Not Another Fruit Cake! (and what to do about holiday blending?)
First published November 30, 2015, updated October 18, 2019
This coffee blending basics article covers how to approach a holiday blend. With so many coffee origins in stock in November/December, there’s absolutely no excuse for winding up with a “fruit cake”!
The holiday fruit cake has a reputation for not actually being eaten. I know there are ‘good’ ones, but the vast majority with that dense, dry texture and large chewy fruit-candy chunks, change hands several times and are finally relegated to the post-holiday treat table at the office, or even worse, the garbage. In coffee, the ‘holiday blends’ we see from many of the larger roasters have a similar fate. With more attention paid to packaging than to actual quality, the blend is a way to get rid of old ingredients, coffees already ‘long in the tooth.’ Like the fruitcake, they offer a cheap gift option to bring to a party, they’re stuffed in stockings or passed along at gift exchanges, and most certainly stored in the freezer for much later use, if at all.
On the other hand, for those looking to offer a quality-focused alternative, a holiday blend comes at a great time of the year with no shortage of impressive coffees from Africa and Latin America. A quick review of holiday blend ingredients from some of our customers reveals heavy use of Latin American coffees (often used as the base ingredient(s)), with Kenya is the East African powerhouse of the coffee world. Both in the cup, and the way they run their trade, everything is topnotch.: Kenya is the East... ...more, Ethiopia, formerly known as Abyssinia, or a coffee cultivar: Ethiopia, or more specifically the Empire under Haile Selassie, was known as Abyssinia. The name is Latin, derived from... ...more, or both providing highlights and nuanced top notes.
We put together our own holiday blend the past few years (Sweet Marias Polar Expresso Holiday Blend returns next week), consisting of all washed African coffees with cup scores above 88 points. It’s an opportunity to highlight the availability of great coffees, rather than merely a vessel through which we funnel coffees we’ve stored the longest (An NPR radio spot that’s been playing regularly comes to mind, “brought to you by Peet’s Coffee, now offering a holiday blend made up of the year’s finest beans…”)
Putting together a holiday blend doesn’t have to be all that tricky, and if you’re like us, it starts by selecting coffees that you enjoy. For our blend, we knew we wanted to use all African coffees, and so substituted the fairly standard Latin American ingredient with an all A coffee cultivar; a cross between Typica and Bourbon, originally grown in Brazil: Mundo Novo is a commercial coffee cultivar; a natural hybrid between "Sumatra" and Red Bourbon,... ...more A Bourbon cultivar variant from Rwanda and Burundi. Bourbon coffees are named for the island in the India Ocean where French colonists grew it. Some history from the... ...more to give that sweet base, and allowing space for the Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees that are used in much smaller amounts to stand out against. The objective was something a bit wilder than a traditional A small coffee beverage, about 20 ml, prepared on an espresso machine where pressurized hot water extracted through compressed coffee.: In its most stripped-down, basic form, this is... ...more blend, ‘special’ if you will, and with a level of complexity unattainable by any single ingredient.
Blend combinations are seemingly endless, with the only limiting factor being the number of ingredients you have on hand. They should be fresh tasting, and as such, can be dually used on your Single Origin refers to coffee from one location, in contrast to blended coffee. This term is particularly useful in discussing espresso, since most commercial espressos are made from... ...more list too. The blend should be fun to create, “gift-worthy,” and most importantly one you love to drink. And as the stock of fresh-tasting ingredients from Latin American and African regions dwindles, there is an added sense of seasonality, not easily replicable at a different time of the year.
The coffees below are our recommendations for coffees we feel work really well in an espresso blend so you won’t end the year with a “fruit cake”. If you need more blend ideas, or basic information on how different coffees can be used in blending, our Blending Resources Article also offers a good starting point.
Now bring on the holiday blends!
Blend Bases – In general, these coffees bring Sweetness is an important positive quality in fine coffees, and is one of five basic tastes: Sour, Sweet, Salty, Bitter, Savory (Umami). In coffee, sweetness is a highly... ...more, Associated with and sensed by mouthfeel, body is sense of weight and thickness of the brew, caused by the percentage of soluble solids in the cup, including all... ...more, milder Acidity is a positive flavor attribute in coffee, also referred to as brightness or liveliness. It adds a brilliance to the cup, whereas low acid coffees can seem... ...more, and loads of A general flavor or aroma term reminiscent of chocolate. But what type? Usually described with more specifics.: Chocolate is a broad, general flavor or aroma term reminiscent of... ...more roast character to your espresso blend. Try using as 1/3 or even 1/2 of your blend, mixing in smaller amounts of your highlight coffees depending on the ultimate flavor target.
- Costa Rican coffee is typically very clean, sweet, with lots of floral accents. hey are prized for their high notes: bright citrus or berry-like flavors in the acidity,... ...more Helsar Miguel Rojas; soooo chocolatey beyond Full City and with a subtle An acid that adds to favorable perceptions of cup quality; malic acid often adds apple-like acidity, and perhaps other taste aspects recalling apples. Malic acid is yet another... ...more note
- Honduran coffee was absent from the top ranks of the Specialty market, but that has changed. It has all the environmental factors on its side: soil, altitude, climate.... ...more Comayagua Nueva Alianza; muted fig note at Full City+ roast is an ideal roast level that occurs roughly between 425 and 435 degrees Fahrenheit in many coffee roasters with a responsive bean probe where First Crack... ...more, semi sweet chocolate chips
- Nicaraguan coffees from the Segovia, Jinotega, Ocotal and Matagalpa regions are nice balanced cups. They often possess interesting cup character along with body and balance, outperforming many other... ...more Spanish 101: Finca is the Spanish word for farm. Sometimes the term Hacienda is used to imply an Estate, which would mean the farm has its own wet-mill.... ...more Buenos Aires Lot 1; all about Suggests a harmony and proportion of qualities, and implies mildness since no one quality dominates.: Balance is both an obvious and slippery taste term. It implies a harmony... ...more Bitterness is one of 5 basic tastes: Sour, Sweet, Salty, Bitter and Umami (savory flavors). There are many types of bitterness, hence not one avenue to tracking down... ...more and sweet flavors, classic toned espresso
- Burundi coffee bears resemblance to neighboring Rwanda, in both cup character, but also the culture surrounding coffee. Burundi is a small landlocked country at the crossroads of East... ...more Rwiri Yagikawa Station; opaque body underscores dark chocolate flavors at Full City – starts at $3.45/lb!
- Burundi Kibumbu Kayokwe; about as bodied as they come, layers of chocolate roast character– starts at $3.28/lb!
- Burundi Kayanza Gahahe Station; syrupy chocolate when roasted dark, citrus and spice notes still pop – starts at $3.70/lb!
- Rwanda Nyamasheke Nyakibingo Station; In coffee, honey-like sweetness is often found, but we use terms such as refined honey (highly filtered and processed) as opposed to raw honey rustic honey sweetness. This... ...more sweet, chocolate-raisin, spiced tea – starts at $3.57/lb
- Ethiopia Agaro Duromina Cooperative; intense stone fruit and cacao bittersweetness, Creamy is a mouthfeel description indicating thickness and soft, rounded texture. See also buttery. ...more How a coffee feels in the mouth or its apparent texture, a tactile sensation : A major component in the flavor profile of a coffee, it is a... ...more
- Ethiopia Agaro Sadi Loya Coop; high % cacao dark chocolate and candied citrus, nice!
Most of our coffees can be used in an espresso blend, and we hope our reviews answer any questions you might have. Check the full list HERE as we’re adding coffees on a weekly basis through the end of the year.