One of the questions I always ask coffee people I meet is which coffee people they admire. Who they respect. Learn from. And there is one name that kept coming up in the last 5 years.
I was reminded about that name again recently when I sat down with Ralf Rüller and asked him the same question.
Cut to Oslo, 1998. A 19 year old Tim is wondering what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t want to go to the army. He doesn’t want to go to university. So while he considers his options, he joins a local coffee chain. One 3-hour coffee training session later, Tim is pulling shots.
And that’s how he started in coffee.
Cut to 2022 and Tim Wendelboe is a World Barista Champion (he took the title in 2004), a 8 x Winner of the Nordic Roaster Championship (2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2010, 2009, 2008), 3 x Norwegian Barista Champion (2004, 2002, 2001), the owner of a roastery and espresso bar with a global following of devotees, a coffee farmer and an international brand.
It’s a widely accepted fact that if they awarded Michelin Stars for coffee, Tim Wendelboe would have three.
I had a very personal chat with Tim.
Who is Tim Wendelboe?
I am a young (at least at mind) person who likes to work hard and do things my way and what I feel is the right way. I grew up in a very safe and suburban area outside of Oslo in Norway. But never felt that I fit in 100%.
In my late teenage years I had my rebellious years where I got tired of school and wanted to do the opposite of what everyone else around me was doing. So when most of my class mates signed up for the university to go and study, I decided I was going to take a year off and work to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
That is how I ended up in coffee as a couple of months after high school I started working at Stockfleth’s in Oslo. After running the company for some years with my friend Alex, I finally had the courage to leave the company to start my own roastery and espresso bar. It had been a dream of mine for many years to be my own boss. I guess that runs in my family.
What is your best childhood memory?
I think summer vacations were always the best. My father used to have a boat and we would travel to the Swedish coast line for weeks during summer with my mum and sister. We had some friends we would always go together with and my favourite activity would be to row our little red inflatable rubber boat around as fast as I could.
If you had a chance for a “do-over” in life, what would you do differently?
I am not the kind of person that goes around and regret things. I think I am a result of the things I have done in the past and although mistakes have definitely been made, those are the times I feel I have learned something and really grown as a person. I have never been the person who looks much back at things. I tend to look forward. I want to move on and improve and progress.
What do you feel most proud of?
Obviously I am very proud of what my team and I have achieved over the years with our small roastery and coffeeshop.
But having a small influence on people’s lives is probably what I find most touching. Whether it be that someone discovered coffee or started working in coffee because they tried our coffee or by being able to help some of the farmers I have worked with for some time now. It is so rewarding to see that they have managed to get their heads above water economically by working hard and smart in order to improve their product and are now consistently growing fantastic coffees that has a higher market value. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to help others improve their life whether it is a farmer or a barista.
If you could only keep three possessions, what would they be and why?
- My farm in Colombia, as I could grow food to feed myself.
- A pair of boots to walk in as there are snakes and bugs on the farm and I am not a big fan of little creatures like that.
- I guess the third would be a jumpsuit then as I have to have some clothes on to protect myself from the hot Colombian sun.
What do you want your tombstone to say?
That is for someone else to decide. Life is too short to be thinking about death. If it has my name on it that should be enough. My friends and family would remember me in their own way anyway regardless of what it says on a stone.
What is Finca el Suelo?
Finca el Suelo means the soil farm and it is my 7 hectare coffee farm in Colombia.
The project is about trying to produce healthy soil on my farm as opposed to the dirt that is there now. So that I can grow healthy coffee plants. I have taken a course in soil biology and want to prove to the world that it is possible to grow better tasting coffee and more quantity of coffee with no use of mineral fertilizers or chemical sprays. Mother nature has been farming forests and plants for millions of years successfully without the use of any mineral fertilizers or synthetic pesticides.
The biology in a healthy soil is what feeds the plant but we have been very good at destroying the biology in our soils for the last hundred years by over-tilling, applying salts and chemicals. This gives us less healthy food and depleted soils. I really believe we need to change the way we grow food around the world and move away from the unsustainable methods we are using now. Since coffee is one of the worlds biggest cash crops I hope that my project can inspire more coffee farmers to leave their chemicals behind and start farming the natural way and hopefully together we can inspire other farmers around the world to do the same.
But before I can start changing the world I need to succeed with my farm. When I do, the plan is to start helping others do a transition towards biological farming by setting up a training centre on my farm.
What’s your favorite kind of coffee?
My favourite coffee is a filtered black coffee. It can be brewed on any brewing method as long as it is made on good ingredients and is well extracted. But I tend to use a pour over or an Aeropress when I make my own coffee.
The best coffee is the one I have in the morning before sunrise at Elias Roa’s farm Finca Tamana in Colombia. That is where I stay when I work on my own farm as we are neighbours and I also buy coffee from Elias. It is always a pleasure to taste the fruits of the labour together with the farmer who produced the coffee so those are my favourite moments.
In which coffee shops are we likely to bump into you?
I actually don’t have enough time anymore to hang out in coffee shops, so apart from my own shop it would be Amor Perfecto in Bogota. I normally spend a lot of time there when I am in Bogota. The owner and some of the baristas are good friends of mine so I normally taste coffee with them or simply sit there and work while drinking their delicious coffees.
I would love to go to coffee shops more often as we have some great ones in Oslo where I live, but my life is quite busy at the moment so if I go, it always happens when I am traveling.
What does a perfect day look like?
I would have a day off work and it would include good friends and family, my wife, maybe some golf but definitely good food and wine. Oh and a nice cup of coffee.
Tim Wendelboe has a truly fantastic, comprehensive website. You’ll find their coffee to buy, information on the business, including the farm, and brew guides. And even more on his very active Youtube channel.
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Photography by Dorothee Brand.