is also taking this kind of approach to coffee farming. We all know she is doing a great job with her farming practices.

T: Absolutely. I have been working with farmers for eight years now and we have mainly been focusing on processing and drying techniques to improve the quality. In this new project, we will try to improve the quality even before the processing. I personally don’t believe that you can greatly improve the quality through the processing — you can surely change it, but it is really hard to improve it. For example, you can increase fruit flavours, which usually comes from fermentation, but for me that is more of a defect.

P: So what do you think your processing technique will be?

T: Because it is a small farm, it will probably be the Eco Mill [Link to explanation of that process below the interview]. The only difference between this and washing is that you don’t have to use a washing channel or tank to wash the coffee. The Eco Mill uses only about half a litre of water for a kilo of coffee, whereas the traditional washing process uses forty litres of water, so there is a significant environmental benefit here.

P: Moving on from farming to roasting, then. What do you think about roasting practices in Central Europe compared to in Scandinavia? Central Europe still appears to deliver darker roasts than in Scandinavia.

T: I would disagree. Living in Scandinavia, I have noticed that many roasters are opening every month. I remember two years ago we had ten small rosters in Norway; now we have more than I can count (Don’t even know the number). There are many variations in how people roast. Some roasters go for a light roast, some darker. Sometimes, one roaster will roast dark for one month and then next month change to a lighter profile. I do think that there is still a lot of exploration needing to be done. There is a lot of poor roasting but equally a lot of good roasting, and so, generally speaking and including us, we don’t fully understand how to utilise equipment when we get new coffee. We still base our roast profiles on experimenting. Understanding how airflow influences a roast is important. We noticed this summer when we had very dry weather that the roaster acts differently when humidity is high, so you have to change the airflow. We don’t have any systematic way of checking, controlling or even testing it. So, I think it is great that there are a lot of roasters opening and I think it is great that people have their own preferences within coffee roasting. I think the most important part is you follow what you believe and prefer without simply copying big names just because they are popular.

P: Do you have any roasting secrets?

T: No. I don’t even know how to fully use my roasting machine! Every day we learn something new. It is a very difficult roaster to work with, especially if you want to be consistent. Every time we get new coffee, even if it is from a producer we work closely with, I can taste changes. If the coffee has changed then the profile needs to be different. I think you just need to follow what you believe in and don’t think so much about roasting lighter or darker — get the coffee to taste good and then, if it is good for you, it is good for your customers.

P: Do you in any way feel that many of the new roasters in Norway opened because of your influence?

T: I wouldn’t say it’s because of me. Generally speaking, I think in Europe you see a trend of new roasters opening. In 2007, when I was in London for the first time, there were maybe three coffee shops that were worth visiting; now there are hundreds of them. That’s the general trend in Europe, that there are many coffee shops opening and with that you get people who want to roast coffee because they see that they can either make more money on it, or that it’s more educational and fun. If you look at the numbers, it looks like running a roastery is very easy. But the reality is very different. You buy very cheap beans and sell it for very high prices. You do also have to do training and keep everything fresh. Now, selling in Norway is very hard because there are not many wholesale clients available. I don’t think that roasting in Norway is growing anymore. When it started, it grew very fast, but now it stands still.

P: How do you then deal with coffee that is getting old and woody?

T: It depends. For the last three years we had couple of lots that turned woody. We just had to sell it; there is not much you can do. Because of this, we now have something we call ,,coffee”. We sell it in kilo bags instead of 250 grams, the bags we use are transparent and not branded, and we sell it for a discounted price just to cover the costs. What we find is that a lot of our customers buy our coffee to use just on weekends because it’s expensive. So on the occasion that we do have a not-so-good roast or woody coffee, what some customers do is buy these transparent bags to use during the week and then better coffee for weekend. The transparent-bag coffee is still very good coffee, it might just be slightly off-profile or turning slightly woody. That said, we don’t have it available all the time.

P: Do you think that the ,,Tomato defect” is simply made up, or do we actually look for that tomato flavour when we cup Kenyan coffee?

T: The tomato flavour I get a lot in Colombian and Kenyan coffees. I don’t think it is a defect. If you roast the coffee and it is slightly underdeveloped or very light, you can very often get a tomato flavour. I think it is a positive thing that you can get this flavour because I can easily turn this into blackcurrant flavour just by roasting it darker. If you have a really sweet tomato flavour, it is delicious.

P: Do you roast for espresso separately? Lately we have more and more roasters roasting one profile and saying that it can be used for either method.

T: You can use our filter roast for espresso, the only problem is that you bring the concentration up to 8-10 times higher than for a filter coffee. When you get that concentration, it becomes really acidic. A lot of people don’t like it but I actually enjoy it. For our espresso, we use the same profile as for a filter, only we leave it inside the roaster slightly longer to lower the acidity and achieve more balance. Also, when you use a very light roast for milky coffees, the foam tends to break down more; we roast a lot lighter now then we used to.

P: It is interesting when you say that you roast lighter than you used to. How light do you go?

T: Our espresso is definitely lighter than before. When we roast, we try to get the maximum flavour in the cup and I hate bitterness or any sort of ashy flavours. I also hate grassy coffees. There’s a very thin line, so I’m the first to admit that our coffees are sometimes slightly underdeveloped; of course, we try to fix that immediately. We develop our roast profiles all the time and so coffee that has been roasted three weeks ago might taste different to the present day.

Pictures of coffee barista, Tim Wendelboe, at his coffee roastery in Grüners gate 1 in Oslo, Norway. Photo credit must be present at publication. Photo: Benjamin A. Ward

P: Ok, now for some questions from our readership. Firstly, what are the most important things for a successful café? You can pick only two out of the following three:

1 – Great coffee

2 – Great barista skill

3 – Great customer service

T: I only need to pick one – customer service. If you’re a customer in a restaurant, the worst thing that can happen is receiving bad service. I can have a decent meal, or not that great meal, but if the service is terrible, which I experienced a lot when I was on my honeymoon in Spain, it ruins the experience. We were in one of the best restaurants in Spain and the food was decent but the service was terrible. They asked us about allergies twice, and they still had to confirm about them at the table. That is something you wouldn’t expect from this kind of restaurant. Also, they had not done any wine research according to our allergies. On top of that, it was very hard to find the toilet and no one was willing to help us. By contrast, we had great service in another restaurant where the food was fantastic, and that is the best combination. In London, there are many coffee shops and it is very hard to separate a good café from an excellent one. If you come into a place, you want to feel appreciated. It’s one thing is to be nice every day, but if there’s an incident, being able to handle it well is what separates a good place from a bad one.

P: What is the dress code in your café?

T: You have to wear a white shirt, dark/black jeans and dark/brown shoes. You need to look fresh, clean and tidy. I don’t have a problem with piercings or beards, as long as you look clean — you have to look approachable.

P: As a person who is moving from the UK to Scandinavia, what should I expect? What changes in the coffee scene will I notice?

T: I think you will see a difference in the way cafes are set up and the way we serve customers. Especially in Norway — you have a standing line, get your stuff and get out; it’s more of a Starbucks model. I don’t know any place in Norway that makes food to order, though I am not fully up to date on that. You need to be quick, so food is already pre-made. Lunch time in Norway is only thirty minutes so we need to make sure we are fast and efficient. You will find that most places have the same type of pastries from the same supplier, and a lot of them have the same coffee, probably from the same company.

P: What are small, but important details to keep your café in line and always ready to serve customers?

T: One of the things that I see in coffee shops that I don’t like are pastries and food hidden behind the counter so that you can’t see them when you enter. Either that or they are in places after the till section so it is already too late to get them with your coffee and you then have to go back to the queue. Also, retail is important; it cannot be hidden somewhere on the side. I have experienced that if a customer can touch and take a book, a piece of equipment or a bag of coffee, you are more likely to have a bigger retail sale than if your shelf was somewhere at the side of the shop. Everything in our bar has a place and there’s a system. If something is not where it should be, we get really annoyed because on Saturdays, for example, we serve around four hundred customers in about five hours, so we don’t have time to look for things.

P: Can you tell us about your Quality Control? You use two grinders in store, is that right?

T: We have been doing this for almost two years. I found it easier to detect underdeveloped coffees at a lower extraction when I wasn’t using the EK43. By using the EK43, you get a very thick mouthfeel because you extract at a much higher level, and sometimes this mouthfeel is very easily confused with sweetness. So it makes it easier for me to make a decision as to whether I need to change the roasting profile. Also, coffee needs to taste good on any grinder. My customers use cheaper grinders as well, so I want to make sure that my coffee won’t taste bad on those. It is also easier to detect over-roasted flavors when using the EK43.

P: What is your recipe for espresso?

T: My espresso recipe starts on the farm. You need to get the sweetest and best possible coffee, because we brew it at a much higher concentration. I tend to use coffees with lower acidity; at others, I use some great Kenyans or Ethiopians. We roast it quite light, so it still tastes sweet, not sour or bitter, and definitely not roasty. This also depends on the grinder we use, but usually we try to hit 19 – 20 % extraction. We put 20 grams of coffee inside 20 grams VST basket, and we get between 36 – 40 grams yield. Again, it depends on the coffee, and all of that takes somewhere between 25 – 35 seconds. We use 110 psi, about 8 bars pressure.  That is our standard. A lot of the time our espresso can taste very sour if served it in a small hot cup. That is why we serve it in a room temperature cup, and try to get the temperature down, to get more sweetness and balance out of the coffee.


P: How do you serve take away espresso?

T: We started doing that couple of months ago. We brew our espresso into a thick-walled ceramic jar to cool it down and then we pour it into a take away cup.

P: What is your 5 years plan?

T: In five years, I will probably be doing my second or third harvest at the farm, as well as being busy with my shop — basically continuing what I am doing now


Here you can learn about Eco Mill Processing technique: ecomill_a_new_cleaner_technology_for_coffee_processing_now_available_to_col/

Next up: Mr. Odd -Steinar Tollefsen, This year World Brewers Cup Champion will tell You, how to brew a winning coffee.


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