April’s Superlatives is brought to you by Talor & Jørgen, from Oslo, Norway, roasting a fantastic Ethiopian heirloom varietal “Illubabor”. Find out more about it here.
Talor & Jørgen
If you want to know who Talor and Jørgen are, just watch their YouTube channel. There is an unbridled joy that exudes from each frame. Smiling as the sun returns, playing in the snow, simply walking down the street — moments caught throughout their day where they’re either smiling or laughing. “That joy you see from us in the videos is us being proud of what we’re doing, from the core,” says Jørgen.
There is a solid work ethic at play here too; a young start-up that does not stand still. Twelve hour work days making doughnuts, the next day spent roasting and packing 500 boxes of coffee; a few hours spent sleeping, a huge amount spent working. In one video, on a Tuesday, Jørgen apologises for not wishing everyone a happy Monday the previous day. Yesterday wasn’t good he says; he hasn’t seen his wife for a month, she was to arrive that day but her plane was delayed. But you’d never know he was missing his wife, until that moment. Which is not an indictment, you know he cares, you can see it on his face. It feels more a display of the enthusiasm and positivity these two possess. Adversity doesn’t get them down.
“It boggles our minds that we get to do the thing that we love, and that’s our job.” says Talor. For 15 years she worked in the coffee industry, coming from Australia, firstly rural Victoria, then Melbourne; Paris, and finally Oslo. Jørgen moved differently, studying and gaining a degree in musicology while also working in specialty coffee, training baristas and setting up coffee shops. They met through mutual friends who had an idea the two should collaborate setting up a coffee shop for someone else. They clicked immediately. Jørgen: “we are alike on the right stuff and different on the right stuff. Our principles are right.”
When Jørgen talks about principles you don’t scoff or dismiss his words, you can see that he’s serious, that this is simply who he is. When working with this company to set up the shop, both Talor and Jørgen could see that those principles were not aligned. Creating something for someone else wasn’t going to fulfil what they wanted to achieve. What they wanted to achieve however, was initially hard to define. But they found an answer in doughnuts.
They felt what makes Oslo great for specialty coffee is the culture built up around it. However this can breed something of a mono-culture, a sameness in every specialty coffee shop. When a group offered them a space where their vision could be realised, they were told they’d also need to provide food. But cafe food in Oslo was generally a cinnamon bun, granola, or perhaps a dry cookie. In every shop “it’s exactly the same,” says Jørgen.
“You guys know I trained as a pastry chef, right?” she told them. “And if I’m gonna have a cafe with food I want to bring something that doesn’t exist in Norway. I want to do doughnuts.”
Horrified, they were told “that won’t work”. Norwegians want healthy food; they’re a health-conscious nation. It wouldn’t work, no one would want doughnuts.
Talor: “Watch me.”
Travelling back to Melbourne for a month she worked with Lune in Fitzroy and All Day Donuts in Brunswick, returning to test run the idea on “Restaurant Day”. This was created as an international food carnival, where anyone could open up their home becoming a restaurant for a day. When Talor opened her front door, the line for doughnuts went past her backyard and out onto the street. Her first customer bought twelve.
“It wasn’t just that they were popular,” Talor says. “It’s that they encapsulated our entire ethos of what it is we want to do.”
“You don’t have to make something of really high quality,” Jørgen says. “And it have to be pretentious”. Talor continues, “that was a really valuable lesson to learn about how we exist in the world and how we want the world to see us.”
There was still some difficulty though, as they had to fight what they already knew — standards and expectations already set by the specialty coffee industry. They didn’t want to follow this playbook, they didn’t want to be stuck in old ways, and they didn’t want to be pretentious. But as Jørgen said: “Ok so what does that mean. How do you actually do that?”
Part of that answer came from doughnuts. They built and designed something of incredibly high quality, avoiding pretentiousness through a mixture of fun and whimsey, and they never compromised on this vision. Effectively they made kick-ass doughnuts and had a lot of fun in the process. If they hadn’t have followed this path — holding pop-up restaurants throughout the year as they went about starting up their roastery — they don’t think the end result would have been what it is now. Jørgen: “Meeting our customers face to face with a product that was just fun, it wasn’t pretentious, it wasn’t serious — and we did this for a year before we roasted coffee — we realised oh! If we just transfer this over to the roastery, that’s the thing that we want. And I don’t think we’d be able to do that without doughnuts first”.
Talor & Jørgen, the roastery, began with what they wanted the company to be. They’re both acutely aware of what modern hospitality workplaces have become, the strain it places on mental and physical health, and they knew they did not want that. They wanted a workplace where they supported their employees and got the best out of those who work for them. This extends to the farmers supplying their beans.
In raising coffee quality they do not believe they’re qualified to ask farmers to try this particular processing method, or maybe plant coffee in that way. Quality to them is a difficult term to define. They believe their role is not to quantify what quality is to a farmer, but is rather simpler. They may not be able to travel to origin and invest in social programs or education, in an attempt to raise quality (they want to, it’s just not something they can afford just yet). Instead they take a different tact. They just buy the crop. All of it.
“We want to build the market of customers who will pay the price needed, for the coffee being produced” says Jørgen.
This is an important distinction to make. They’re not blindly handing cash over to farmers and expecting the money to directly translate to quality. Arguably they’ve chosen the harder path. On their website they state they offer “a broader range of quality than you’d typically see in a specialty coffee roaster.” Because when you buy the whole crop, you don’t just cherry pick the high scoring micro-lots, you’ve got scores up and down the spectrum. However there’s a broad market of consumers throughout Europe (and the world) who identify as coffee drinkers but feel intimidated by specialty coffee. Talor is imminently capable of buying high grade coffee and roasting it to taste a certain way for a small market. The path she and Jørgen have chosen is to appeal to a broader market — and at the same time creating demand for paying a fair price for coffee.
To achieve this they have eschewed the traditional idea of filtering their coffee down to consumers through wholesale accounts and cafes, instead going straight to users through their web store. They want to focus on convenience, building an individual relationship with their customers. They don’t want pretentiousness; they want accessibility. There’s not a “right way” to run a coffee shop they both say. Just like there’s not “a right way to consume coffee.” Whatever coffee you want to consume, and however you want to consume it, they have the coffee — with a fair price given to the farmers.
Talor and Jørgen point out this is simply their view on what they want to achieve in this industry. Jørgen: “This is all a discussion about perspectives. There is no point in searching for that one answer — it’s not real.” But they do want to have an impact on the industry, however they know to do this they need scale. With staff, farmers, and consumers, Jørgen believes they have a moral imperative to get big to enact change. “It’s a lot bigger than coffee and a lot bigger than what refractometer do you use. It’s about the responsibility of bringing people in because you think they can contribute.”
From the wrong voice this might sound over-earnest, naive, or what they’re actively trying to guard against — pretentiousness. But it isn’t, and with a laugh from Talor, she sums up their view on perspectives. She recently got into Star Wars as Jørgen is such a fan. “I wanted to understand him more” she says laughing.
“The thing I took away from it though,” she continues. “What blew my mind, was there’s very few people in the world who are inherently bad or evil. Everyone’s coming from their own perspective. It’s like the Jedi — and what’s the other people?” She looks over at Jørgen. “Sith,” he offers helpfully. “It’s like they fight and they so fervently believe in what they stand for … and neither is wrong.” Jørgen frowns slightly tilting his head a little to the side.
“Bringing this back to the coffee industry, it’s all subjective,” Talor says. “It’s all a different perspective — there’s no right or wrong.”
“It means we have so much more freedom we haven’t allowed ourselves.”
Jørgen raises his arms triumphantly. “Star Wars to the rescue!”
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