Friday, September 14, 2012

Stumptown's Hair Bender: French and Turkish

Name: Hair Bender

Origins: Latin America, East Africa, Indonesia
Roaster: Stumptown Coffee Roasters
Varietals: (varying)
Preparation 1: Freshly ground, French-pressed, sipped black
Preparation 2: Freshly ground, 4 teaspoons combined with 1.4 cups water and 0.36 ounces (3 packets) of sugar, kept over medium-low flame until ready, sipped without further enhancement

When I was turned on to Stumptown's Hair Bender blend last week and looked it up, I saw that it is an espresso blend. The timing was excellent: I have recently been given a household grinder that actually gets the coffee into a fine enough powder to make Turkish coffee. (As Turkish coffee fans know, those are not easy to find.) Certainly, that is not the same thing as espresso, but the profile requirements are sufficiently similar that I thought I would give the grinder its first taste of action with Hair Bender.

Before going quite there, I prepared it in the French press just to get my bearings on the tasting notes. What emerges from that is a coffee the color of red cedar, or of a fox's fur; the kind of brown that reminds one that brown is actually just a shade of orange. The aroma includes almost everything: fruits, nuts, spices. The flavor is a strong, rich, robust earthiness. Acidity is medium, and there is no maltiness. The finish includes florals and spices, and the texture remains medium-light throughout.

One can tell right away that Hair Bender is a blend from the plethora of characteristics that it exhibits, and even for a blend it is remarkably dynamic. This is hardly surprising given the multitude of coffees used. Stumptown's website explains that Hair Bender "can have five to eight different coffees at any given time. We hand select these coffees to provide clarity along with the sweetness and complexity we are seeking. We continually taste this blend and each of its components (on the cupping table as well as espresso) to maintain the balance of flavors." Perhaps my cherished readers are way ahead of me, but I still was not entirely clear on why the ingredients would vary. Fortunately, Stumptown continues to show saintly patience with my impertinent inquiries, and has elaborated: "The coffees in our blends generally reflect the growing seasons in each part of the coffee world. The contents of our Hair Bender change throughout the seasons in order to ensure that the taste of our Hair Bender does not change with the seasons. The coffees in the blend are chosen to achieve a certain flavor profile." Aha! So, though dear Mother Nature would, over the course of a year, alter the nature of the coffee that a given piece of land produces (e.g. different seasons yield different quality crops), Stumptown skirts that roadblock by sourcing coffees from different parts of the globe at different times of the year to keep things uninterrupted. This is great news; I would hate for the rich dynamism of Hair Bender to be available for only a few months of the year.

Alright then, time to see how this baby fares prepared Turkish. The liquid comes out a dark, deep, rich brown, as Turkish coffee should be. There is, naturally, less dynamism with this preparation. Sweetness is everywhere. The aroma is sweet and earthy; the palate is sweet almost like a carob, with medium acidity; and the finish is sweet, and rather rich. Mentally separating the coffee profile from the sugar, we have essentially the same coffee as we had in the press if it had been roasted darker.

Hair Bender really does work well prepared as Turkish coffee. This is not just as per its strength - with its name being "Hair Bender" one might think of the strength first, but actually it was named after the hair salon that had previously occupied the storefront which eventually became Stumptown's first cafe in Portland, Oregon - but as per its profile. One needs a coffee that can simultaneously carry, balance, and complement the sugar. This would usually be a medium-light roast, as bitterness is counterproductive, while body and flavor are important. Hair Bender is an espresso blend, but not a dark roast. We have already seen that Stumptown does not do usual roast measurements; they roast for the bean. With these beans here, the goal of the roasting is to make good espresso. That it would, and it makes great pressed coffee and Turkish coffee as well.

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