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December 26, 2019
Image: Barista at Tim Wendelboe in Oslo, Norway. Photo: Dorothee Brand
In a world of artisan everything, it's easy to overlook another coffee shop claiming to be the most authentic, quality brew spot in some trendy, up-and-coming neighborhood in insert-city-name-here. There are a dizzying number of brewing techniques and contraptions to choose from, borrowing enough chemistry equipment and vocab to make your drip with room order just so... pedestrian. In the capital city of Norway, Oslo residents are privy to a slightly different version of high-end coffee: super accessible, award-winning quality, often made by the cafe's champion brewmasters.
Oslo's coffee culture is rooted deeply in the independent cafe scene. Mega chain Starbucks was only introduced in 2011, and to date, only 10 shops are scattered between the airport and downtown (compare that to 240 in Manhattan, 246 in London and 174 in Hong Kong). Coffee has long since been popular in Norway, a country that started importing beans from South America in the 1800s. Social gatherings in Oslo that are often a beer in the U.S or a shisha in the Middle East, wind up being cups of coffee at a local cafe. With a preference for single-origin, high-quality beans, Norwegian coffee is characterized by light roasting, a brewing method highlighting the flavor, aroma, and natural sweetness of the beans. It's also the quickest way to detect low-quality harvests as the flaws become easy to spot, putting more pressure on brewmasters to deliver only the best cups to their patrons.
A notable difference from typical coffee pretentiousness is that Oslo's cafes are warm and inviting with waitstaff that is happy to guide less experienced coffee drinkers through their menu of drinks and preparation options. It's an inclusive culture that is content existing somewhere between chains and elitist cafes.
Coffee snob or not, a visit to Oslo's independent cafes is a must. Here are our top two favorites (because choosing only one was impossible):
Image: Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen behind the counter at Supreme Roastworks in Grünerløkka. Photo: Sherif Korayem
Behind two glass windows, tucked in a small, unassuming corner of Oslo's Grünerløkka neighborhood, professional barista Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen is preparing another order for a small group of customers packed inside his cozy cafe that he co-owns and manages. Tables and barstools are typically occupied with locals quietly chatting with each other, reading a book, or typing away at a laptop. The cafe design itself is quintessentially Scandinavian: light, clean, modern, and minimal. In an adjacent room visible to the seating area, another team member walks between his laptop and a massive industrial coffee roaster, headphones on, autonomously going about his workday.
Image: Supreme Roastworks in Grünerløkka. Photo: Sherif Korayem
An industrial espresso machine whips out a cup of joe in seconds, but why go the easy route when you could opt for the methodical, slow brewing V60, made by Tøllefsen himself? What if we told you that Tøllefsen is a gold medalist in the coffee brewing Olympics: the World Brewers Cup, hosted by the internationally renowned World Coffee Championships? In the past six years, he has ranked three times in the top 10, including the championship title in 2015 with his Ethiopian natural processed mixed heirloom from Sidamo. He's also won the Norwegian National Barista Championships, category Brewers Cup, in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Image: Odd-Steinar Tøllefsen of Supreme Roastworks behind the bar. Photo: Sherif Korayem
That's a significant amount of expertise for a cup of coffee, but for locals, this kind of treat is available almost every day. Tøllefsen works meticulously alongside his employees, brewing various beans (his preference is from Ethiopia and Panama) from farms that he visits personally to ensure quality, sustainability, and fair trade practices with local farmers. Importing 25 tons per year, Supreme Roastworks specializes in micro-batches that are naturally processed, instead of washed.
Supreme Roastworks // @supremeroastworks // srw.no
Thorvald Meyers gate 18A, 0555 Oslo, Norway
Image: Tim Wendelboe outside his namesake cafe in Olso. Photo: Benjamin A Ward
On the other side of Grünerløkka is Oslo's most arguably famed independent coffee connoisseur, Tim Wendelboe. In 2007, he founded his namesake cafe after spending years as a professional barista, roaster, and taster, competing (and winning) at another long list of coffee accolades, including World Cup Tasting Champion, World Barista Champion and Nordic Roaster Champion. His cafe strictly sells coffee only, no pastries, tea or other refreshments. "We want to be a place where people come to have coffee, and try new coffees in new ways". says Wendelboe. "There are plenty of cafes in Oslo that serve tea and food, so why not just serve what we do best and that is coffee. We would rather do one thing and do it well then try to do many things and not at a level of quality we are comfortable with."
Image: Tim Wendelboe behind the bar. Photo: Benjamin A Ward
Taking a purist approach to coffee, Tim Wendelboe only offers milk and sugar as additives, as they prefer to emphasize the quality and experience of a freshly brewed black coffee. Their menu changes daily with beans from their various producers worldwide, with the latest addition being Wendelboe's own farm in Colombia. When asked about plans for expansion based on his current success, he pragmatically declines:
"I feel that having a smaller setup enables me to be more creative and flexible, and I can work a lot closer with our products, my employees, and our guests. It makes it a lot easier to train the team, and changes are more easily adopted in the store. I personally find it more rewarding to have one store where I feel the quality we are serving our guests is consistent and satisfying rather than having many stores where I know the quality and consistency will go up and down."
Image: Time Wendelboe Cafe in Oslo. Photo: Dorothee Brand
Patrons of Tim Wendelboe are primarily a mixed crowd of locals and discerning visitors looking for that expertly brewed cup of coffee. The cafe's interior is warm and cozy with wood paneling, exposed brick, and comfortable seating. In an adjacent room, classes are held for "Sunday Cupping" where guests go through a tasting of Wendelboe's current and upcoming roasts. For serious brewers who want to level up several notches, a two-day Roast Workshop is available to hone your roasting skills, learn quality control and even guide you by setting up your own roaster for professional use.
Tim Wendelboe // @timwendelboe // timwendelboe.no
Grüners gate 1, 0552 Oslo, Norway
Fuglen // @fuglenoslo // fuglen.no
Universitetsgata 2, 0164 Oslo, Norway
Stockfleths // @stockfleths // stockfleths.as
Prinsens gate 6, 0152 Oslo, Norway
Vigen // @vigenbar // vigenbar.no
Strandpromenaden 2, 0252 Oslo, Norway
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