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Making Coffee Fun Again

Lately, a breath of fresh air has taken the Oslo coffee scene by storm, and the ones blowing are Talor&Jørgen – a colourful coffee subscription service doing things a little differently. We had a chat with co-founder Talor Browne between roasting beans and baking doughnuts.

Talor&Jørgen comes off as having this fun, no-nonsense (though of course, still quality focused) approach to speciality coffee. And one only needs to take a quick glance at your packing to know this is true. Can you tell us a little bit about the design, and how it reflects your vision?

The design of the packaging took almost a year from idea to execution. We began looking for the right graphic designers, and had countless of meetings, before settling on Bielke&Yang based here in Oslo. From the moment we walked in the door, they really just seemed to understand exactly where we were coming from. Before going in, Jørgen and I knew that we wanted our packaging to do a lot of the talking for us ­– because our lack of physical presence in the world.

You ended up giving Bielke&Yang quite an extensive brief, and they followed through. How did the collaboration go from there?

Bielke&Yang found our first illustrator, Janne Iivonen, a Finish illustrator based in the UK. The beauty in the packaging is that it is ever evolving. For each new run of boxes, we will commission a new artist to re-imagine the design. It almost turns the boxes into collectors’ items, and it makes it exciting for our customers to open their mailbox and see/smell that something beautiful that is waiting for them.

We wanted to make something that reflects our coffees and ourselves personally. Colourful, fun, high quality and approachable. I think we nailed it with these boxes.

On to a more serious topic. You have talked extensively about mental illness within the coffee industry, and I was wondering – can Talor & Jørgen be seen as a way of «making coffee fun again»?

Absolutely! Jørgen and I met when we were both not really feeling our respective workplaces. Because we spent such a significant amount of time in the last year and a half planning, discussing and organising the roastery, it allowed us to really hone in on our vision of building the type of business that we as employees would have appreciated. We wanted to build a place that could nurture our team to reach their full potential, a place where people could bring their personality to work and use the space as a stage to thrive. We also wanted to make it clear that we could have full confidence in our own skills as coffee professionals, without making that the focal point. You can be talented and professional without taking yourself too seriously.

On that note, do you think one needs a certain kind of personality to work within the speciality coffee industry?

Luckily, there are a plethora of careers to choose from within specialty coffee, and these roles are best suited for different personality types. A certain amount of extroversion is required for working in a café, because as much as you might be skilled at assembling drinks, that can never 100% compensate for great customer service. Roasting is a particularly solitary job because you can spend a whole days production beside your machine without uttering a word to another person. Then you’ve got import/export, farming, sales … the list goes on. On the surface I might appear to be quite extroverted, but I tend to get worn out by too much socializing. The beauty of having our own business is that I can schedule my work week to suit my own personality and needs.

There’s no doubt that you are a colourful and outspoken personality, partly being an Aussie, partly being yourself, how do find this resonates within a more timid Norwegian culture, Janteloven and all?

During my first weeks working at Tim Wendelboe, back when I moved here in 2012, I could see people being visibly shocked by my warm and friendly nature behind the bar. They came into the store expecting what its reputation dictated: Stoic coffee nerds that were ready to tell you that drinking a latte is wrong. I was shocked to learn, during my first day, that the names of regulars were a mystery and I set about to change that. I’ve had more than a dozen people since tell me that my influence continues to be felt there, and it makes me really proud that it is my small legacy.

I think the majority of Norwegians find it refreshing to be met by someone whose main aim is to make them feel welcome and comfortable. It is perhaps that I am foreign, that I’m able to get away with so much.

Oslo has a reputation as a leader of specialty coffee, but in my opinion, Janteloven really holds people back from breaking away from the mould in Norway. It makes people less likely to explore their own theories and ideas, and it leads to a monoculture within our industry.

Of course, as the name says, you only make up one half of Talor&Jørgen. Can you tell us a little bit about the collaboration between you and Jørgen? What are the high’s and what are the low’s?

Jørgen and I met in 2015 through a mutual friend as he was opening Steam Kaffebar in Østbanehallen. He and I worked on budgets to open a potential roastery for the franchise but realised pretty early in our relationship that it might be worth just opening a roastery as a duo.

He is much more savvy with numbers and finance than I am, but is also incredibly creative. He has done all the filming and editing for our YouTube channel, which began as a hobby, but has become a really important part of the way we communicate as a business.

The part I enjoy most about our collaboration is that we always start with an idea or thought and through weeks of discussion and consideration, are able to build and elaborate upon it to make it much more interesting and complex had we just proceeded with the simple idea. He and I certainly have differing perspectives, but our ideology in our work is the same: being kind and approachable, practicing humility, admitting our shortcomings and overcoming them through team work and learning, working hard and having a good time.

Through your second venture, Fryd, you are often referred to as the «doughnut lady», something which you have yourself laughed about on social media. Your doughnuts have been a massive success, but what is the link between Talor&Jørgen and Fryd? And are you planning on merging the two when you open up your brick and mortar later in 2017?

Fryd was initially born when we had been offered a space in downtown Oslo, and wanted to offer something alongside our coffee that wasn’t what you usually find in Norwegian cafes. I trained as a pastry chef in 2010-2011 and wanted to use this opportunity to make something that Oslo was lacking: doughnuts. So I spent a month in Melbourne, in December 2015, working at All Day Donuts.

The best thing about a doughnut is that it cannot be taken seriously. It’s fried, it’s colourful and it is inherently a bit silly. Fryd is the perfect representation of what we wanted to build: High quality raw ingredients, skilfully assembled by professionals in a beautiful way, unique, sold fresh and not taken too seriously either by us or our customers. They are visually striking, delicious and perfectly complimentary for coffee.

Unexpectedly, the doughnuts taught us things about how we wanted to be as a coffee roaster, that we had been trying to describe when we spoke about ourselves to our investors.

The doughnuts gave Jørgen and I the opportunity to step away from our computers, and budgets in excel, and actually physically work together. The development of the doughnuts over the last year has taught us the value in just doing something. You make mistakes, but the learning curve is steep and powerful.

With both Fryd and Talor&Jørgen it seems like you are trying to tell (if not sell) a story, a narrative, with your coffees and your doughnut venture, is this deliberate, or just an outsider trying to over-analyse?

After 15 years of service, I understood the importance of customer interaction, and the value my personal abilities in communicating the thing I believed in. Jørgen and I were also aware of the challenge of launching a business online with the lack of physical presence in the world. So we decided to play to my strengths of writing, storytelling and my love of social media to mitigate the temporary lack of a physical shop.

He and I know absolutely nothing about marketing or strategy, but we immediately understood that transparency, customers knowing us as people and understanding our values as a company made both the doughnuts and the coffee resonate and be enjoyed much more.

In terms of such storytelling, how important to you is it to tell the stories of your coffees? And is it more about the origin, or your relationship with the coffees themselves?

Because of the powerful psychology of preference and subjectivity, especially in coffee, for us it all comes down to story and communication. Without narrative you can have no understanding. We are using written words to describe our coffees, and will be also making short films that will be on the descriptor page in the future, so that our customers will have a greater understanding of who grew it, where it comes from and how it ended up in their cup.

There is a consumer for every coffee being grown. We just need to be able to find ways to connect those people.

And by the look of those lines, stretching hundreds of meters, at every FRYD pop-up event, it seems more than likely that Talor is just the woman for the job. Her doughnuts have already been a smash hit with sugar hungry Norwegians.

“I hope that Fryd becomes the synonym for the Scandinavian doughnut”, she says.

And she might be closer to her goal than she might think.