You probably know Ken Stringfellow as the co-leader of Northwestern power-pop all-timers the Posies or as a sideman for R.E.M. or latter-day Big Star. He’s also a solo artist (we’re particularly fond of the soft-rock American beauty that is 2001’s Touched) and is currently preparing the debut by his Norwegian garage-rock band, the DiSCiPLiNES. Each day this week, magnetmagazine.com guest editor Stringfellow will be filing reports from his home on the European continent.
Stringfellow: Let it be said that I spent two decades living in Seattle and, essentially, saw the rise of McEspresso culture, which was paralleled in Seattle by its counterweight, the pursuit of espresso excellence. Meanwhile, in Europe, the Italian machines have been increasingly set aside for nasty pushbutton models, and here the creep toward One Company, One Coffee is personified by Nespresso, which has been keeping Nestlé afloat during the crisis. It seems that Europeans prefer to self-medicate with the little multicolored foil packets rather than, say, a shot of Cuervo with an MGD chaser. Oddly, France, the epicenter of gastronomic elitism, is home to some of the most unpleasant, burnt, soapy, slapped-down-with-no-love café on the planet. I think the French enjoy suffering and wingeing, and the acrid tang of a Gauloise (now smoked outdoors) and a horribly mangled espresso are their daily tithe to compensate for the largesse they enjoy, living in what they are sure to tell you is the greatest worst country on earth. Now, stepping back from this view, and zooming out far enough to refocus on Norway, we discover a different mindset altogether. Tim Wendelboe trained at Stockfleth’s, which is a fairly decent place to get your morning started, but then took it up several hundred notches by opening his own roastery and espresso counter in Grünerløkka, Oslo’s hipster neighborhood. Nothing but coffee and maybe one or two bakery items. No flavored syrups, no tea, no donuts. It’s just ridiculously perfect espresso, sourced from the best possible growers in Ethiopia, Guatemala, India, etc., roasted to the absolute highest standards; the boutique also serves as a school for roasters and baristas, with people coming from around the world to train with Tim. What I love about TW is that every imaginable detail of the environment—the look, the music selection (and its groovy ’60s Tandberg playback system), the utensils, etc.—has been overseen and is consistent with Tim’s commitment to his craft. Being a frequent traveler, eating in restaurants with Michelin’s highest accolades, staying in top hotels on tour—nowhere in Europe have I found better espresso than Tim Wendelboe’s, and only a few of the most fanatical places in Seattle can rival it.