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Is this the world's best cup of coffee?

Norwegians know their coffee, and quite a few of them say Tim Wendelboe makes the best cup on the planet

Is this the world's best cup of coffee?

Words Toby Skinner
Photos Haakon Harriss

Tim Wendelboe has become something of a celebrity in Oslo after he was crowned World Barista Champion in 2004 and World Tasting Champion in 2005. The 33-year-old barista has since gone on to write books and blogs on coffee, and to train other champion baristas. No wonder his shop on hip Grünersgate has become something of a coffee mecca.

At the core of Wendelboe's philosophy is sourcing the best beans - only in harvest season and only from trusted farms. He regularly travels to meet his suppliers: two farms in Honduras, one in El Salvador, one in Colombia, three in Brazil, and two cooperatives each in Kenya and Ethiopia. His favourite beans are African. "Kenyan coffees are amazing. There's just real intensity to the flavour, with distinctive blackcurrant notes," he says. "But the Ethiopian coffees I've tried recently have blown my mind. The coffee plant originates from that area of Africa - South America imported it."

Norwegians are second only to Finns for per-capita coffee consumption - they consume around 10kg a year. Wendelboe explains part of the reason for the country's distinctive coffee culture - apart from "the bloody cold weather" - was a prohibition on alcohol in the 19th and 20th centuries. "The church and the government used coffee to fight alcohol, and there was a big marketing push."

Norwegian coffees are often lighter than those served in other countries, such as the US, but, according to Wendelboe, Norwegians often demand more flavour and better quality.

Here he explains how that flavour and quality is achieved...

Six Steps To Perfection

Step 1 / Good beans

"We know all the farmers we use and we're often there for the harvest. Most 'normal' coffee beans are dried for 6-10 days, but all our beans are dried for 60 days on the farm, on mesh drying beds with air circulation. We dry them in the shade so it's a gradual process. When the beans are ready, they'll send us a 200g sample in a transparent bag. One farmer might send 13 samples."

Step 2 / Taste test

"With the samples, we'll roast them in a small sample roaster. Once the beans have rested a few days we'll grind them and try them. This involves pouring water over the coffee grounds, sniffing and tasting the coffee at different stages. We fill out a form with details of the whole process, giving a mark from 8-10 on everything from aromas to intensity, quality, acidity, mouth-feel, after-taste etc. We'll note observations - like it might have blackcurrant notes and a lingering vanilla aftertaste. We choose the best ones and order them."

Step 3 / Roasting

"The beans we choose will be transported to a factory, where the defects are removed, and packed into bags and shipped. We might get 60-70kg of green coffee, which smells like grass when it arrives. Before we put the beans in the big roaster, we'll do around 10 different smaller roasts to get the level right. A light-roasted bean is light brown, while a heavily roasted one almost looks like charcoal - think Starbucks coffee. We tend to roast on the light side, which makes the coffee smoother but with more intensity."

Step 4 / Storing

"After the coffee beans have been roasted and rested for 4-5 days, they're packed into 250g or 1kg bags and vacuum sealed with nitrogen to keep them fresh for at least 3-4 weeks. We grind the beans immediately before we make the coffee."

Step 5 / The pour

"We use an 18-20 per cent extraction (the proportion of coffee to water), which is pretty standard, though we sometimes vary within that - an 18 per cent extraction will taste very different to 20 per cent. We have a lab to check the extraction is exactly right."

Step 6 / Serve

"We only hire experienced baristas and they're trained for a month. They need to know when a coffee's not right and what to do about it, whether it's adjusting the grinder or tweaking the extraction time. They also need to be able to talk about the coffee, though we don't want to brainwash people - I know what it's like to go into a wine shop and be bombarded. Ultimately, we want customers to sit back and just enjoy the coffee."


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