Think you’ve got a pretty busy life? Try talking to Tim Wendelboe. The 2003 World Barista Champion and entrepreneur is redefining busy here in 2017. To wit, right now he’s overseeing a cafe update to the eponymous coffee brand he manages in Oslo, helping move the roasting operations of that brand into a brand new roasting facility, and regularly traveling back and forth to Colombia to work on the farm he purchased there in 2015, Finca El Suelo.
“Everything is happening all at once,” he tells me, with a certain winking understatement. Just one of the above projects would be enough to fell most mortals, but some live for the chaos—or at the very least can make the most of it.
At Noma Mexico, Wendelboe’s coffee—100% sourced from Chiapas—will be part of chef Rene Redzepi & Co’ s multi-course tasting menu of traditional Mexican ingredients and natural wines from around the world, served in an outdoor restaurant setting described as “nestled between the jungle and the Caribbean Sea.” Tickets were priced at $600 USD and sold out in just three and a half hours.
Meanwhile at Wendelboe’s upcoming La Marzocco Cafe residency, the roaster’s Oslo cafe menu has been painstakingly recreated, right down to the cups—yes, they’re shipping ceramics over from Oslo. That means delicately roasted Scandinavian-style coffees, including offerings from revered producers like Elias Roa and Marysabel Caballero. Fussy Seattle coffee drinkers—your Niles Crane types—take note: As in their Oslo cafe, there will be no soy on offer during Wendelboe’s takeover. Allergic to milk? Drink your coffee black.
Somehow, somewhere in the middle of it all, Wendelboe spoke with Sprudge co-founder Jordan Michelman about these projects and more. They spoke digitally from Oslo, Norway and Portland, Oregon.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Hey Tim, and thanks for taking a moment to speak with Sprudge. Tell us more about your plans for residency at La Marzocco Cafe in Seattle. Who will be overseeing the program?
Stephanie Holm is there to train them—she’s there implementing the project, and she’s our bar manager and store manager here in Oslo. She’s been with the company for six years.
When did plans first get put in motion for this residency with the LM Cafe team?
We started talking about it with La Marzocco before they even opened—that was last year. But I can be slow at answering emails at times, and so we really finalized the schedule in August of last year.
Stephanie Holm will be overseeing the residency, but will you be able to see it for yourself?
Unfortunately, no. We’re moving the roaster out of my store right now into a new space, and things just don’t happen if I’m not here. I also have to focus more on my farm in Colombia—I’ll be there during our residency period, and we’re also doing Noma in Mexico during this time so I might have to go back there as well. Everything is happening all at once.
I have many Noma questions but first let me ask—what’s up with the new roasting space?
Andreas Hertzberg, who used to work for Solberg & Hansen, he’s now the CEO of Nordic Approach, and he bought a building in east Oslo that’s 10 minutes away from our store. In the first floor will be our new roastery, in the second floor our offices, and then in the third and fourth Nordic Approach will have their offices. It will be like a joint coffee building for Oslo.
Will there be a cafe onsite?
No, we’re just going to produce there. We’re taking out the roaster from our cafe and putting in new seats.
For this residency in Seattle, are you trying to recreate the Tim Wendelboe Oslo cafe experience in Seattle?
Their cafe is very different compared to ours—it’s huge, and that makes it difficult to replicate the atmosphere. But for drinks, we’re trying to do the drinks just as we do in Oslo. We’ll do an Aeropress black coffee menu with four different coffees. We’ll also offer an Aeropress taste flight—ideally it is for two people to purchase it and share, and they can taste it with some guidance from one of the baristas. We actually sent over the same cups we use for black coffee as we use in our cafe. And then for milk drinks, they’ll be made the same way as we do in Oslo, where the biggest size is just an 8oz latte. I hope it will be well received. We try and make the coffees taste more like coffee so you have to add less milk.
How do you prepare the team in Seattle for that conversation?
Well, that’s why Stephanie is there now, to really talk with the baristas and train them on how we talk about coffees to our guests. We aren’t going to serve an Americano because that’s not the best way to represent our coffee—we feel it’s better to serve an Aeropress. It’s a matter of trying to convince the customer why we do something our way. It’s about explaining it and saying, “This week it’s a little different, so perhaps try this” — and then we recommend something that’s similar to an Americano.
Also, Stephanie was tasting the milk alternatives, and we decided to just go with organic whole milk.
So there will be no milk alternatives offered?
No, unfortunately not. The reasoning is we’re trying to focus on the coffee flavor, so something like sweetened soy milk, it kind of disappears. We’d suggest our guests would try black coffee instead, and if a guest wants something sweet to drink, our roast style enhances sweet and is quite light, so it’s more approachable to taste.
I would love to be a fly on the wall that first day.
I would too! Let’s hope that it goes well. We haven’t had any problems in Norway…
Well, Seattle is not Oslo.
I know that. We don’t have a big vegan scene here in Oslo, and we don’t really have a big soy milk scene, except perhaps on the west side of Oslo where people think things like milk and soy are the worst things you can put in your body. I would argue instead that genetically modified soy milk might not be the best thing you can consume.
Which coffees will you be serving in Seattle?
We’ll have fresh crop from Finca Tamana in Colombia, as well as a Sidamo that’s still tasting great, and we might have some Kenyan coffee—we’re running out—but there’s some coffee from Nacimiento in Honduras that we won Nordic Roaster Forum with, and also some Java variety coffee from the Caballeros. It’s a one-month residency so we might change some coffees out.
How long does it take to ship roasted coffee from Oslo to Seattle?
4 days. But last week our coffee was stopped by the FDA, and I had to spend a week reasoning with them, but it was just released today. That’s what they’ll use for the first week, then we’ll ship every second week fresh coffee. We nitrogen flush so it’s not an issue with freshness. It actually benefits from not being so fresh.
Will retail bags of this coffee be available for sale at the cafe?
Yes, and we’re participating in the newly launched Espresso Subscription through La Marzocco Home as well.
Which coffees will be served as espresso?
We’ll do two different ones—Tamana espresso from Colombia, designed for milk drinks, with a sweet and heavy body, and then Hunkute from Sidamo, which is quite bright and floral and fruity. Those aren’t in demitasse but in cups that we prefer to drink from.
So really this residency is about coming over, and doing what you do in Oslo for a month in Seattle.
That’s what we’re trying to do, yes, and that’s what (LM Cafe director) Amy Hattemer wanted us to do as well—to be as similar as possible to what we do in Oslo.
Let’s shift gears—you were just in Mexico helping set up the Noma coffee service there, yes?
Yes, I was there 3 full days, plus more in Chiapas.
What coffees will be served at Noma Mexico?
We’re working with Jesús Salazar in Chiapas. We got a lot of samples sent, to try and find the best green coffee for Noma that I know they would be happy with. I cupped them here in Norway and didn’t know any of the people, and had contacted a lot of different people in Mexico to try, but the coffees from Jesús really stood out, and I wanted to work with him.
I visited him in Chiapas just a week ago, and we cupped through 30 different samples representing one bag lots each, and I selected the ones we needed for Noma. I tried a lot of great coffees—I found more great coffees than I needed—and then spent the rest of my time working on roast profiles so we could create the consistency Noma needs.
So all the coffee for Noma Mexico will be roasted there, and not in Oslo?
Yes, everything is done locally. It makes more sense in terms of local stability.
Who manages the roasting in Mexico?
Jesus’ partner, Claudia Pedraza Salazar. We worked together during my visit, roasting all night actually, and I worked with her to help develop some roast logs, based on tasting the coffees the day after. The roaster they had was pretty easy to adjust so I think they’ll be able to follow the logs quite well, and that’s the idea. I will continuously be having the dialogue with Noma as well as with Jesús and Claudia, so I can stay involved from afar.
What will drinks service look like at Noma Mexico?
Several different drinks will be served, including a warm filter coffee—that one might not be very popular because it is very hot there, and the restaurant is literally on the beach.
Well, I want to drink a hot coffee on the beach.
Oh really? Well, we are also making drinks with ice, using hot coffees that we cool down before adding syrups. I’m not sure if I should be telling you any of this, but there’s one drink we’re making that’s very refreshing, made with sour orange, honey, and a filter coffee that’s cooled down, served in a glass.
Almost cocktail style?
Yeah. And then, of course, we’re doing espresso with a different Mexican coffee, one that’s tasting like ripe berries, really really nice. That’ll be served on its own, plus there will be a cold version that I really can’t talk about yet, but it tastes so good. There will be 4 drinks total.
What kind of gear will Noma Mexico have for coffee?
A La Marzocco Volcano grinder and Linea PB 2-group espresso machine. We’re serving for 140 people a day plus the staff, and those chefs drink a lot of espresso, and they need a big machine. For filter, we’re using Hario V60 to brew on.
I’m curious—since you’re working only with coffees from Mexico, will sommelier Mads Kleppe use only Mexican natural wines, like Bichi Wines? [Laughs] No, but a big part of the menu will be. He’s been working with some producers there for natural wines—I tasted a few, and some of it is really good, but it won’t be an 100% Mexican wine list. Some will come from France and so on, and hopefully they will arrive in time—they’ve had some trouble with customs.
Will you head back to Mexico to oversee the coffee program’s launch?
They really want me to go eat there. They’re kind of insisting actually. I really don’t have time for it but we’ll see, and also if they need some help for coffee. We’ll see, but I’m kind of hoping they don’t.
Well I know the whole thing will be a dogpile of thirsty American journalists, but if you need someone who knows coffee to come check it out, I’d love to join you. [Laughs] Yeah, okay. I worked with Mads on the program and they’re well-trained, so I’m confident it’ll be good. It’ll be really great and I’m happy with it. I have to say—I didn’t expect to find some great coffees in Mexico. Every Mexican coffee I’ve tasted in the past has been average in quality, but the coffees I found for this project were very good.
Perhaps like in Brazil, Mexico’s coffee reputation could be changing. Might this become a regular thing, for Tim Wendelboe to begin offering Mexican coffees?
I’m planning to get some bags sent to Norway so I can present some of our Noma coffees, and I will be sending them to 108 in Copenhagen. The volumes are very small but, in the future, hopefully it’s something we can improve on.
What do you think has changed in Mexico, to help start overcoming the stigma around Mexican coffee quality?
The biggest thing is simple, which is that people like Jesús Salazar are working to improve quality. Normally it just takes a couple of people to start working on it, just a couple of producers are needed to improve quality and show what is possible to their neighbors. That’s it—the coffees has probably always been there, and the ones we’ve bought are old varieties bought by long-held farms, so it’s just a matter of starting to work towards better quality. Jesús is doing that small scale for his own coffee shops, but the coffee scene in Mexico is very collaborative and working together to create something better.
Anything else you’d like to share?
No, I should be going. I’m going on a date with my wife tonight; we haven’t seen each other in a month.
Have a lovely time and thank you.
Images courtesy of Tim Wendelboe.