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When Coffee Speaks
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When Coffee Speaks
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NORWAY
A Small Country with a Big Impact

BY LYN LEVERETT


Fjords, glaciers, midnight sun, peace accords, all are associated with the Scandinavian country Norway. This complex country, one of the richest in world, is a leading exporter of oil and fish, but it’s their love affair with coffee that makes them stand out. With a population of a little over four million, they are one of the world leaders in per capita consumption of coffee. According to the Norwegian Coffee Association, the first coffee consuming country association established in 1962, Norway’s annual per capita consumption was 9.9 kilograms in 2001. Many wonder why the consumption numbers are so large in Norway, could it be the long winters, the cold, or just an appreciation of a good thing. Last year, Oslo was the host city of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE)’s conference and exhibition, as well as the World Barista Championship. The country that can boost about high consumption and hosting an international trade show deserves a closer look.

Solberg & Hansen
Trygve Klingenberg, owner of roaster Solberg & Hansen, as well as SCAE's President.
Solberg and Hansen met behind a grocery counter in Oslo, Norway. They joined forces and established Solberg & Hansen, a company based on an idea that it should be possible to supply the consumer with a better cup of coffee. S&H has stayed on that track ever since. “The model has worked well, and we are today covering some 85% of the specialty market in Norway,” notes Solberg & Hansen’s fearless leader, Trygve Klingenberg. Solberg & Hansen practices what they preach. Though they are small, they admit they will never surpass 2% market share of the Norwegian coffee market, Solberg & Hansen embodies the dreams of the specialty coffee movement. In fact, their primary customers are specialty stores and coffee bars throughout the country, some 600 in all. “We are happy to be able to say that all leading retail outlets would buy from S&H,” says Klingenberg.

The Temple of Coffee is how Klingenberg refers to his, from the outside, unassuming company headquarters. Once inside, visitors are greeted with the smell of fresh roasted coffee and Solberg & Hansen’s friendly staff. Klingenberg passion for coffee is translated into a successful roasting company. Besides being the current president of the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCAE), his photographs have graced the cover of numerous Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA)’s Membership Directories. Solberg & Hansen was the first European member of the SCAA, joining in 1986. Coffee is in his blood, like a lot of industry members, his grandfather was part of the business. “S&H was bought by my mother’s father in 1925 and he managed the company until his death in 1950,” relates Klingenberg. He still packages his coffees and teas in paper bags; he says nothing says fresh like paper bags.

Solberg & Hansen is committed to building bridges with producing countries to help coffee. A group was in India during a SCAE working trip in 2002, where they helped identify a quality tasting coffee that would fetch a higher price. In addition, they helped train a barista to provide a complete cup of coffee. S & H has a complete cupping laboratory and extends an open invitation to any industry member interested in sampling fine coffees.

They have repeatedly purchased the top coffees in the Cup of Excellence internet auctions. The knowledgeable staff at Solberg & Hansen got that way from extensive traveling to producing countries. “We have the most dedicated crew that constantly travels around the world in search for the perfect bean. Producer relationships mean everything to us. We develop and maintain those relationships by working together to provide the best beans possible for our markets. We visit our friends quite frequently and over the years we have built a trustworthy relationship with complete transparency for both parties. This “Vertical” approach from “seed to cup” is quite unique. It is also the only way we can be sure that we always get what we ask for in terms of green beans,” says Klingenberg. With all his years in coffee, he has had learned quite a bit about dealing with origin. “I have seen so much mislabeling in my life that I have a hard time trusting anybody I do not know. To give you an example: A few years back in during a U.S. trade show I requested from a producer origin (a group of exporters) a sample of a very special quality that I know very well. I was given five different samples - all labeled the same - none of them being what I asked for!! This example is unfortunately not the only one I can give. Hence our need for good relations in origin. We also pay some very rewarding prices for our coffees, and all our suppliers know this. Working with us is difficult indeed, but it certainly pays off for everybody involved. A good example of how we can work together is manifested through our newly installed “weather-station” in India. Weather data is being transmitted into the computer of our supplier for analysis and hopefully better understanding of what influence the weather has on our coffees. A fun experiment that we expect a lot of good from.”

Klingenberg believes that experience is the best teacher and every process in coffee from bean to barista is important. That is why he helped develop an Indian blend that won that country’s cup of excellence. In addition, he helped train baristi for Coffee Day, a chain of retail stores in India.

When asked about why Norwegians have such reputation for quality, Klingenberg responded, “We have been fortunate enough to have coffee in this country of a very high standard, even on industrial average basis the coffees would rank very highly on any quality scale. Also we have been as an industry clever in maintaining sound brewing practices, thus ensuring that the cup always has been tasteful and well accepted. In fact our brewing standards have now been re-exported back to the U.S. and SCAA who has taken them up as theirs. Hopefully with the result that the cup in your market gets better.”

Cupping at Solberg & Hansen
guarantees a quality cup.
Everyone committed to coffee is concerned about the current crisis. Organizations and non-profits try and address the problems to the best of their ability. As a leading roaster in a country known for its high quality standards, S&H is no different. Klingenberg has a few thoughts on this issue, “I fear that we shall be living in a world of crisis for the coffee growers for still some time. A lot of producers shall have to go out of business and this is nothing but very sad. There will probably be developing some sort of a dual market where the typical C-grades will continue to dominate the industrial average while the top quality coffees will be hard to find and thus become very expensive.” As the current president of SCAE, his opinions may carry a little more weight in the industry, “A good move would be to take the true low grades out of the market. They are not fit for human consumption anyway and the U.S. Coffee Purity Act as well as the ICO resolution 407 is meant to deal with this problem. I support these measures fully and I simply do not understand why for instance NCA is not supportive of the same ideas. That said it is fun to see how the specialty coffee movement is moving ahead. It’s taking on all over the world, with the fastest development in the emerging markets. And these are the markets where coffee quality is at it’s worse. There may be a connection between the very bad everyday cup and the rise of the specialty coffee movement in these markets.”

As a successful businessman, he understands the importance that marketing plays in promoting consumption. He also has no qualms in offering constructive criticism to his fellow industry members. “Also the coffee beverage culture is changing and it is changing fast. Key word is “Espressoism.” The world is being flushed with new coffee beverages based on espresso. We are in the middle of a coffee beverage revolution. Coffee is being reinvented for the young consumer and this is happening worldwide. Partly because some of the big industrial players have done very little lately in terms of reinventing their own image/beverage. In fact, in my views some of the industrial players do the best they can in trying to send their consumers off coffee and straight into the arms of Coke and friends.... And this goes beyond quality too. It has to do with the fun as well. Traditional coffee is not being perceived as cool in the young market place.”

Though Norway is traditionally known as a coffee drinking country, there is room for another natural beverage…tea. Solberg & Hansen also deals with tea. Sometimes seen as a softer beverage, tea’s amazing growth due in a large part to promoting the health benefits has been a great example to the coffee industry. Klingenberg, who deals in both beverages, thinks that both industries can learn from each other. “I expect a development along the lines of coffee drinkwise. We see an emerging trend of specialty teas rising in the market. Again this is partly due to some very sad teabag experiences that consumers no longer want. Tea is being reinvented as a beverage and will probably make inroads into many new retail outlets, - including the coffee bars and specialty stores. Specialty tea will be defined by origin and estate with a huge potential also for green tea in future. New Tea beverages will see the light and will become popular among the young consumers.” He believes that the union of the two industries would benefit each other in fighting the competition of bottled water and soda. “The coffee and tea producers of the world have more to gain by working together than fighting each other. We have more in common than separates us. Tea and coffee are often grown on the same estates, under the same climatic conditions and we have the big common enemy out there: Coke and Water.... So why we do not work more together I do not understand.”

Coop Norge
Coop Norge Kaffe AS has been providing Norwegians with coffee for 50 years. With their 900,000 members and 15.6% of the market share of Norway’s coffee industry, Coop Norge is a major player in Norway. Coop Norge has an even larger share of the retail chain market, with 1,060 shops, they comprise 25% of Norway’s retail chains. Their distribution is divided into 15-20% catering and 80-85% shop market. “In 2002 our turnover was about nok 168.000.000. This is a small percentage of Coop`s total turnover. (less than 5 % depending on what figures you use),“ said Øyvind Hansen.

Their large roasting and packing facility is located in Oslo; this large complex has a complete coffee operation from industrial sized roasters to packing equipment to cupping rooms. They rely on 2 x Probat RZ 2500 roasters to roast their coffee. The computer system that monitors the roasting process looks has the most up-to-date technology. Here they manufacture the Coop Norge brand names: Gul Coop (48%), Rød Coop (40%), Blå Coop (6%), Grønn Coop (organic)(2%), Hvit Coop (decaf) (0.5%) and Cafe Futuro (Solidarity brand, from the Fedecocagua System in Guatemala) (0.5%). In addition, they offer some small gourmet items and foodservice coffees. Just because they have large distribution in places such as supermarkets and smaller stores, doesn’t mean they sacrifice on quality. Hansen notes, “We also bought 20 bags of Cup of Excellence in the Brazil auction last December, the second most expensive lot!”

Best Baristi
Italy may be the birth place of the barista, but baristi from Scandinavia keep taking the crown in the World Barista Competition. Since its inception in Monte Carlo in 2000, the top finalists have represented Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Iceland. And, Virkram Kurana from India, who took third place in the 2002 competition, was trained at Solberg & Hansen in Norway.

With a country like Norway setting the benchmark for quality, hopefully, the tide will turn for coffee. No one knows what will happen, but there are people working hard to provide the best beverage possible. When asked about the future of coffee, Klingenberg said, “If I knew the answer I would most certainly have received the Nobel price in Economics, the Nobel Peace Price and a few others.”


Tea & Coffee - June/July, 2003
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