Is it that time of year again already? Time for our stockings to be hung with care and our cups to be filled with Christmas Blend? Indeed, it is.
Christmas comes early to the Starbucks coffee tasting room. Every year we begin the process of putting together the current year’s version of this customer favorite in March, when we taste samples of all of our aged Sumatra coffees, determining which lots are ready to be included in Christmas Blend. There were some very special lots we identified this year, and they are showing nicely in the final cup.
When we talk about ‘aged’ coffees, we are talking about coffees that are aged for three to five years as green coffee, prior to being roasted, in a warehouse in the climatic conditions of the coffees’ origin. Much like wine or scotch or, my favorite, bourbon, the character of the coffees change as they age.
After the aged tasting, we begin to look at the other components in June. As Christmas Blend is one of our most popular coffees, we need to make sure we have all the right coffees in the right places so we can roast this magical blend in each of our five roasting plants. While we were looking at the possible components for this year’s version, we were quite excited with how well the bight acidity of the Latin American coffees mixed with the big body and herbal flavors of the Indonesians. Mix that with the syrupy body and spicy-woodsy flavors of the aged Sumatra and… viola! We have the 25th anniversary version of Starbucks Christmas Blend.
Christmas Blend first appeared in our stores in 1984, and it became an instant classic. Just as with vintages of fine wine, every year our Christmas Blend develops a character all its own. Some years it’s the vibrant acidity that stands out, and some it’s the big, syrupy body. The 2009 version highlights the special flavor of the aged Sumatra coffees that were selected for this year’s blend. The cedar-like flavor notes and spicy character of these coffees really show through in the cup. It is especially suited to pair with the rich foods of the season.
Christmas Blend is about more than what is in the cup. Gather your family and friends around a fresh brewed pot of this special coffee of the season, and enjoy!
Coffee is culinary was the inspiration for this annual tradition. The task was to create a coffee blend that would taste great within your amazing Thanksgiving feast. Our approach began by thinking about all the great flavors experienced during this glorious meal. Roasty savory turkey and stuffing, heady spices and herbs, the rich mouthfeel of the gravy and the acidic tartness of the cranberries first came to mind. Now the effort shifted to finding coffees would be best to compliment those in-meal flavors and would blend with great balance and grace.
Much like the Chef that creates a dish that is balanced and layered the quality team took the same approach to Thanksgiving Blend. The blending process started with coffees from 10 different origins. All of those coffees possessed qualities we thought would compliment and inspire a new blend that was worthy of this epic meal. Some had high acidity, some great body and others great complexity. We spent an afternoon putting together about 10 separate blends all with very unique flavors and reasons for being worthy of being the starting point for Thanksgiving Blend. Over the next several weeks we refined and narrowed the selections down to two blends. Now comes the best part. We actually were able to eat a full Thanksgiving dinner well before the actual date to determine which coffee paired better. The choice was obvious.
By blending two very fancy coffees, one from Sumatra featuring medium acid, good body and herbal complexity with the Guatemala Antigua which features high acidity, medium body with lemony acidy and elegant spice and cocoa notes, we created a blend that perfectly compliments all the flavors of the Thanksgiving meal. I would not be telling the truth if I told you we knew we were going to accomplish a blend that fit this perfectly into the meal, even we were surprised. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly knew we would get something great because of our expertise in sourcing and blending but this was really a great surprise and discovery.
I guess that is why I love the job I have. Just when you think you have seen it all something amazing happens and it’s like you are starting all over again. It was a great experience being part of creating the newest Starbucks traditions blend and it is truly rewarding the see it back on the shelves for the second year.
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