Tim Wendelboe Guest blog
Ballymaloe Litfest of Food & Wine 19-21 May 2017
Submitted by J.R. Ryall on Wed, 06/05/2015 - 8:43am
I'm delighted to introduce Tim Wendelboe, a former world barista champion (2004) and world tasting champion (2005) as the next guest to contribute to my blog. I first tasted Tim's coffee in Copenhagen two years ago and I'v been a huge fan of his ever since. In this entry Tim shares with us how his search for the perfect cup has shifted his focus from being a barista to becoming a farmer, roaster and cafe owner:
I often get asked how I started working with coffee as If I had a master plan or had been dreaming about it my whole life. The fact is that it was just a coincidence. I needed a job and they were hard to get at that time. Especially for a 19 year old with a nose ring that was constantly hung over from yesterday's party. The only job I could find was behind a counter in one of the first modern coffee shops in Oslo, serving coffee. Although this story might be amusing, it is not a very interesting one.
So, instead of asking how I started working with coffee, I find it more interesting to talk about what has kept me working with coffee and how I keep motivating myself.
In my early days as a barista I used to get very frustrated as the coffee I was working with would behave differently and taste differently from day to day, even though it came from the same bag. My first thought was that it had to be the espresso machine, so I managed to convince my boss to buy a new one. To my surprise it did not help at all, so I started researching if it was the coffee grinder that made the difference. So I changed the grinders. Although the grinders had a huge impact on the espresso quality, it did not fix my initial problem which was that the coffee would taste and look different from day to day. My old sensei, Mr. Willy Hansen told me it might be the water, and that I needed a water filter, so I installed a water filter, but the problem did not go away. I finally figured it had to be the coffee so I started asking all sorts of questions to the roasters, but they did not know much about roasting at all.
At the same time I was competing in the world barista championships and for the second time I was first runner up. The feedback I got from the judges was that my coffee did not taste good. It was devastating to hear what I already knew. I was competing with inferior coffee. I decided that I had to learn more about roasting so I started reading books about coffee chemistry and went travelling to roasters around Italy in order to learn.
Five years later I opened my own cafe and roastery. I felt like I was the king of the world at that moment and expected to have the best coffee in the world since I had been researching and practising roasting for a long time. But there was one problem. My ingredients, the green coffee, was lacking in quality. I was buying coffee through a third party and I realized that my choices were limited and I could not get the qualities that I was looking for. It did not matter how well I roasted the beans, the potential for great flavours were never there. I decided I had to start sourcing my own coffee and find the right coffee producers to work with in order to develop the coffee quality to where I wanted it. I went to my favourite coffee origins Colombia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Honduras hoping to find the very best coffees.
It has been eight years since I went on my first sourcing trip to origin. I am now working together with 4 producers in South- and Central-America and we have made a huge change to how the coffee is harvested, processed, stored and shipped. All because it is better for quality and it makes my coffee taste better. The farmers are happier too as they are paid a better price for their coffees and feel proud of the quality they are producing. Although the coffees are tasting better than ever, unfortunately all our work has not made the coffees taste spectacular.
I have learned that It takes more than meticulous harvesting and processing in order to make the coffee taste extraordinary. That is why I am now working on planting better tasting cultivars at the farms we are working with and I am also researching different fertilizers and their impact on quality together with a fertilizing company. I started taking classes in organic farming and believe it or not I also bought my own farm where I planted my first coffee trees in January. My goal is to improve the quality of the coffee by improving the farming practices. I also want all our coffees to become organically produced.
Although I have shifted my focus from being a barista where I tried to perfect my extraction techniques to becoming a part time coffee farmer / roaster / cafe owner, I am still working towards the same goal that I had when I started in coffee. I want to serve the best possible cup of coffee. There is a lot of steps in the process of making a good cup of coffee and in order to succeed you need to be able to quality control as much as possible. Farming coffee has just become a natural step in my quality control. I realized that the most important factor in the equation of making a good cup of coffee is the ingredient. So it is only natural to quality control the most important factor.
Looking back it is hard to believe that working as a barista would lead me to becoming a coffee farmer. But for me it has been a natural evolution. The problem with coffee is that the more you learn about it the more interesting it becomes and you start to realise that there is a lot more to learn. People say the caffeine in coffee is addictive, but for me it is the search for more knowledge and the perfect cup that has become addictive.