Starbucks Christmas Blend Vintage 2016

See why the original seasonal favorite is so special

by Michelle Flandreau | November 23, 2016
HOME Farm to Cup Starbucks Christmas Blend Vintage 2016

Hundreds of green coffee beans dot the conveyor belt as it slowly rolls along. But the women surrounding it are moving with speed and precision. They scrutinize each bean, and their fingers move nimbly to pick out any that are broken, chipped or off-color. The beans have already been sorted twice, but the women are checking them for a third time, just to be sure.

Everything about our Sumatran coffee is meticulous. Each holiday, we can’t wait to share its bold, earthy flavors in one of our favorite coffees—Starbucks® Christmas Blend Vintage 2016. “With the coffees that we’re buying, it’s the Sumatran process that...makes Sumatran coffee special,” Starbucks director of agronomy Chris von Zastrow said. “It’s the perfect storm to make that kind of coffee.”

In Sumatra, one of Indonesia’s largest islands, the perfect storm begins on rural backyard coffee farms. Much of Sumatra’s production happens on a small scale because of its remote and rugged terrain. There are more volcanoes in Indonesia than any other country in the world, and Sumatra is home to dozens. The fertile volcanic soil, along with Sumatra’s tropical climate and high elevation, all contribute to the terroir, the taste of place.

“The very unique and very special thing about Sumatra is the taste,” said Sam Filiaci, a Starbucks coffee supplier based in Indonesia. “It's a rarity in the world of coffee.”

To fully appreciate another element that sets Sumatran coffee apart, you first need to understand where coffee comes from. What we call a coffee bean is actually the seed of a fruit, a coffee cherry. (Side note: Most coffee cherries have two seeds inside. But 5 percent only grow one seed, called a peaberry.) Once coffee cherries are ripe, they’re picked, then processed—the method of separating the fruit from the seed.

See the semi-washed processing method in action.

Sumatran coffee is known for its earthy, herbal flavors and full body. In large part, that’s because Sumatra is one of a handful of places that uses the semi-washed processing method.

Here’s how the process works:

1. Right after coffee cherries are picked, the outer layers (outer skin and pulp) are removed using a hand-cranked machine. This is called de-pulping.
2. Beans are soaked in water for a few hours, then rubbed together to remove the mucilage, a honey-like substance coating the bean.
3. While still on the farm, the beans are laid out to dry to reduce extra moisture. This is the first of several rounds of drying.
4. Beans are transported from the farm to a milling station.
5. The beans are laid out on tarps to continue drying. This can take a few days, depending on the weather.
6. A hulling machine is used to remove the parchment layer, which is akin to taking the shell off a peanut.
7. The beans are laid out one last time to make sure they’re completely dry. Then, they’re ready to be sorted and bagged.

“They’ve tried implementing the same process in other parts of the world with very similar varieties, and the quality has not been the same,” von Zastrow said.

Some things get even better with age. Sumatran coffee happens to be one of them. Once processed and sorted, we send some beans to a special facility in Singapore. The humid climate creates ideal conditions for aging coffee, a process that requires a lot of patience and care. Every six months, we rotate and flip the burlap bags of beans. Our experts also sample the coffee to track its progress. It can take up to five years before the beans are ready.

Sumatran coffee is special to begin with. But the painstaking aging process creates a unique and rare coffee. With notes of cedar and toasted marshmallow, aged Sumatra is a gift we love to share during the holiday season. It gives Starbucks® Christmas Blend its heart and soul. Lively Latin American and mellow Indonesian coffees complete this blend.

We’ve been celebrating with Starbucks® Christmas Blend since our early days when Starbucks only had five Seattle retail stores. More than three decades later, we’re just as excited for you to enjoy it. As you sip on this sweet and spicy holiday tradition, we hope you remember the remarkable journey these beans have taken, from the farm to your cup.

Starbucks® Christmas Blend Vintage 2016 is available online and at participating stores for a limited time. You can also order it brewed in stores while it lasts.

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