It’s about that time of year — the air thrums with the holiday melodies of Bing and Nat and Manheim Steamroller, thrills with aromas of spruce and spice, and shop-fronts and shoppers alike dress in their Christmas finery — surely, Thanksgiving Day will soon be here.

What a wonderful, whacky world.

There’s my cue to undertake what’s become my own, personal holiday tradition… one which I look upon with all the optimism of the tyke I once was on Christmas morning, and all of the dread and frustration of the dad who’s discovered at 1 am in the morning that “Some assembly required” is a clever code for “You’re screwed… and you forgot the batteries, too, chump.” Been there.

It’s time for the Holiday Blend. Again.

Every year I take stock of the greens in my coffee cupboard, and puzzle through my roasting notes and tasting notes and post-it notes that are supposed to cross-reference one against the other. And I nod and I scheme and I imagine I just might pull it off this year… with some of this nippy Central, and — oh, definitely — a bit of that aged Sumatra, and maybe the Nicaraguan to lend it some velvet texture and oomph in the middle.

Or, maybe I’ll try an African base. The Rwanda was stunning, after all — oh! — it’s all gone. Well, that natural process Ethiopian was stunning, too… and it might marry up nicely with the Bali that had a bit of a briny something to it (won’t need the aged coffee with that) and… and… ah! round it out with that honeyed miel from El Salvador.

And so it goes.

This, dear reader, is how my annual lesson in patience and humility begins. With hubris — and the unflinching certainty that this year I’ve mapped the sensory experience of these coffees so well that I can play them back at will, recall the flavors and aromas and textures of all these coffees from far-flung origins, turn them over in my head until — like fitting an enchanted lock with its magical key — everything clicks, and a sensory symphony is revealed.

What utter crap. I am not Iron Chef Cadmus. I am not able to — with nothing but imagination and sheer force of will — assemble heretofore unimagined taste sensations so startling as to cause a Japanese movie queen to squeal and simper and laugh without covering her mouth. But I’ll try, anyway. And I’ll fail. Thoroughly.

In the end, I’ll do it the old-fashioned way. The way that works. Not with the bold strokes of an old master, but with the humble patience of a simple craftsman. I’ll roast coffees individually. I’ll brew coffees individually. I’ll taste coffees individually. And then I’ll measure and mix the brewed coffees, mingle aromas and flavors and textures, and carefully consider the results. And in the end — through persistence, and no small amount of failure — I will have a coffee that is more than the sum of its parts. Perhaps not a sensory symphony… but a catchy tune in its own right.

And in the end, that’s what I’ll roast and package and share with friends and neighbors — my holiday blend — humble patience.

Happy Holidays, one and all.

More: coffee | tasting | roasting | blending | christmas | iron+chef

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