The 4th wave! Are we there yet? – Tim Wendelboe

tim-wendleboePhoto via

This week we will have another specialty coffee professional tell us about their newest projects and their own personal take on the 4th wave.

As many of our guest, be they future or past, Tim has been a great inspiration to me and all of us, and it was a great opportunity to be able to talk about his current and future projects

Tim Wendelboe is a hell of a roaster and a down to earth guy. His work has always had a positive influence on the specialty coffee industry. As you will see today, we try to find a wide spectrum of opinions when it comes to finding out what the 4th wave might be,

Let us immerse in this week’s subject, just like an even grounded coffee, brewing in our favourite Clever Drip.

You have been part of the specialty coffee industry for a long time. How do you find today’s specialty coffee scene comparing to when you first won the WBC?

We have for sure progressed a lot. In 2004 I was one of the few that competed with a single estate coffee in the WBC and also my own blend. Today everyone is using single origin coffees and people will not take you seriously, if you can’t name the farm or cooperative from which you buy your coffee. In the old days we sold coffee named «Kenya AA», Colombia Excelso, Brazil Santos. All generic products and not really special.

Another thing is that we are much more in to measuring and numbers now. In 2004, you had to have a Midas touch to make good espresso. Today you just need a refractometer and a trained palate and off you go. The industry is also progressing a lot faster now, than it used to. Mainly because information is more available and spreads faster due to internet and social media. We are able to communicate more efficiently with farmers, and baristas and suppliers all over the world. I believe internet has revolutionized the coffee industry. Especially our segment which is quality focused.

Finca Tamana was an important project in changing how we interact with the farmers. You broke the 4th wall and went straight to the source to improve the quality of the green coffee. What led you to take action and get involved in the process?

This isn’t a unique project at all. I was very much inspired by what I believe are the  pioneers in quality coffee sourcing, Peter Giuliano, Duane Sorenson, Geoff Watts, Morten Wennersgaard, George Howell, and others. They are the ones I have been looking up to when it comes to sourcing great coffees and thinking long-term by working more closely with the producers in order to improve the quality of the coffee.  Finca Tamana was actually the 4th farm I started working with as I had already established relations with farmers in Central America years before I started working with Elias and Finca Tamana. However, it has been the most labor intensive project as the farm was lacking in infrastructure and proper protocols. 

For me it was a natural step to start working closer with producers. I started the first projects in 2008 and the reason was that I started noticing that the quality of the green coffee was not as high as I thought the potential was. After looking at our routines for quality control I got worried when I discovered that I used 100% of my time quality controlling my coffee after roasting. Yet, the most important part of making great coffee is using good ingredients. I realized that I can spend a lifetime tweaking roast profiles, but if I really want to make better coffee I have to start controlling the quality at farm level. 
Another part was that I felt like I was missing out on the very best coffees in the market. Rather than trying to outbid my competitors for the best lots it made more sense to find producers that were willing to invest time and money in to making better coffee by improving processes, cultivars, etc. That way I can also influence how the quality develops over time, meaning if I like SL28 more than Geisha, then I would help farmers get more SL 28 seeds rather than Geisha seeds.

We can now say that Finca Tamana was a stepping stone for you newest project. What was the thought process behind Finca el Suelo?

Ever since I started traveling to origin I have been aching to own my own farm. Not because I think I can do things better than the farmers that are already producing coffee but because I really want to learn more about how you can improve quality at farm level. I feel that I understand processing reasonably well as I have been working with several farmers for many years now trying to improve processing, but what I don’t understand yet is how I can make a good coffee taste great by changing the farming practices. Why is it that some random lots from a given farm taste better than other lots from the same farm? Even though the varieties, processing and everything is more or less the same? I don’t have an answer to that and I feel that having my own farm and producing my own coffee will help me understand those factors a bit better. 

I would like to say that you are approaching this as a science project. How much did you have to study before engaging such a huge project?

I disagree. I am not a scientist and have no desire to be one. I have taken a 6 month agriculture course online and also been reading a lot of books about organic and Bio dynamic farming for the past 3 years, so I have a lot of ideas to what I want to try. I have learned how to use a light microscope and believe that the key to growing great crops with organic methods lies in the biology in the soil. By using a microscope I am able to measure my soil biology (quantify microorganisms) more accurately and therefore apply compost, compost extract and compost teas that are more appropriate for my soil in order to make my plants healthy. I can agree that I will be working systematically and methodically, but I don’t have the patience to do proper scientific trials by myself. My goal is to make the farm grow great coffee organically, and help other producers do the same by teaching them the methods I learn on the way. But I have to prove that  I can do it first.

I have seen and experienced myself the fact that roasters and baristas are getting more involved in the developing of new equipment, espresso machines grinders and recently farming. Tell us why do you think it’s important for the industry to take the wheel and get our hands dirty?

In today’s markets the user / customer experience is everything. In the old days the manufacturers and producers were disconnected from the consumers / users and therefore did not know how to improve the quality of their products. Now it is so much better because it is easier to communicate and our industry has been really good at embracing the importance of knowledge sharing. I think if you really want to make cutting edge products, you have to develop products with the buyers. It is the same for coffee, as it is for a machine or a software.

Will Finca el Suelo change the way we perceive farming? From the varieties you will be farming I would like to insinuate a tailor-made approach towards fertilizing the soil. What are trying to achieve through this approach?

I don’t think it will change the way people perceive farming. I will still be using very simple methods that have been used for thousands of years. Making compost, pruning trees and taking care of my soil. What I am hoping to achieve is to be able to  show farmers that with good organic farming practices you can produce better quality and the same yields as «conventional farming» where farmers rely on expensive mineral fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. If I succeed, I will help other farmers who want to convert from chemical farming to organic farming  so that they can have good results too. But again, I have to prove that I can do this first and I have no guarantee for success.

Last but not least tell us about your future ventures (apart from Finca el Suelo), and also how do you perceive the 4th wave of coffee?

I don’t really know what the 4th wave is or even if it is a thing at all. My future plans are very clear: To produce the best possible cup of coffee. That is what keeps me learning more and what motivates me every day. Although coffee in 2015 is pretty good I still think there is a lot more room for improvement and that is a big motivation for me.

Thank you, ever so much Mr, Wendelboe for sharing your take on the 4th wave and shedding some light on your newest projects.

Next week, Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood will talk to us about water and coffee, his collaboration with Chris H. Hendon, and of course, his own take on the 4th wave. So, are we there yet?

You can comment on my original post on Coffee Hustle. Let me know how you perceive the 4th coffee wave.