The word holiday attached to a coffee presumes one of two related functions: Either you drink it at your celebrations or give it to someone else to drink at their celebrations. Roasted coffee is not something you save for next year. Coffee is an existentially authentic gift; it lives in the now.
The eleven coffees sent to us by eight roasters fall into two further categories: special holiday-oriented blends that lean toward the hearty and cockle-warming, and coffees the roasters simply felt proud enough of to think that they would light up someone’s solstice.
Among single origins, the two perennial holiday favorites show up here: Jamaica and Hawaii, although the Hawaii, surprisingly, is not a Kona but an engaging entry from the small island of Molokai. A superb Guatemala from Finca La Tacita, one of the jewels of the Antigua valley, tops the ratings in a tactfully roasted presentation by Caravan Coffee.
The spiced Holiday Blend from Mountanos Brothers is an interesting entry. For years I have wondered why coffee companies resorted to cloying, artificially flavored coffees when they could achieve wonderful effects by adding natural spices and other dried ingredients to whole bean coffees, just as blenders have done for centuries with teas. Natural ingredients like vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest, star anise, etc. discreetly combined with whole-bean coffees produce blends with a natural sweetness and a seductive aftertaste free of the metallic tones contributed by artificial flavorings.
At any rate, the Mountanos Brothers Holiday Blend is an excellent offering in the largely unpopulated arena of naturally flavored coffee blends, although I found myself craving a bit more power in the coffee component, an Africa or Yemen perhaps, darker roasted, to punch up the coffee contribution.