How a tradition began: The story behind Starbucks Christmas Blend coffees

Lineup of Holiday coffee bags on green background

Every November, colorful bags of Starbucks holiday coffees arrive in stores, beckoning to be scooped up as a gift or as the perfect accompaniment to a festive meal. The original Christmas Blend, introduced in 1984, has been a holiday tradition at Starbucks even longer than the Peppermint Mocha or red holiday cups, beloved for its special blend of Latin American and rare aged Sumatran beans. Over the years, the holiday coffee family has grown to include new varieties like Starbucks Holiday Blend and Christmas Blend Espresso Roast, with fresh twists on the classic recipe.­­­ Their packaging helps tell the story of more than three decades of coffee passion and craft – if you know where to look.

“The coffee packaging is always like these little jewels that show up in the store that cue the holidays,” said Jeff Wilkson, creative director for Starbucks, whose team led this year’s holiday design. “They are so beautiful and they have a little bit of shine to them.”

When Starbucks first introduced Christmas Blend, it was packed into plain brown paper bags to be brewed at home. But as Starbucks transformed from a whole-bean retailer to a coffeehouse, its bags became vessels for visual storytelling starting with decorative adhesive stamps and later with higher tech packaging that uses a printed laminated film, called “­­rollstock,” with a FlavorLock™ seal to help the beans to taste fresh longer. The new rollstock packages offered a larger canvas for sharing each coffee’s unique story through images and words. Christmas Blend could  wrapped as a treasured gift – bedecked with boughs of holly, snow-filled scenes, or shimmering ornaments – along with tasting notes and brewing tips from the blend’s creators.

The artwork for the 2020 Starbucks holiday coffee bag draws from this long and vibrant tradition. Each one distinctive, with traditional reds, greens and gold with highlights of sugar plum and candy pink. They also tie into this year’s holiday cup design, with iconography pulled from the ribbon cup – like the Siren’s crown, tail and scales.

The coffees inside the bags are just as beautiful. Inspired by the original flavors of the holiday blends, Starbucks team of expert coffee developers built upon their comfort, tradition, and familiarity while also bringing new coffees from Asia, Africa and Latin America. They also considered brewing methods such as iced and cold brew and savory pairings as well as sweet.

“What I love about all the holiday coffees this year is that there are so many new origins and so many unique, extraordinary sensory experiences, across the portfolio,” said Mary Mayorquin, senior manager for Starbucks Global Coffee Strategy and Development.

Christmas Blend

This year’s Christmas Blend has all the sweetness and spice of the original, with notes of herbs, baking spices and a velvety rich chocolate finish. The 2020 blend features dark-roasted beans from Guatemala, Colombia and Papua New Guinea that come together to highlight the hero of this cup: rare aged Sumatra. The bag’s botanical design features coffee cherries and leaves that are reminiscent of holly. Available as whole bean, decaf, ground and Starbucks VIA® formats.

Decaf Christmas Blend

While Christmas Blend is usually clad in a jolly red, its decaffeinated counterpart is most often a soothing green – the perfect cup for a cozy night in. ­­This year’s packaging is no exception, with a design that evokes the Siren’s tail and the wavy sea.

Christmas Blend Espresso Roast

Christmas Blend Espresso Roast has been tailor-made for espresso enthusiasts since 2010. It’s inspired by the flavors of Christmas Blend and Starbucks® Espresso Roast with a rich, spicy-sweet cup that tastes like the happiest of holidays. This year’s coffee features sun-dried Ethiopia Sidama beans to complement the blend of Costa Rican and Sumatran coffee. The red and green packaging with its half-moon motif is as bold and decadent as the blend, adding a feeling of luxury to a classic brew.

Starbucks® Holiday Blend

In 2013, Starbucks wanted to offer customers a unique medium-roast blend for the holidays and created a recipe that also features bright Latin American and smooth Indonesian coffees. The result is an elegant flavor with layers of maple and herbal notes that are balanced with a medium acidity and body. The packaging captures the coffee’s mellow vibe, you can almost see the languid swish of the Siren’s tail in the bag’s plum-colored design. Available as whole bean coffee at Starbucks stores. Also available (in festive red packaging) in grocery locations in ground, K-Cup*, Nespresso and Starbucks VIA® formats.

Starbucks Reserve™ Christmas 2020

Starbucks Reserve™ coffees have a keepsake card affixed to every package, each is its own work of art like the coffees themselves. Since 2015, Starbucks Reserve™ Christmas has been a vibrant, modern expression of the holiday, with savory spice notes and a bright sweetness. The blend, roasted at Starbucks Reserve™ Roastery locations, features three rare and remarkable coffees: Hacienda Alsacia™, from our Starbucks Costa Rica farm, returns with hints of citrus alongside aged Sumatra, long treasured for its earthy, aromatic spice. New this year is the inclusion of full-bodied Sulawesi coffee from the Indonesian archipelago. These hand-selected beans, cultivated by smallholder farmers, bring a delicate butterscotch sweetness to the 2020 blend. This year’s artwork reflects the rare and magical elements of these three coffees coming together. Orange, butterscotch and warm spices all inspired the colorways, iconography and textures in this artwork with greens and reds coming in to help further celebrate the holiday season.

Available at Starbucks Reserve Roastery locations and select stores that offer Clover™-brewed coffees in the United States and Canada.

* Keurig, K-Cup, and the K logo are trademarks of Keurig Green Mountain, Inc., used with permission.

thumbnail for 5 things to know about first-ever Starbucks Promises Day

5 things to know about first-ever Starbucks Promises Day