Building the Best Holiday Blend
Blending coffees is a topic we cover every time we teach our roasting classes. We share some of the best practices, methodology, and recommend greens that “play well together”. Blending is a great way to manage costs and build your brand identity by offering a great coffee that’s available year-round.
After discussing the various approaches to blending and preparing students for roasting exercises where they’ll roast a pre-blend, we reveal one final “pro tip”:
Your Holiday Blend will be your best-selling coffee of the year.
This is a little anecdotal. We base this idea on our collective previous experiences in retail cafes and at other roasteries. But when we talk to other people who are selling coffee successfully, they usually affirm the statement. Holiday Blends sell rapidly at the end of the year as people look for locally crafted gifts to share with friends and family. It’s also just a great time of year to drink coffee. It’s when many of us are spending more time at home, staying cozy, and enjoying sweet treats. The conditions are ideal for a second (or third) pot of coffee.
Forecasting for Winter
The foodies over at Bon Appetit and Food and Wine Magazines will shoot their Thanksgiving issues in July. Likewise, the best roasters in the country are planning their Holiday Blends late in the summer or very early in the fall. The goal is to have the greens selected, the profiles dialed in, and the packaging finalized by the time Pumpkin Spice Lattes hit national menus (a moment that creeps earlier and earlier these days).
Because of the timing, roasters are usually looking for coffees that are fairly fresh in August or September, since they’ll be on menus well into the middle of winter. Accounting for the typical 2-3 month delay from harvest at origin to arrival at import or roastery, that means they’re usually sourcing coffees that were picked in April, May, or June. Cafe Imports has a helpful coffee harvest chart that details this timeline very well.
The Flavors of the Season
Roasting chestnuts, open fire, pine needles, baking cookies, warm spices. We all have scents and flavors that make it feel like the holidays. Holiday Blends can celebrate wintery flavors across the roast spectrum.
From bright and lively roasts that taste like cranberry, navel orange, and cinnamon to darker profiles boasting fudge, spiced fruitcake, and candied nuts. Choosing a mood or flavor category for your blend will help steer further decisions like the blend’s name, package imagery, and other branding choices.
Coffee Origin Options
Coffee selection will also guide the general flavor profile.
If the goal is to build a blend that features warming spices, nutty notes, and flavors on the darker side of the sensory spectrum, including a coffee from Indonesia is a great starting point. We gravitate towards coffee from Sumatra when we’re looking for notes that are earthy, spiced, and rich. The molasses, orange peel, and clove in the Papua New Guinea we’re currently carrying make it another good option for a holiday blend. These coffees are like cuddling up by a fire with a cup of Glühwein.
Winter isn’t all dark and cozy, though. Plenty of people spend their end-of-year solstice outside enjoying the white snow, crisp air, and seasonal fruits like apples, pears, pomegranates, and citrus. Capture the lively, invigorating flavors of the season with a natural processed coffee to make a play on notes of fruitcake and warm cider. Natural processed coffees from Colombia or Ecuador can bring the vibrancy and fruitiness we need during the colder months. The winey, cherry flavors found in Manos Juntas from Colombia would be right at home in a holiday blend.
Our Holiday Blends
Every year, our coffee team builds a few green pre-blends for our roasting customers. Our goal is to provide a shortcut for roasters who want to carry a Holiday or Winter Coffee option but don’t want to (or don’t have time to) do all the work on the backend to figure out their blends.
Snowblind is a winter blend we’ve carried for the past 3 years. It’s designed to be enjoyed at a lighter profile for folks who love a bright, clean cup. Though the components are different each year, we aim for a consistent flavor profile and create this blend with the specialty roaster or cafe in mind. This year, we knew we wanted to utilize a beautiful coffee from Sulawesi that was savory, sweet, and totally unique. Pairing it with a classic washed Ethiopia from the Guji region helped keep the blend floral and crisp.
Hibernate is a blend that satisfies the cold-weather urge to hunker down and seek comfort. We built it to taste great at a medium or darker profile and have the ability to cut through other ingredients like sweeteners, cream, or other additives for grown-ups. Hibernate is composed of a natural processed Sumatra that tastes like it was made for winter. It’s sweet, spicy, and heavy-bodied. We paired it with a lovely washed Guatemala to bring notes of chocolate, marshmallow, and nougat. Together they create flavors of black forest gateau, cherry cordial, and cedar.
Planning Beyond the Holidays
Seasonal blends aren’t restricted to winter. Summer blends can be just as delicious and successful on your retail menu. Customers respond to nostalgia, playfulness, and great flavor descriptors when selecting coffee to bring home or share with others. Stay tuned, we’ll keep sharing our tips on building your menu, sourcing greens, and growing your roasting business.