Originally published March 19, 2015 - Updated November 9th, 2018
The concept of "Holiday Blend" seems hopeless when you look at how it's been defined by companies like Starbucks and Keurig/Green Mountain and such. It's a green or red foil bag, a hokey assemblage of current design cliches, something in a cellophane wicker gift basket prepared gawd knows how long ago, and destined to sit around for months more before use. Or in recent years it's pods or k-cups or whatever.
It reminds me that I posted an Instagram photo some months back of "2014 Decaf Holiday Special Reserve" I found in a "free" pile near the dog park I frequent. Unopened. Obviously there was a lot of love and care radiating from it, as well as the AbCruncher and synthetic wool sweaters in the same heap.
For a big commercial roaster, Holiday Blend is an opportunity for generic branding to move coffee out the door, knowing that people who don't know each other, or maybe even care at all (ie. office Secret Santa) can buy this as a generic obligation-filler.
On the Other Hand ...
But despite all that (or maybe more as an emphatic and non-cynical response to it), home roasters have a great opportunity with doing some sort of Holiday Blend, one that was actually fresh-roasted, is done with some level of genuine care, and therefore is not a sucky gift. I mean, the real gift is to take the time to share what you have learned and enjoyed from your home roasting hobby with others.
There's lots of ideas you can glean about how to present your home roast Holiday Blend (we have a helpful article of our own here too), but what should be IN that little bag or jar you gift away?
Let's start with the obvious:
- It should be something you have roasted, tasted and enjoyed. Nothing means more than sharing something that has really struck you as special.
- With that, why does it have to be a blend at all? If a single origin coffee we offered has been your lightening rod in a cup, why not offer that? Maybe you don't need to share every detail with your giftees (do they really care that we graded it as .02 defects per 300 grams?). Maybe its better to spare them the minutiae, as it can be a turn-off for those not touched with coffee geekery bug.
- On the flip side, a blend allows you to create something all your own. You can read our full article on the logic of blending, but in short, blends allow you to do a couple things. First, you can do a melange of different coffees roasted to different levels. You could do this with a single origin coffee too, but this adds a level of autonomy to your roast results. Secondly, you can modify the cup profile of a coffee you might really love (like a very bright Kenya for example) and tone it down a bit to please a broader range of palates, like all those relatives who claim to like all coffee and then think it's all weird because it doesn't taste like Maxwell House. Well, not much you can do about that...
- A Few Ideas for Holiday Blending
- When a commercial shop approaches a Holiday Blend roast, I have noticed that they often include some percentage of Kenya, and/or some percentage of Ethiopia. For example Verve's current holiday blend is spelled out as wet process coffees from Colombian, Ethiopia and Kenya. These Kenya and Ethiopia components add complex aromatics and acidity that many will find exotic, moderated by the dense sweetness afforded by the Colombian base ingredient. They don't spell out percentages, but I would bank on 50% Colombia, and 25% each of Kenya and Ethiopia really lighting up the palate for most people. (check out our Colombia page for what's currently available; most of the coffees listed on our Ethiopia and Kenya pages will add 'highlights' to your blend)
- As a close alternative to the above, I would look into using a nice Guatemala as a base for a blend, giving a solid underlayment of nut and bittersweet cocoa roast taste. For top note coffees, wet-processed Ethiopias from our list would all do well to add brightness and acidity. Kenyas are great too but can be more aggressive, so I would trim the percentage of those with higher acidity rating. A great idea is to look at Rwanda or Burundi coffees as 25 to 50% of a blend. They add berry notes, more moderate brightness than a Kenya, and great sweetness too. (Guatemala Xinabajul La Libertad Lot 1 is an incredibly bodied and sweet base coffee, while Burundi Kiganda Murambi Lot #2187 has the sweetness of a Central American coffee, also adding subtle top notes to the blend)
- Okay, so what about roasting one of our real 88+ point Grand Cru coffees from Ethiopia, or our Guatemala Gesha from Acatenango? They are aromatic powerhouses for sure. We have a post forthcoming about this option. (Guatemala Acatenango Gesha Lot 9 is a powerhouse; both our Ethiopia and Kenya pages are chalk full of 88+ point Grand Cru coffees)
Lastly, when I try to share coffee with my neighbors, a lot of special requests filter back over time (ingrates!). I get some of, "that coffee was great, we like it darker" (to which I reply, "so does satan.") Secondly, people ask if I ever have decaf. I don't bring home decaf so no ... but for holidays, especially for after dinner coffee, you can really blow the doors off the barn with some fresh home roasted decaf. I mean, considering what the decaf experience usually consists of (ie. the flavor of steeped brown cardboard) a home roast is a quantum leap up. (Our custom Swiss Water decaf options are sure to impress)
Thanks for reading this -T.O.
Notes: Whatever you do, people will appreciate it because of love and care that goes into a real home-made gift, given the time it takes. But please don't do THIS: