At a Glance: blend (Guatemala, Aged Java Jampit, East Africa); full body; chocolate, spice, floral, fruit; mild acidity; semi-washed, aged

Seasons greetings, fellow coffee enthusiasts. And welcome back to my table here in the corner of Peet’s Coffee and Tea in Evanston, Illinois. Once again, we’re back at my old stomping grounds. This time, though, we’re visiting my former employer to check out their annual Holiday Blend, which is typically pretty good, but has been incrementally getting better and better year after year. I’m always excited to have the opportunity to review a new Peet’s offering, but I’m particularly excited today because I remember their 2010 Holiday Blend being incredible; so I can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store for 2011.

Care to join me? Feel free to pull up a chair.

I was always a big single origin snob until I started working at Peet’s Coffee and Tea. Until then, I avoided blended coffees because I felt that throwing a bunch of beans from all over the place into a roaster compromised the characteristics and traits any particular origin offered. Of course, my only contact with coffee blends came from the likes of Starbuck or Caribous or other companies that could easily be found on the shelves of big-chain grocery stores. When I became a Peetnik, I became kind of the store’s “bean guy” because I was so good at tasting and selling beans, and I was amazed at how amazed I was whenever I tried one of their blends—Major Dickason’s, Mocha Java, Espresso Forte, Uzuri African Blend, and Blend 101 were particularly tasty. When their 2010 Holiday Blend came around, I officially became a believer in blends.

I became even more of an appreciator of blended coffee when my manager allowed me to use their beans to create my own blends. That was when I realized and came to fully appreciate the art of blending coffees to achieve maximum flavor. Blending coffee effectively is a tremendous talent, and a talent that Peet’s Coffee and Tea is a demonstrated master of.

Their 2011 Holiday Blend is a continuation of that artisan mastery.

This year’s blend is truly a global representation of coffee, as it features beans from all over the world. There’s a Guatemala (which has made appearances in all of their past Holiday Blends (as far as I know)), some beans from a non-specific East African source (could be Rwanda or Kenya, I believe), and an aged Java from the Jampit Estate (which I’m particularly excited about). These three regions combine to create a truly wonderful, well-rounded cup of coffee; but before we get into how they taste together, let’s see how they taste apart from each other.

Guatemala seems to be one of Peet’s favorite regions to shop. Their single origin Guatemala San Sebastian is seriously one of the best Guatemalas I’ve ever tasted, and the only things we know about one of their signature blends, JR’s Reserve, is that it was specially created by their head coffee buyer, Jim Reynolds, it is his favorite coffee, it’s delicious, and the recipe is a secret. The only ingredient that even Peetniks know is Guatemala. Guatemala also played a big role in last year’s holiday blend, so it comes as no surprise to find it featured so prominently once again. Guatemalas are traditionally medium to full bodied cups of coffee and have notes of chocolate, caramel, earthiness, dried fruits, and spice.

East African coffees are sort of similar to Guatemalas in that they feature earthiness and chocolate (albeit more prominently). What separates East African coffees from the rest of the world, however, is that the fruits you taste are more tropical, and they’re also traditionally very floral, both in aroma and flavor. Think of jasmine, juniper, violet, or lilac.

The aged Java Jampit Estate, which has never been featured by Peet’s before, is the wild card in this year’s holiday blend. I, of course, often drank their Mocha Java blend—which is certainly in my top three Peet’s offerings. Their Mocha Java is full-bodied, very chocolaty, very deep, very smooth. It’s one of the most straightforward blends Peet’s has, and one of the most delicious. It’s a lot drinking a mocha or hot cocoa—that’s how chocolaty it was. So, obviously, it tasted even better with a splash of milk, and it was beyond comparison when made as a breve cafe au lait.

Because the aging process is known to make the flavors of any given coffee more intense, I would have assumed that the aged Java would be almost too intensely chocolaty. The only thing I can imagine would be more chocolaty than a super-intense Java would be a dark-chocolate Godiva bar. Instead, I was surprised that it was actually more mellow. It was still very chocolaty, obviously, but it also had a really nice nuttiness, and was creamier, which made it even more smooth, rather than intense.

Surprisingly, none of these characteristic flavors were even remotely compromised in the blending of the three regions. Usually, at least one or two flavors will disappear, or become so faint it may as well have disappeared. But with the 2011 Holiday Blend, they all played off each other and played well together.

Immediately post-brew, the aroma was intoxicating. The creaminess of the Java was present, like the scent of a hot cappuccino. There was also a smooth, sweet nuttiness of almonds and hazelnuts, and faint floral notes.

The flavor, though, had me swooning even more. Each region represented itself in three separate stages of the coffee. The Guatemala made its presence known as the blend’s backbone, providing a strong and steady support of chocolate, burnt caramel, toffee, and hazelnut. The Guatemala, though, was merely the Art Garfunkel to the aged Java’s Paul Simon, because that was the real star of the show. The nuttiness and creaminess in the aroma carried over into the taste and combined into a sweet, smooth, satisfying finish. As the cup cooled, the East Africa beans got a chance to shine by providing really sweet floral notes of lilac and violet, and an even more satisfying tropical fruitiness with a mild acidity.

The Bottom Line

Peet’s Coffee and Tea’s 2011 Holiday Blend is an absolutely wonderful cup of coffee that I can guarantee any coffee lover will appreciate, which makes it a really good holiday gift idea for the coffee lover in your family. The three regions and all of their characteristic flavors are all very present, while still combining to create a superior overall taste, so whether you’re a fan of Africas, Indo/Pacifics, or Americas, there will be something for you to fall in love with here. Holiday Blend is a well-rounded, full-bodied cup of coffee with notes of chocolate, fruit, flora, caramel, cream, and nuts with a mild acidity and smooth finish.

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