Tonight (December 10, 2012) was the Olive Way Starbucks' coffee seminar for Christmas Blend coffee! Donna and Megan walked us through a tasting of all three versions of this coffee: Blonde Roast, original Christmas Blend, and Espresso Roast. The beans in each Christmas Blend are the same, but each has been treated very differently in terms of its roasting. The Blonde Roast is unique in that all the beans are blended together first, and then roasted. In contrast, the original Christmas Blend and Espresso Roast Christmas Blend are both produced by roasting the beans to perfection first, and then blending them together. All three versions of Christmas Blend coffee contain the essential component of Aged Sumatra coffee beans, which accounts for the spicy, complex flavors that is the hallmark of Christmas Blend.
Blonde Roast Christmas Blend
We started with the Blonde Roast Christmas Blend, which was just introduced into the Starbucks whole bean lineup this year. Coffee Masters Megan and Donna prepared the Blonde Christmas Blend by a filter brew method. (It was Bunn brewed in the stores). The Blonde Christmas Blend had some acidity to it, and a bit of a bite to it. It still has some herbal flavors, but distinctly light in the mouth. It's a classic Blonde coffee - light, little roast profile, but definitely squarely still tasted like Christmas Blend. Honestly, it was not my favorite of the three, but then I am not into blonde roast profile coffees. I don't want to discourage anyone from getting this, it's just not my favorite coffee.
Christmas Blend - Traditional roast profile
Christmas Blend was first introduced into Starbucks stores in November 1984. It's always been a best seller. The process of blending exactly the right beans for each year's perfect blend generally starts about 9 months before Christmas. The Aged Sumatra beans are roasted separately from the rest in order to roast that special bean to its perfection, and then blended later with the other Latin American coffee bean components.
Megan and Donna brewed Christmas Blend on the Clover and then paired it with the Cranberry Bliss Bar. It was delicious. This makes for a very nice pairing in many ways. The buttery frosting on the Cranberry Bliss Bar smooths out the Christmas Blend, and the flavors of the bar itself bring out many of the baking spice and herbal notes of this coffee. Nicely paired!
I have to admit, one really fun part of tonight was after the tasting was all over. The store manager (Gayle) of Olive Way Starbucks was there and I had a few minutes to catch up with her. She mentioned to me that she started working at Starbucks in 1994, and clearly remembers her first Christmas. There was no flavorlock packaging back then. Gayle said that her store got in 5-pound bags of Christmas Blend, and there were tons and tons of the these large 5-pound sacks of Christmas Blend in the back of the store. She said her store manager asked her to scoop out 100 pounds of Christmas Blend, all into one-pound brown sacks, all neatly folded, and with a Christmas Blend sticker affixed to the front. Gayle's comment was that that was the year that her arm was very sore at Starbucks, and when she first saw flavorlock packaging, she was so happy!
Christmas Blend - Espresso roast profile
In 2010, Starbucks introduced the Espresso Roast Christmas Blend. Donna and Megan made it as a French press, and we paired it with Gingerbread Biscotti. It was delicious. I love how very dark roast coffees are extremely smooth. And you do taste lots of roast profile - you do get a lot of toasted sugary and spice notes. This version of the coffee has only been around since 2010, but it is quickly becoming one of my favorites. I can say that I like this coffee brewed from a pour over at home now and then. I definitely have some in my kitchen right now!
Of course, you can brew any coffee by any brew method you like. This year, Christmas Blend is available in the K-cup format, and in Verismo pods. I have tried the Verismo Christmas Blend pods at home. They're okay. I'll be honest - I don't think they're great. They're good, but Christmas Blend from the Verismo seems a little thinner, and not nearly as complex as coffee you make fresh by any other brew method. Obviously, that's to be expected, but this is such a gem of a coffee, that I want it freshly made from wonderful whole beans.
You can really see the difference in the roast profiles when you look at the 3 kinds of Christmas Blend side by side. I was so into tasting coffee at tonight's event, that I didn't take all that many pictures. Here's a few from tonight's tasting. Which of the three Christmas Blends is your favorite?