Starbucks Reserve Christmas 2016

Two unique coffee-growing origins unite in one delicious cup

by Michelle Flandreau | December 8, 2016
HOME Places Starbucks Reserve Christmas 2016

It’s a single cup of coffee, but it transports Aaron Robinson to two faraway lands. The spicy notes of Starbucks Reserve™ Christmas 2016 pull him back to the steamy, tropical hillsides of the volcanic Sumatra region. The citrus sweetness contained in each sip evokes colorful Costa Rica.

For several years, Aaron organized and led trips for fellow Starbucks partners (employees) to coffee-growing regions. The Starbucks Origin Experience provides store managers, executives and roasters alike an opportunity to experience coffee’s beginning in places like Sumatra and Costa Rica.

In some ways, these two coffee origins couldn’t be more different. But together, their flavors create a remarkable coffee.


Simply traveling to the Indonesian island of Sumatra feels remote. From Seattle, it takes more than 20 hours and at least three connecting flights to reach Medan, the capital of the North Sumatra province. Nevertheless, Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest coffee producer, behind Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia.

During his three trips to Sumatra, Aaron visited farms and processing facilities near Lake Toba, which formed after a massive volcanic eruption more than 70,000 years ago. Rich volcanic soil, a tropical climate and high elevation make Sumatra an ideal place to grow coffee.

 A woman picks coffee cherries at a farm in Sumatra.
A woman picks coffee cherries at a farm in Sumatra.
  Aaron at a dry mill in Berastagi, North Sumatra Province.
Aaron at a dry mill in Berastagi, North Sumatra Province.

Compared to the large estates found in Central and South America, Sumatra’s coffee farms are tiny. Driving down rural highland roads, you’ll spot coffee beans laid out to dry on colorful tarps in farmers’ backyards. It’s not uncommon to find other plants, like corn or tomatoes, intermixed with coffee trees.

The success of Sumatran coffee depends on countless people, from the women who handle most of the growing and harvesting to our coffee suppliers, the liaisons between farmers and buyers.

“It’s staggering how many individuals it takes to [produce coffee in Sumatra]. You could have an estate in Brazil that’s the same size, one farmer,” Aaron said. “That’s kind of why we call it the miracle of coffee. It really is a miracle that we get consistent, great coffee from there.”

Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, coffee isn’t just something you grow. It’s deeply ingrained in the country’s culture and economy. Simply put, coffee is a way of life.

With mild, dependable weather, diverse microclimates and fertile soil, Costa Rica lives up to the meaning of its name: rich coast. It’s a haven for growing coffee—something Costa Ricans have been doing since the 1700’s. Today, coffee remains a key export, and the government plays an active role in supporting coffee producers.

Nestled between the Poás Volcano and the bustling capital of San José, stunning panoramic views are afforded in all directions at Hacienda Alsacia, our coffee farm in Costa Rica. Rows of coffee trees with deep red cherries and waxy green leaves seem to stretch on forever. With lush rolling hills, it’s “a perfect setting.”

Aaron still remembers his first visit to Hacienda Alsacia in January 2014: “When I first stepped on it, it felt like the beginning of a movement, the beginning of something much bigger than all of us.”

He traveled there less than a year after Starbucks purchased the 240-hectare farm, which has become our global agronomy headquarters. Our mission: To help ensure the future of coffee by establishing and applying best practices, developing disease-resistant coffee trees, and sharing our sustainability research with farmers worldwide, whether or not they sell to us.

“I think it was a pride that you get that not just that we own it, but what we’re doing there in terms of agronomy research,” Aaron said.

Although the purpose of Hacienda Alsacia isn’t to supply Starbucks with coffee—we would use all of the farm’s coffee in a matter of hours—we love sharing it in small batches.

Starbucks Reserve™ Christmas 2016

Building on last year’s inaugural Starbucks Reserve Christmas coffee, this year’s blend once again combines two beloved coffees: Hacienda Alsacia® and aged Sumatra. This coffee represents the union of our expertise in farming and our expertise in aging coffee, says Aaron.

“To combine the old with the future and bring them together in single cup where they highlight the best in each other, I love that,” Aaron said.

With a medium body and high acidity, Hacienda Alsacia® naturally complements aged Sumatra, which has a low acidity and big body.

“Couple that with interesting notes from each, a nice citrus from Hacienda Alsacia and the spice from aged Sumatra, and you get something that’s complex and layered,” Aaron said.

For Aaron, each layer serves as a delicious reminder of his unforgettable travels to Sumatra and Costa Rica.

“It’s just a beautiful moment,” Aaron said. “It’s not just coffee anymore. It represents people and place.”

Coffee Notes
Warm woodsy aromas and holiday accents of mulled spices and orange zest

Starbucks Reserve™ Christmas 2016 is currently available in select stores and online.

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