When my boyfriend and I visited Oslo a few years ago, Tim Wendelboe the shop was at the top of our list of places to visit, somewhere above Munch Museum and Vigelandsparken. As we sat in the café and waited for our coffees to cool, Tim Wendelboe the man walked in. We stared and whispered like schoolchildren and contemplated asking him to sign our copy of his book—but we hesitated just a bit too long, and then he was gone. Back home in Portland a few months later, we were drinking coffee and reading books at Heart when I looked up, and there he was. “Don’t look, but it’s Tim Wendelboe,” I whispered to Thomas. We schemed about casually getting up to get a refill then approaching him to say hello, but intimidation got the best of us again, and he was gone.
All of this silliness, of course, was completely without reason, as anyone who’s met Mr. Wendelboe can agree that he’s an entirely friendly, approachable and down-to-earth guy. We had the pleasure of spending a day with him last summer (Sprudge.com is TW’s only advertising partnership -Ed.), a visit that included a cupping at the Nordic Approach offices, a bit of ping pong and pizza, and a lovely conversational walk around Grünnerløka, talking about food and Portland.
I figured the world can do without another Tim Wendelboe coffee article, so I thought I’d ask him some other things I was dying to know. For example, is he a cat person or a dog person? And what’s his favorite movie? Speciality coffee is a world full of people doing endlessly interesting things, but so often the people themselves can be made to look one dimensional by end-focused journalist types. Tim Wendelboe is anything but one dimensional, and here’s 21 questions to prove it.
Original illustrations by Thomas Putman.
1. What were you like as a kid?
I was a sissy and probably a medium-popular kid. I loved playing soccer and started chasing the girls at the age of six. That was pretty much my childhood: girls, soccer, Nintendo and TV, in that order. I was not the most social guy, and as I grew up and became a teenager I got more and more eccentric, hanging out with the less popular kids in class and my best friend Linn. Later on I got some piercings, started playing in a band and had a blast. I stopped doing my homework, but managed to get good grades anyway. I also got more and more distant from the other kids at school and started going my own way at the age of 17. For instance, when we graduated when I was 19, the tradition is to dress in red suits and get drunk and party for a month with all the other graduates. We call it Russefeiring. I decided to skip that and start working instead. That led me into coffee later, so it was a good decision. All in all I had a great childhood.
2. Describe your ideal breakfast.
I love a great breakfast buffet. My best was in Amalfi in Italy where we came to a table full of Italian food. The fruits and tomatoes were incredible as well as the hams and fresh mozzarella. Italians really know their food! I love having a late breakfast with a glass of champagne and I always think a great breakfast needs to have fresh fruit and freshly squeezed juice available. Australian coffee shops are really good at serving great breakfasts: toast with avocado and poached eggs, etc. And I simply love a good ol’ American fry-up: eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes with maple syrup, the works.
3. What’s the last book you read?
I don’t really read novels as I never find the time to do it anymore. When I read it’s always a book about coffee or food or wine. I’m trying to go through Uker’s All About Coffee on my iPad, but I’m struggling to find the time. I also recently read the lectures by Rudolf Steiner on biodynamics. I’d like to implement more biodynamic practices at some of the farms I’m working with, but will probably have to get some land of my own to do a full biodynamic coffee farm. Who knows, maybe in the future I’ll be crazy enough to do so.
4. What’s your favorite movie?
I have many, but The Danish film “Festen (The Celebration)” by Thomas Vinterberg is really good. I also love Woody Allen movies, Clint Eastwood westerns and the Godfather trilogy. The best comedy I’ve seen in many years is “Napoleon Dynamite”. I can watch it over and over again—it is just hilarious. During my childhood, the two films I watched the most was the skateboard movie “Thrashin’” and “Grease” with John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. Don’t ask me why.
5. Any bands or musicians you’ve been listening to a lot lately?
Barry White, Burt Bacharach, James Brown, Donny Hathaway, George Benson and Snoop Dogg. I’m not very exciting when it comes to music as I always listen to all the old music I’ve gathered throughout the years.
6. If you could challenge any coffee person in the world to a ping pong match, who would you challenge?
Oh. First I would have to get some professional training. Then I would love to play every single buyer of any large corporate roaster in the world. With my magic skills in ping pong I would for sure beat them all and make them pay a minimum of $2-3 more per pound than they do today for all their coffee. The coffee prices are just way too low for the farmers to be able to lead a good life and if we want to help them progress we all need to pay more for coffee.
7. When I visited you at the café, tourists were asking to get their photos taken with you. Does that happen a lot? Do you ever get recognized by coffee groupies when you’re out and about or traveling?
[Laughter] Yes, that happens quite a lot. It always makes me feel a bit awkward, but we do get a lot of “coffee tourists” in our shop and I think it’s fantastic that people follow us and care so much about what we do in our shop. I was once recognized while I was on vacation in Cartagena, Colombia. I was sitting in a bar in a touristy place, when a guy came up to me and wanted to take a photo. That was hilarious, but probably not so good for my ego—some of my friends say I can be a bit cocky. I guess they know me better than anyone. I was also on a date with a girl who worked in a cafe some years ago. She had no clue about who I was or what I was did. That was pretty funny and I tried not to talk too much about my work and coffee. It didn’t really go that well.
8. If you weren’t in the coffee industry, what do you think you’d be doing?
I would most likely be a chef. I always wanted to cook for people. I love cooking for friends at home. I could also be a businessman of some sort, just because I love the Spanish title hombre de negocio.
9. What’s the weirdest customer interaction you’ve had at your café?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I can’t think of a specific situation as I’m not so often behind bar these days and we do have a lot of nice guests who are positive and seem excited to be visiting us. One thing I’ve found interesting is that a few guests we’ve had who have traveled a long way to try our coffee have gotten upset when they didn’t get their regular americano or mochaccino or dark/French-roast beans. Why on earth would you travel that far just to have what you’re used to having? I don’t get that.
10. What are some things you think Americans are better at than Norwegians?
I find it hard to generalize Americans as there are 320 million Americans who consist of people from all over the globe. I love the fact that America is so diverse. San Francisco is so different from New York and Miami. It’s hard to say that you are better than Norway at one thing or another, but I can mention a couple of things, like: getting stuff done, brewing beer, making hamburgers!—I haven’t found a good hamburger ever in Norway. I also love the more open and welcoming attitude of a lot of Americans. It’s the only country where I have been sitting in a bar alone and where people would approach me to chat. That has never happened to me in Norway. The biggest difference in culture that I know of is that there is a thing called Janteloven in Norway, which can be translated to “tall poppy syndrome” whereas in America you have the opposite of that called the “American dream” of which I’m a bigger fan. I also heard rumors that your surveillance program is supposed to be a lot better than ours, although that is a bit disturbing to read about.
11. Name some of your guilty pleasures.
Candy!!!!!!!!!!! I have also always loved listening to Destiny’s Child, Beyonce and classic disco music from the ‘70s and pop music from the ‘80s. I don’t feel guilty about that, though.
12. What did you have for dinner last night?
A homemade curry that my girlfriend cooked, finished with a chocolate mousse cake for dessert. I’m really spoiled!
13. What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever had?
At Restaurant Bagatelle in Oslo. It was my second visit there and the old and famous chef Eyvind Hellstrøm cooked me a dinner that I will never forget—11 courses and such a great meal. This opened my eyes for gastronomy like I had never experienced it before. I also have to say that my experience at El Bulli was amazing, but it was more like a circus where all kinds of crazy dishes was presented in the most outstanding ambiance. I’ve had some epic meals at Noma and Maaemo too. It’s hard to rate them as they are very different in style, but both Chef Rene Redzepi and Esben Holmboe Bang are masters of creating dishes with intense flavours of our region’s natural ingredients.
14. I’ve enjoyed following along on your adventures in Seoul, South Korea. What was your overall impression of Seoul, its people, and its specialty coffee community?
Seoul was absolutely amazing! First of all the food is totally underrated. I love Korean traditional food and especially Korean barbeque. Koreans are really obsessed with brands and this shows in Seoul where all the high-end fashion brands have concept stores. The fashion is also very chic. Koreans seems to take their appearance very seriously. But there is also a sense of focus on quality, especially in the coffee shops. Koreans take their barista training seriously and not once did I have a bad shot of espresso or poorly executed filter coffee. I was really impressed. I know I’m generalizing now based on a weeks’ visit, but I had a great time there. The city of Seoul is very well-organized and clean, people are very kind and have a great sense of humor—at least the people I met. I don’t know what more to say—I loved being in Korea and I am looking forward to my next visit.
15. If you were forced to open another coffee shop in another city in the world, which would you pick and why?
I considered opening a store in Copenhagen and New York before I opened in Oslo. Both are cities I would love to live in, but I am happy to only have one store. That is enough for me.
16. Are you a cat person or a dog person?
Cat. I find it hard to have a routine in my life, so walking a dog every morning would not suit me. I also got bit by a Rottweiler while I was a kid, and we used to have two cats, so I am a cat man.
17. What do you wish you could change about Oslo?
Availability of food—both in terms of getting better and more green as well as getting good food in coffee shops and reasonably priced restaurants. We have a food hall that opened a year ago and up until recently I could not get a hold of Norwegian potatoes or apples there. We have some of the best produce in the world due to our cool climate and long hours of sunlight, so it’s a shame that it’s not easily accessible. People seem to prefer frozen pizzas and cheap ready-made food in the supermarkets and I think that’s a shame both for our food culture and for our public health. Fortunately there are a lot of people who are changing this at the moment, so hopefully in some years I’ll have to eat my words and stop complaining. I also really struggle finding a good hamburger in Oslo. How hard can it be to make a decent burger?
18. Do you have any hidden talents?
I’m a damn good whistler. And I used to be a decent singer. I’m also really good at Tetris on my old Gameboy.
19. What’s something about you that people might be surprised to know?
I don’t really know what would surprise people. I am quite normal. I think people can tend to take me too seriously sometimes. I really love making jokes and having fun and I love to provoke people with arguments just for the fun of having a discussion sometimes.
I love making “funny remarks” about situations. That’s why “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” are my favorite comedy shows of all time. Sometimes people don’t understand my jokes or take them too seriously or misunderstand me, which is unfortunate, but it might also be that I’m just not funny. Some fun facts: I used to have a septum nose ring and took it out the day I started in coffee. And I get starstruck whenever I meet the famous Norwegian chef Eyvind Hellstrøm. I have so much respect for his work that I can barely have a normal conversation with him.
20. Any tips for surviving a Norwegian winter?
Get a huge goose feather jacket for outside activities, start cross-country skiing and buy cases of wine and cook good food at home. It also helps having a vacation at wintertime, so you can travel to hotter climates. Oslo is so nice during summer, so it’s better to stay in Oslo then.
21. What are you really looking forward to in your future?
Visiting Finca Tamana in Colombia in to help out during the harvest. We have a lot of projects going on there and I can’t wait to see the progression. I also planted some experimental cultivars in several farms last year, so in two to three years’ time I will taste the results of that. Very exciting! I’m also excited about my team and shop. We have finally managed to gather a team with diverse responsibilities and skills, so that means I can spend more time with QC and planning ahead in order to make my colleagues and shop progress. I feel like we have been on a stand-still for some years now and there are a lot of exciting new things to come in the near future.