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Review: Starbucks Christmas Blend 2010

In a Starbucks culture currently preoccupied with flavoured instant coffee and CD sales, it’s nice to see some traditions hold firm. Christmas Blend has been around for over a quarter century, and it’s good to see the coffee company that helped popularize specialty coffee can still remember its roots.

First off, the packaging is gorgeous this year. The red bags of the caffeinated blend – complete with geometrical trees and snowflakes, and a stylized scarf-wearing, coffee-holding woman staring toward the heavens – stands out on the shelf, and screams Christmas morning. But the decaf is even prettier, a shimmering blue bag with a man in mittens reaching skyward. Instead of warming red, it takes the icy road to winter wonderland. Either one would look lovely under a tree.

Starbucks describes the coffees as composed of “rare, aged Sumatran beans” combined with “earthy, full-bodied coffees from Asia/Pacific and lively beans from Latin America.”

Yes, yes. But what does it taste like?

Regular: Dark. Reeeeally dark. Smoky, woodsy. Starbucks describes it as cedary, and I’d firmly agree. It personally reminds me of the hot, dry, cedary air in the basement sauna in my childhood Winnipeg home. But that’s mostly all I get from it. There’s some spice, as described, but a lot of nuance gets lost in the roast, which is overpowering. It would make a great base for a bowl of café au lait.

Decaf: It’s almost identical to the regular blend, but not quite as good. You get all of the smoky roast without as much of the other flavours. Imagine the regular version as a razor-sharp cooking knife, and the decaffeinated blend as a venerable old blade in need of a little sharpening. It’s a bit washed out, but not fatally so. By caffeinated coffee standards, very good, but not amazing. By decaf standards, however, it’s a cut above.

RATINGS AND DETAILS

Cost: In Canada, $17.95 for a pound of caffeinated, and $18.95 for a pound of decaf. Caffeinated is also available by half-pound for $9.65.

Value for cash money: A little bit more than the standard Starbucks per-pound price. Sure, compared to Nabob, it’s expensive. But that’s not the point. Don’t be the guy who complains to the barista at the till about how expensive their coffee is.

Availability:
If you can find a Starbucks, you can find a pound of Christmas Blend.

Nutrition?: Neutral. It’s all about what you add to it. Cream and sugar? Watch that waistline grow.

Espresso?: There’s a special espresso blend this year. If curiosity gets the better of me, I may have to try it. If you’ve sampled some, leave a note in the comments.

The verdict: It’s a once-a-year thing. If you love that traditional dark-roasted Starbucks flavour, have at it. I’ll probably grab an extra bag or two for January while they’re still in season.

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