Not Another Fruit Cake! (or, what to do about holiday blending?)
The holiday fruit cake has a reputation for not actually being eaten. I'm sure 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 in the "specialty" coffee realm, 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 (probably used as a base), with Kenya, Ethiopia, or both providing the highlights. We actually put together our own holiday blend this year (a first! See Workshop #37 -Esprestletoe), consisting of all washed African coffees with cup scores above 88 points. The point is, the holiday blend is an opportunity for us 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 Peets Coffee, now offering a holiday blend made up of the year's finest beans..." a year is a really long time to hold onto coffee!)
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 Esprestletoe blend, we knew we wanted to use all African coffees, and so substituted the fairly standard Latin American ingredient with an all bourbon Rwanda, adding Ethiopian and Kenyan coffees for the majority of fruited tones and high notes. The objective was something a bit wilder than a traditional espresso blend, 'special' if you will, 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 dual-use as a single-origin offer 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. We're providing a few recommendations below for coffees we feel more than make the grade so you don'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.
- Colombia Inzá -Rio Paez; extremely sweet and bodied
- Costa Rica Familia Bonilla -La Loma; raw sugar sweetness, lightly fruited
- Rwanda Karenge Coffee Villages; versatile, bourbon sweetness and body, moderate acidity
- Colombia Urrao Valle de Penderisco (just landed); fruit-forward Colombia, wonderful chocolate and body at FC and beyond
- Ethiopia Illubabor Baaroo Cooperative; berry tones, restrained acidity for Ethiopia
- Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe Kebele Kochore; incredible floral and berry notes, FC shows focused acidity
- Kenya Kirinyaga Kamwangi AB; classic Kenya character, citrus high tones
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.