World Brewers Cup Champion 2015 Mr. Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen

Hello, coffee people!

Thank you for your outstanding support over my last six blog posts. Three months ago, having all these conversations with coffee people was just a dream. The people with whom I have conversed are mentors and teachers to me, and able to help answer my questions. It shows how great our industry is. It shows me how connected we are. Regardless of whether you are in New York, Tokyo or Moscow, we all have the same goal and the same direction. Thank you to you, my readership, and keep doing everything you can to do what you believe to be right. Don’t go simply with what you hear or see from others — even here on CoffeePav. You have a responsibility to explore your own questions. We are still at the very beginning of our industry. There are so many things we have already greatly improved, and still so many things that need to be developed.

I am not your typical ‘specialty coffee barista’. I don’t ‘force’ people to drink coffee that I like. I don’t try to put my theories into other people’s heads. I like to wear a white shirt and classy brown shoes to work. I don’t watch other baristas when I enter their shop to judge them and point out mistakes. I probably could — so many mistakes have been pointed out to me by others and therefore I have learnt a lot technically. I don’t sarcastically smile when a barista tells me that he uses an Italian blend, and when I ask about the region, their response is simply ‘South America’, and cannot tell me the country, variety of bean or even the name of the roaster. I don’t roll my eyes when a customer wants some milk for their pour-over. I don’t say ‘Starbucks is bad’. Finally, I would never call my roaster and tell him that he needs to improve his roasting because I didn’t like the way he roasted the coffee even after having been a roast master for twenty years. Why I don’t do all these things? I don’t feel competent. Now, all the baristas whom I have met or have trained will smile because I say this to everyone on every training: ‘don’t try to run before you have learnt how to walk’.

We are constantly improving our machines. Technical issues are being solved in more quickly. Science is taking over almost every step of the preparation of our beverages. But I wonder if we overlook something now; I wonder if we are losing the humanity of our jobs. A lot of people I have met are incredibly nice, warm, but even after two years in specialty, all they could do is talk about coffee from the position of arguing and pointing out everyone’s mistakes. We play in the same team. Let’s not forget that…

Moving on. Today, time for something we all have been waiting for — filter coffee! What better person to talk on this subject than this year’s World Brewers Cup Champion, Mr. Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen. Before the interview, please watch his winning performance!


P: How does it feel to be the World Brewers Cup Champion?

O: I always thought that becoming a world champion would be impossible and that the feeling of being being such would be very special … but no, I don’t feel special! Of course, it’s very rewarding to get recognised by the coffee community for the hard work you put in and that Supreme Roastworks is doing something right. The World Brewers Cup (WBrC) was a good opportunity to demonstrate how good a natural-processed coffee can taste, and that gives me a good feeling.


P: How much of last year’s Brewer’s Cup performance did you change for this year?

O: I didn’t change much, but my routine was so much more structured and planned. Of course, my choice of coffee was also different. I started my preparations the day after the WBrC last year, so it took me a whole year

P: What are the essential factors for brewing good filter coffee?

O: Well let’s assume you already have good quality beans that are no older than 2-3 weeks from roast and that you also have clean fresh water and a grinder. Firstly, be consistent with the temperature, ratio of coffee/ water and the extraction time. Only alter one parameter at a time when adjusting your brew. That way, you can tell right away what impact your changes did. For example, only change your grind, or only the temperature — one step at a time. The brew method used is a matter of personal taste. The Chemex gives the softest and lightest brew; use the V60 for clarity, softness, body and taste; the Aeropress gives more sediment and therefore more body — it’s not so clean; and use a French Press if you like a heavy body with lots of sediments and taste, though it’s not a relatively clean cup. I prefer to use a V60 with a coarser grind and a longer extraction time — 3-3:30 min, 30g coffee to 500g water at 92°C. It’s worth pointing out that old coffee, dark-roast coffee, dirty equipment, boiling hot water, and/or too fine a grind will never make good filter coffee, no matter how hard you try!

P: What makes good filter coffee?

O: I think it’s a matter of personal taste. I like clean, natural processed coffee that is fruity, sweet and balanced with a smooth aftertaste. Generally speaking, it should be clean, distinct in flavour and aroma particular to that country or region, well balanced, and have a pleasant mouthfeel and aftertaste.


P: Do you have extraction preference according to the origin of coffee?

O: I sometimes give the more ‘classic’ coffees from South-America a little bit more of an aggressive pour in order to get a heavier body, and then perhaps sometimes a slightly finer grind. The more delicate fruity naturals from Ethiopia and Ninety Plus I will brew the most gently in order to keep the fragile components intact; it keeps it elegant and soft.

P: We know from your routine that you used 300ml of water to 20g of coffee. How do you create ratios? How do you go about that process?

O: Correct. Very often my TDS preference is 1.30 by taste. For the competition, I started very technically using the VST refractometer and the VST Coffee Tools. I used the SCAE Universal Brewing Control Chart and tried to hit its sweet spot. The sweet spot did not fit the coffee from Ethiopia at all — it was way too heavy in my opinion. To get a TDS of 1.30, I had to use a finer grind and 18g/300ml, but even then I was not happy. I changed again, this time using a coarser grind and a longer extraction time, and the coffee opened up so much more. It was softer, sweeter, and more balanced. I found myself at the borderline of the Brewing Chart, but even so the coffee tasted extraordinary. It’s always a fine balance — going too coarse will lead to watery coffee; too fine and it’ll become a bit ‘dusty’.

P: What do you think about sieving fines?

O: I have just started experimenting with sieves. My experience is that the brew becomes really clean, but you lose some of the body and mouthfeel. I think finding a technique that removes some fines but not all would be good. A small amount of fines I think serves a purpose in a brew.

P: What water do you use for brewing coffee? What water makes a good cup?

O: I find that clean, fresh cold water from the tap often works very well, but then here in Norway we are blessed with clean, soft tap water. That said, when water has a high ppm (above 150-200), it creates a harsh mouthfeel. If the water has been cleansed with chlorine, that’s not good either. My competition water came from a source on the West Coast of Norway. No filtering or cleaning, simply straight from the source into the bottle. After testing, it was unbelievably clean, and we found it to be only 14ppm. The mouthfeel was as soft as cream.

P: What’s next? Are you going to compete more? Travel? Train people?

O: I have already started traveling to South-East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa. My next really exciting project is going to Ethiopia in November to help develop a Maker Series with Ninety Plus Coffee using my all-time favourite coffee, Nekisse, as a raw material, just as Semeon Abay did. If the Maker Series turns out the way I want it to, and the coffee is outstanding, I’d then really want to compete more. Competition makes me work harder and focuses me more in my daily job as a barista. It broadens my horizons, encouraging me to source even better coffees and brew in a better way than before. Like athletes, I don’t want to retire after becoming a World Champion once — I want to set new goals and work hard to reach them. Do you know any barista winning the World Championship twice? Maybe that’s my next goal! If not, I do really enjoy sharing my knowledge with other people so yes, I’d really enjoy training people — maybe a competition workshop maybe? Judging would also nice!

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