Holy-moly – Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider is a dang good cider. I certainly love a good apple, whether straight off the tree or freeze-dried. Apples are, as far as I’m concerned the perfect fruit. Apples have it all – nutrition, sweetness, crispness, juiciness, an easy to store, easy to carry package, a pleasant shape and an appealing aroma. It’s entirely possible that apples are my favorite fruit of all time. Sure, I like me some mango, but that’s more of a tragic obsession than love. When it comes to the fruit you’d want to be married to, that’s an apple, no question.
As much as I love apples, what I love even more is apple cider, that most delicious of all apple-based beverages. Why they even bother to make apple juice when cider is so clearly superior I’ll never understand. I’m sure some of you out there might be saying “Isn’t the line between apple cider and apple juice hazy at best, with no one authority having definitively establish the criteria for what separates apple cider from juice?” Well, that may be so, anonymous educated cider guy, but to paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewarts‘ ruling on obscenity, I know it when I taste it.
A better question might be, why should I buy this apple cider when Trader Joe’s standard Spiced Apple Cider (and, to a lesser extent, pear cider) have always done me just fine? Well, friend, that’s what I used to say too. TJ’s spiced apple cider is delicious, could this cider really be that much better? Yes – yes it absolutely is. In fact, this is the best grocery-store available apple cider I’ve ever had. It may not beat a fresh pressed cup of cider straight from the orchard, but it’s close.
The secret of the deliciousness is in its simplicity. Take a look at the side of your jug of TJ’s spiced apple cider – you’ll notice that it’s adulterated with a variety of other fruit juices in addition to the eponymous spices. Now look at the side of Trader Joe’s 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider. One ingredient – just one. Honey crisp apple juice. That, my friends, is a dedication to purity that you can taste in the finished product. Each cup of Trader Joe’s Honey Crisp Apple Cider is an explosion of deep, complex mellow sweetness, cut through with bright, tart notes. Any given mouthful is a flavorful journey into a country where the forces of sweetness and tartness war with each other. At any given moment one side winning out, in the next moment the other. It’s a hard fought war, but the victor is always deliciousness.
If you ask me, this should be your go to cider for the rest of the season. I haven’t found a cider on the market that competes with the richness and intensity of fresh flavor that Trader Joe’s delivers here. If Autumn just hasn’t felt like Autumn to you yet, pick up a bottle of this today, and let the seasonal feeling seep into your soul.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is some excellent cider.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes – and I hope it will be coming back next year as well.
Final Synopsis: A 100% pure apple cider with tart notes that does cider right.
I tend to avoid reviewing coffee drinks for the same reason I tend to avoid reviewing cheese and beer – I’m simply out of my depth when it comes to the breadth and depth of knowledge possessed by all the armchair experts out there. There was one guy who posted a comment about my Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate review that I’m still afraid to post because of its excoriating intensity and essay length. Nevertheless I’m going forward with this review of Trader Joe’s delicious Mocha Cappucino Mix because I figure powdered coffee drinks get a pass. I enjoy them, so I imagine that no self respecting coffee snob would be seen dead with a can of this stuff in his cupboard.
Allow me to start out strong by saying, coffee drinks have always confounded me. I understand that coffee means water filtered through coffee grounds. What perplexes me is how the countless, subtle changes in this proportion lead to a bewildering array of different names. Coffee americano, expresso, macchiato, cortado, cafe latte, cafe au lait, frappucino – the list, I’m sure, goes on. I’m aware that some of these have milk in them, and some don’t, but that’s about it.
Turning to the internet, I hoped to clear up this muzzy-headed understanding of what makes a cappuccino uniquely a cappuccino before today’s post. Sadly, I failed. The traditional definition of a cappuccino is an espresso, mixed with milk and topped with foamed milk, each in approximately equal proportions. On the other hand, a cafe latte also seems to be defined in the exact same way – the chief difference being that cafe lattes are served in larger cups that don’t have handles, whereas cappucinos are served in smaller cups with handles. In other words, the name of the drink changes depending one what kind of glass you serve it in – which is a daunting thought and one that I’m glad doesn’t apply to other categories of food. It’s possible that I’ve got this all wrong, so I’ll cite my source here – a slipshod wikipedia page.
In any case, Trader Joe’s Mocha Cappuccino has nothing to do with any of this. There is no expresso, hot milk or milk foam involved at any point. Instead, there is a tin of powdered coffee, powdered milk and powdered chocolate that you mix with hot water. The results, rather surprisingly. are very good.
I’ve been burnt by Trader Joe’s powdered milk and tea mixes in the past, burnt bad, so I wasn’t confident that their powdered milk and coffee mixes would be much better. Fortunately, I was wrong. It might be the chocolate that pulls it together, but a little this mix is quite good hot or cold. The balance between sweet, sugary chocolate (or mocha, as we may call it here) and bitter coffee is just right, giving you that Starbucks confectionery blast that may not make for a classical cappuccino, but sure is tasty. 20 grams of sugar per scoop makes this far from a health drink, but if you’re in the mood to buy a drink called Mocha Cappucino you’re probably ready to be a little decadent.
If there’s anything that bothers me about Trader Joe’ Mocha Cappuccino mix, it’s the powdered milk. While the drink certainly benefits from a touch of creaminess, it still leaves that lingering “I am not real milk” taste on the edge of your tongue. If TJ’s had just stuck to the coffee and mocha side, and let us add the cream ourselves, I’d have been happier. And even though the powdered milk still tastes like powdered milk, at least it’s natural powdered milk. Trader Joe’s is proud to boast that this mix doesn’t have any artificial flavors or preservatives in it, which is actually something of a rarity in the powdered coffee drink field.
And really, in the end, it’s not really a deal breaker – at only $3.99 for the whole tin there’s more than enough value in it to justify the purchase.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, if you want that Starbucks fix in the comfort of your home.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably not, I’ll leave the coffee drinking to the coffee drinkers.
Final Synopsis: A powdered chocolate and cappuccino mix that tastes better than it sounds.
I’m sorry, what? Can you repeat that please? Did you say, Trader Joe’s BBQ Rub and Seasoning with Cofffee and Garlic? Does that make any sense at all? This one is truly mind boggling. I knew Trader Joe’s didn’t give a flying fig about convention, I knew that the second I saw them stocking Toasted Pumpkin Seed Oil on their shelves, I knew that when I picked up their Avagadro’s Number themed guacamole, but even I didn’t dream they were this dangerously unhinged.
I’d like to put myself in the mindset of the Trader Joe’s food scientist who dreamed up this insane blend of seasonings, but I’m afraid to do so would be to permanently wrench my psyche from it’s bearings. Coffee grounds and garlic – blended together, for the sake of rubbing on your meat. It’s got to be a stunt, right? Maybe there isn’t that much coffee in it, or maybe it’s, like, a type of coffee that isn’t really coffee. Let’s just check out the ingredient label.
Ingredient #1: Coffee. Period.
Okay, we’ll, there’s a bunch of other stuff in here too. Look – brown sugar, salt, garlic, um… paprika… and, uh, clemengold rind,? Which is apparently the skin of the Nandorcott mandarin orange? Okay, that’s a new one. At any rate, it must, like, all blend together in a way that sort of hides the strong coffee taste amid many flavors. Let’s just open it up and take a whiff. Wow – nope, that’s coffee. That is straight up coffee. I can’t imagine this is going to be any good.
And this, folks, is where it gets even crazier. After all that, when you really get down to it, this seasoning is spicy, flavorful, intriguing, nuanced, and totally worth your $1.99.
Crazy though it may sound to me, coffee rubs are not a wholesale invention of Trader Joe’s. Many in the hardcore slow-cooked meat world have experimented with the intriguing addition of robust coffee grounds to otherwise ordinary rubs. Despite the intense coffee smell of the rub, the taste is actually much more diverse and interesting. Coffee, being coffee, has a smell that tends to overshadow everything around it. On the tongue, however, that bold, bitter coffee taste is joined by a medley of other equally strong flavors that stand out on their own. The coffee gives way, in turn, to sparks of sweetness, sudden notes of saltiness, and the simmering, low key spiciness of the garlic and paprika.
These flavors do not blend, but tussle for position on your taste buds, and that’s what makes this rub work. It’s not a single flavor, or polite union of similar flavors, it’s a raucous dust up of competing tastes. It’s a tour of the whole tongue, with fun flavors for every taste bud. I’d be interested to see how this stuff would taste without all the coffee in it, to be honest, but having the coffee is what makes it really stand out. While other rubs commonly play up to saltiness, Trader Joe’s Coffee and Garlic Rub plays up the boldness, and it’s this strong base note that gives the riot of other flavors the grounds to go wild.
Trader Joe’s also suggests that you can use this rub as a seasoning on veggies, fish, etc. I’m not sure I’d recommend that myself. While it isn’t bad, per se, the rub is so intense that it can only really be used in tiny amounts, and even then you probably want to mix in another, more traditional seasoning to round out the taste.
One final caveat – make sure you leave yourself plenty of time for the flavors of the rub to permeate your ribs, steaks etc. Trader Joe’s recommends at least an hour – but the longer you wait the richer the flavor in the end. Give this rub as much time as possible on your meat, and apply it generously, for the full effect. Just don’t wait until too late at night to eat. This is real coffee in the rub and, as I discovered, a late dinner might leave up for hours.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely. This will shake up your life a little.
Would I Buy It Again: I think I’ll stock up on a little more.
Final Synopsis: A bold, mix of bitter, salty and sweet flavors that you should try at least once.
Tangy coffee – do you like it? If you can answer that one question for yourself, there will be no need to read the rest of this post about Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus “European style” low fat yogurts. I will repeat it once again – do you like the taste of tangy coffee?
Very probably you have never had tangy coffee before, you might be confused by these words – angered by them even. No problem, friend. Just relax, sit back, close your eyes… and imagine. Imagine sipping a cup of coffee, imagine that unmistakable coffee aftertaste, that bold, full-roast dark coffee flavor that sits on the tongue like burnt toast. Now imagine it’s also real tangy. Tangy like a glass of Tropicana orange drink. Tangy, tangy coffee, sitting on your tongue, and also it’s cold. Do you like that idea?
If you’ve said yes, hold on tight because we are going to get into this. If, and I’m guessing this is more likely, you said no then you can feel free to navigate away from this browser tab right now. You sir, will not like Trader Joe’s Coffeehaus yogurts because if there’s one thing they have, it’s a serious tanginess.
Let’s unspool this for a moment. There’s about five different things going on in the name of this product alone, and it could do with a little unpacking before we start laying into if I, personally, enjoyed this thing or not.
To begin, let’s start with what a “European style” yogurt might be, and why Trader Joe’s feels they need to single that notion out for some reason – not just by name, but by packaging, iconography and font as well. How, in fact, is European yogurt different from the Greek yogurts, French yogurts and Swiss yogurts which can all also be found in Trader Joe’s yougurt aisle? The straight forward, if basically uncorrect, answer is that “European style” yogurt is called as such because it isn’t going to sit well with the average American. More specifically, it’s much less firm than standard grocery store yogurt, and much more tangy due to the presence of the many live, active bacteria cultures fermenting it full of lactic acid.
Now, every yogurt in the world is a product of bacteria cultures – that’s just the basic nature of its existence, but it’s not a fact that the big commercial yogurt companies like to play up on TV here in the States. The “now full of more live bacteria colonies than ever before” pitch is just not one that appeals to the standard demographic. As such, the bacterial nature of yogurt has been downplayed to the point where it’s almost totally overlooked. For the same reason, your usual grocery store yogurt varies between “slightly tangy” and “not tangy at all”.
Much more common in the US are the standard, “custard” style yogurts where fruit and thickening agents have been blended into a firm, sugary, low-bacteria yogurt. Confusingly, custard style yogurt can also be called French or Swiss style yogurt, despite the fact that they are much more American than European in sensibility. In fact, real Swiss yogurt (yogurt made by the Swiss in Switzerland) must, by Swiss law, contain a certain minimum number of bacterial colonies to even be considered yogurt.
So, to summarize, by saying “European Style” Trader Joe’s is singling that this is going to be some bacteria-filled, tangy yogurt, and you’d better be ready for that. They are as good as their word as well – each type of their coffeehaus yogurt comes packed with four different live and active cultures: S. thermophillus, L. Bulgaricus, L. Aciodphilus, and Bifidus. I don’t know quite enough about biology to expound on what all the important differences are between these, but I can tell you that you can sure as hell taste them in every tangy, zingy bite.
The other unusual aspect of these European style yogurts are their rather continental flavors. Dannon and Yoplait may have turned every type of cream pie and sherbet into a yogurt flavor, but even they haven’t yet done a straight up mocha or dark chocolate yet. While that might not go over very well in a custard style yogurt, it makes for a very nuanced bite here. The subtle bitterness of the dark chocolate and the mocha both play against the sourness of the yogurt, the tang of the lactic acid and the gentle sweetness of the added sugar. The result is a yogurt that challenges the tongue to a unique flavor experience, not merely a confection of high sugar content sweetness that passes the gums unnoticed.
So do I like tangy coffee? In this case, yes. I’ve had sweet yogurt, and I’ve had unsweetened yogurt, but I’ve never had yogurt that takes a path separate from sweetness all together. Tangy, bitter yogurt is an intriguing development, and one that I could easily see myself enjoying on my classier mornings.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – if you’re willing to give a whole new yogurt experience a chance.
Would I Buy It Again: I’d like to think that I’m just cultured enough to do so.
Final Synopsis: A very tangy, somewhat bitter, somewhat sweet, sophisticated yogurt.
Trader Joe’s Watermelon Cucumber Cooler is one of those surprising products that doesn’t quite seem to fit at Trader Joe’s. Do-it-yourself fusion sushi? Sure. Popcorn seasoned with brown butter and french herbs? Why not. But a watermelon cooler? A summery, watermelon drink called a “cooler”. That seems oddly plebeian on the shelves next to Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade, and Trader Joe’s Italian Blood Orange Soda.
As much as I like Trader Joe’s, my blue collar roots sometimes rebel at the rather fancy image Joe likes to cultivate for himself. It’s a bit of a relief to see them throw the word “cooler” around on a relaxed summer drink – much in the tradition of Cactus Cooler and HI-C’s long mourned Ecto-Cooler. That may sound like I’m trying to damning this product with faint praise, but I mean it genuinely. Whether it’s pink lemonade or cherry coke, summer is the time for unnatural sugary drinks to bring out the kid in us. It’s the time for pretensions to fall to the way side and kick back with a nickle glass of Kool-aid and a slice of watermelon.
It’s in that very spirit that Trader Joe’s has given us this Watermelon Cucumber Cooler – a jug of refreshing, sweet and tasty juice flavored beverage. There’s not much to dislike with this beverage. What you see is what you get. Pour yourself a cool cup and you’ll taste exactly what it promises on the side, a sugar-sweetened, watermelon-flavored drink with the cool aftertaste of cucumbers.
I’m actually a fan of cucumbers in water. There’s something about the long, mellow aftertaste of a chilled cucumber that seems to slake the thirst as much as the water itself. The unsweetened cucucumber presence in this drink makes for an elegant grace note to what could have easily been one more too-sugary fruit drink. The Watermelon Cucumber Cooler strikes a balance closer to the unsweetened end of the drink spectrum than the overly sweet end. That makes it a rare participant in the summer drink wars – a beverage that satisfies the sweet tooth, quenches the thirst, refreshes with cucumber, and goes easy on the sugar.
Pairing watermelon off with cucumber in the first place might seem like a random choice – but not so random as it sounds. Both watermelon and cucumber are close cousins in the plant kindgom, siblings of the Family Cucurbitaceae, known generically, along with gourds and such, as curbits. This familial association makes for a fine flavor pairing, with the strong watermelon flavor blending seamlessly into the more understated cucumber, leaving you uncertain as to where the one taste ends and the other begins. Shine on you crazy curbits!
Sure, there’s still 23 grams of sugar per glass, but at least it’s from organic sugar and watermelon juice and not high fructose corn syrup. It’s not a health drink by any stretch of the imagination, just a fresh and refreshing take on the summer drink scene. If you’re not on the bad wagon with cucumber water to begin with, there may not be much here for you. If, on the other hand, you like cucumber water or have simply never tried it, I’d recommend this drink to quench your summer thirst.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – as long as you’re okay with the flavor of cucumbers.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll pick one up the next time I head down to the beach.
Final Synopsis: A refreshing, sweet-but-not-too-sweet summertime libation.
I really had no choice but to pick up Trader Joe’s French Market Sparkling French Berry Lemonade. Who could resist such a coy little bottle? Everything about this drink is designed to attract – from the sweeping curves of the bottle, to the cheery, blush colored drink, to the fanciful, inset labeling.
Once it’s caught your eye, once you’ve seen that this is not just lemonade, not just sparkling lemonade, but “French Berry” sparkling lemonade, well sir, you’re probably more than just a little bit intrigued. And that’s where the god damn geniuses over there at the Trader Joe’s Marketing department get you. Contrary to every other TJ product on the shelves, there’s not one word of explanation on the whole bottle. Nothing more than a nutrition label, a very elegant “refrigerate after opening”, and a tiny “product of France” notice, tucked away in one corner. Even the Trader Joe’s hand lotion has about a paragraph justifying its folksy existence to the world. All of that, and you’re not going to offer one word of explanation about what the hell a “french berry” is? My curiosity was piqued.
What you’ll find in this bottle is a truly delightful taste of bottled summertime pleasure. Sparkling fruit juices are by no means rare in this world. Martinelli’s, the unstoppable juggernaut of seasonal apple juice, is the most visible player, but they aren’t alone (as we saw with Ace Pumpkin Cider). What is rare, however, is a really well done carbonated fruit juice. Most, and Martinelli’s really comes to mind here, just decide to make the thing cloyingly sweet and call it a day. It takes a little bit of moxie and character to say to yourself, “Why can’t a sparkling fruit juice aspire to nuance and complexity?”
Let’s begin with the basics. When you get a bottle of Trader Joe’s French Market lemonade, you shouldn’t expect lemonade like Minute Maid likes to make. Outside of America, lemonade takes on strange and different meaning. In France, it happens to mean carbonated, lemon-flavored, clear sodas – including drinks like Sprite and 7-up – and by no mean’s including anything actually made from squeezed lemons, unless you’ve canned or bottled and carbonated it. That’s what Trader Joe’s have given us here in the form of a delightfully fizzy, tickle-your-nose style bottled drink. This French lemonade is also much less citrus-y than you might expect if you were raised on the pucker-your lips, homemade stuff. This sparkling lemonade has citrus notes that emerge from between the bubbles, tingling and buzzing the tongue lightly, but never approaching anything like sour.
Lemonade get even crazier the farther you get from central Europe. In Ireland, for example, they have three types of “lemonade”: clear, green and red. And if that hasn’t already terrified you into never leaving the country again, you might enjoy one of the fine salted lemonades of South East Asia.
Where Trader Joe’s Sparkling Lemonade really stands on it’s own, however, is in the light and fruity berry notes that infuse it. Subtle, mellow notes of strawberry lay over the light lemon flavor. With all the other flavors going on, plus the bubbles, the strawberry hardly tastes like strawberry at all, but simply a more general mixed berry taste. Nevertheless, it’s tasty, light and refereshing – not heavy and artificial like a lot of strawberry lemonades out there.
Wait a minute, strawberry? Where’s our eponymous “French Berry”, if that is in fact such a thing? Is it even used in this drink?
No, and yes, are your answers respectively. The french berry is indeed a real berry, but no french berry comes close to having a part in this “French Berry Lemonade”. The french berry is known by several names, among them “persian berry” and “avignon berry”, and is shockingly hard to uncover information about online. Despite it’s alluring appellations, the french berry is nothing more than the inedible fruit of an unexceptional buckthorn bush. It’s sole claim to fame, so far as I was able to uncover, is that medieval scribes used it to make a variety of dyes out of. What does that have to do with sparkling lemonade? Nothing. I expect that it was simply stuck on here because it sounds so much fancier than “strawberry”.
Weird naming conventions aside, this is still a fabulous summertime libation, pleasing to all the senses. What are the wages of enjoying such levity? About 130 calories a cup, and a 31 grams of sugar. That’s not all that bad for a full calorie soft drink, just be sure to enjoy your lovely tipples in moderation.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, this is a great alternative to normal soda and perfect picnic accompaniment.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, I’m looking forward to it.
Final Synopsis: A not too sweet, and very tasty, sparkling strawberry lemonade.
I was really excited for Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa to work out. On paper this sounds like a dangerously brilliant idea – combining a dark roast coffee with powdered cocoa to make a quick brewing mocha. Read the back of the can and you’ll get even more excited:
“You could go out and pay for a mocha, but with Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa you can make one – without any added sugars – right in your own kitchen.” The label goes on to reference the use of “chocolate fudge oil” and uses the word “choco-riffic”
Sounds pretty dang good, right? Maybe like a mixture of hot chocolate and dark coffee? Oh, if only. Sadly I found this coffee to be nothing of the sort.
The last time I reviewed a Trader Joe’s coffee product it was the incredible Cold Brewed Coffee Concentrate. I might be all but untrained in the art of understanding and appreciating coffee, but even I was blown away by that coffee’s mellow, smooth taste and convenience. As a rule, I try to avoid reviewing those things which have a vociferous armchair expert culture built up around them (wine, beer, cheese, etc). This isn’t so much out of fear of looking foolish in public so much as a desire to avoid being yelled at by indignant pundits. Nevertheless, bouyed up by the success of the cold brew concentrate, and the promise of numerous cups of rich mocha, I seized this can of grounds and took it home.
To my dismay, I discovered that this coffee is not at all what it appears to be. I suppose I should have been tipped off by the “No sugar added” bit in the description above.
The thing that I seem to always forget about chocolate, is that in it’s natural state it is inedibly bitter. Even an three quarters pure bar of chocolate is more like chewing on bark than enjoying a nice piece of confection. Chocolate needs a least a little sugar to taste good at all, and possibly some cream mixed in as well depending on your taste. Without any sugar added, you have nothing to protect you from the bitter, mouth curdling tannins. It’s like Trader Joe’s asked itself the question, “How can we make something even more bitter than straight, dark roasted coffee? We’ll add, 100% dark, bitter baking chocolate – of course!”
It’s a strange question and not one I feel need to be answered. All would be forgiven, of course, if the brew actually had a chocolaty taste too it. Shockingly, it doesn’t. Not a traditional mocha taste, at any rate. If you’re expecting the mocha brewed by this mix to be anything like a mocha you’d pick up at your corner coffee shop, you need to re-calibrate your expectations. There is a chocolate taste present in the coffee, technically, but it’s much more akin to the chocolate tones you might be told to expect in a beer or a wine. Think subtle hints of chocolate that emerge from a lingering undertone, not a tasty chocolaty infusion.
This is doubly strange considering that the cocoa is paired with the above mentioned “chocolate fudge oil”. This sounds utterly delicious on paper, but when I say the phrase out loud it sounds terribly wrong. Fudge oil? How does one get oil from fudge? Is someone loading baskets of raw fudges into a fudge press somewhere? The answer might very well be yes. Google turns up frighteningly few results regarding “fudge oil”, outside of opportunistic recipe sites that seize desperately on that rich search term.
The best I could dig up was a brief e-mail from Trader Joe’s Customer Support stating the following:
“The ingredient ‘Chocolate Fudge Oil’ used in our Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa is a natural oil that is derived from cocoa in a fudge form.”
Is this the same thing as cocoa oil? I simply do not know. Mysterious ingredients aside, Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa is a straight coffee and nothing else. Could you make a resonable mocha out of it if you added some cream and sweetener and chocolate. Sure, but that defeats the point, doesn’t it? Come to this product if you’re looking for yet another subtly flavored medium-dark roast coffee. Those seeking something sweeter should stay away.
Would I Recommend It: Not if you’re looking for a mocha. Yes, if you just like coffee.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t drink much of either mocha or coffee, so probably not.
Final Synopsis: A totally acceptable medium-dark roast coffee misleadingly presents itself as a mocha.
Wow, guys – I could not have been more shocked when I saw Trader Joe’s Matcha Green Tea Latte Mix on the shelf the other day. There it was, just as I had envisioned it, the elegant solution I had lambasted TJ’s for overlooking the first time around.
If you missed it, Trader Joe’s first take on powdered green tea mix was the oh-so-close-but-oh-so-very-far Tropical Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Mix. It was a perfectly serviceable instant tea mix, ruined beyond the point of salvage by the addition of indefinably generic “tropical” flavors that were cloyingly sweet and rather revolting. This time around, it looked like Trader Joe’s decided to leave out the “tropical” and the “sweetened” and just give us a elegant, refined, affordable tin of instant matcha green tea.
Or did they?
The sad fact is, we have been duped again. At least TJ”s “tropical sweetened matcha” sounded unappealing. This new Matcha Green Tea Latte sounds and looks delightful, then it kicks you in the butt and pees in your mouth.
Where Joe went wrong the first time around was with the heaping spoonfuls of sugar they ladled into the otherwise refined and subtle green tea mix. For some reason, they decided to do the exact same thing again. Let’s check out the label: ingredient number one, cane sugar. In this case, that means a hefty 18 grams of sugar per three tablespoon serving.
“Oh, only eighteen?” I think I hear someone saying, “Well that’s not so bad, is it?” Oh, I don’t know, why don’t we compare that to an equal quantity of pure sugar. Three tablespoons of 100% golden brown cane sugar weighs in at 28 grams of sugar. We can do a little bit of factoring and determine that our matcha mix is about 66% sugar, and 33% tea and other stuff. That other stuff, by the way, shouldn’t be overlooked either. Of our remaining 33%, “tea” places third behind two other ingredients – coconut oil (#2) and good old fashioned maltodextrin (#3).
As long as we’re hanging out back here in the nutrition facts, we might cast an eye to the calorie content. There are 105 calories in 3 tablespoons of pure sugar, and 160 calories in 3 tablespoons of TJ’s matcha mix. How’d they manage to be more caloric than pure sugar? Why, with all the added fat of course – 10% of your daily fat in take in each serving. “What’s fat doing in my powdered tea mix”” you might very reasonably be wondering. Why, ruining it of course!
When Trader Joe’s left the word “sweetened” out of the product name, I foolishly assumed that it wouldn’t be sweetened. My mistake. What I should have been focusing on instead was the word “latte” which slipped in there. A latte, as we all know, is a beverage that has been mixed with milk – usually frothy, steamed milk, but in this day and age it gets applied rather more liberally than that. For instance, Trader Joe’s is using it here to refer to powdered milk mixed with sodium caseinate, a milk protein derivative. Technically, infinite shelf life powdered milk substitute counts as real milk. In reality, however, your green tea latte will taste less like a real latte and much more like tea with a whole ton of non-dairy creamer dumped all over it.
Overall Trader Joe’s Matcha Green Tea Latte Mix is just a rather unappealing product. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – there’s plenty of room out there for a simple powdered green tea mix, and deep down under all the nonsense at play here there’s a core of a nice matcha. Unfortunately it’s adulterated beyond the point of wasting your time or money on.
Trader Joe’s, I’m not sure who’s asking for this, but please stop listening to them.
Would I Recommend It: No, please don’t encourage Trader Joe’s to do this again.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe as a gift for someone I wish ill upon.
Final Synopsis: A perfectly good green tea mix – ruined by too much sugar and artificial creamer.
After rebuffing, then falling in love with, then losing Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Tea, I nearly leapt with joy when I saw Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai on the shelf. Could it fill the hot drink void in my life? Certainly I’ve enjoyed just about every cup of chai I’ve ever drunk, so it was hard to imagine that a Trader Joe’s tea wouldn’t manage to clear that rather low bar. I’m delighted to report that Trader Joe’s does manage to hit that rather easy target, and earns a few bonus points to boot.
The first thing to know about chai tea is that chai literally means “tea” in numerous languages, so any time you say “chai tea” you’re actually saying “tea tea” and that’s just silly so, you know, knock it off.
Trader Joe’s nimbly side steps this common error by naming their tea Spiced Chai, which is a very deft bit of wordsmanship. They avoid the sort of nit-picky redundancy grammar jerks like me enjoy pointing out, while simultaneously being exactly technically correct (seeing as this is a spiced tea) and drops in a neat descriptor that makes their chai sound quite tasty. I go pretty hard on TJ’s marketing wonks around here, but whoever came up with this one deserves a sweet cash bonus.
The chai we commonly think of in America is more accurately called masala chai, or “mixed-spice tea” in Hindi. Like most folk foods, such as ajvar, there isn’t one official spice mix that makes up “real” chai. Despite that, Trader Joe’s chai mix would undoubtedly pass snuff on chai wallah carts up and down Assam. No sooner do you flip open the box then that redolent, nose-twitching bouquet of bewitching spices bursts out, screaming chai left and right. Trader Joe’s Spiced Chai hits upon all the usual chai notes – cinnamon, ginger, cloves, cardamom, star anise – and adds their own special mix of nutmeg, roasted chicory, black pepper and vanilla bean. All this is mixed into the background of a very satisfactory black tea from the original stomping grounds of masala chai, Assam.
I ran this tea two ways – with milk and straight black. Both ways satisfied. You have to give the bag a good long steep to be sure – at least 6 minutes, particularly when mixed with milk – but once you do the strong, complex spiciness of the chai blooms to fill the cup wonderfully.
The least I can say about TJ’s Spiced Chai is that it delivers exactly what it promises. There aren’t any surprises here, but there don’t need to be. The tea is flavorful and warming, and priced at only $1.99 for 20 tea bags. What more can you ask for?
Would I Recommend It: Yes indeed.
Would I Buy It Again: At least until Harvest Blend comes back in season.
Final Synopsis: A great way to get your at-home chai fix.
Imagine, if you will, the taste of dutch chocolate and fine red wine – only blended together into a brownish gray fluid and packaged in a bottle calling itself “ChocoVine”. Can your imagination handle that?. Try again – close your eyes, imagine that crisp alcoholic taste of a fine red wine, then imagine blending that with a couple chocolate bars. Could you do? I couldn’t. So it was with mouth literally agape that I stood facing the aisle-wide display for Europa ChocoVine at Trader Joe’s the day before Christmas.
I really feel like this is an amazing find, if only because it’s one of those products that makes you question your sanity and the sanity of all mankind. It’s the classic case of “A is good, and B is good, so naturally if we just smash them up into each other they’ll be great!” Occasionally this works, occasionally it doesn’t, but just looking at ChocoVine the deck is stacked against it. Using the “judging a book by it’s cover” approach which, contrary to the advice of Levar Burton, I generally find pretty effective ChocoVine does not have a lot going for it.
For one, I have a hard time telling people the name of the product without feeling stupid. It’s the sort of name that feels like it was brainstormed during a marketing meeting between an unimaginative person and a lazy person. “Wait a minute – it’s chocolate and wine? Why not ‘ChocoVine’! That clumsy, obvious portmanteau does a great job conveying our core principals of elegance and decadence, right?” I don’t know, maybe it’s just the stripped down efficacy of the Dutch.
The name is not the first thing you’re going to notice about ChocoVine, however. The first thing you’re going to notice is the bottle. Behind the stock photograph of tulips and windmills is 750ml of fluid that looks, to put it generously, like ditch water. This is a bold move. I feel like normally, in the R&D process, someone is supposed to bring this up, maybe suggest that it’s going to be hard to sell a drink that looks like it was scooped out of a wet pothole. Europa went to market with it anyway – that shows some confidence.
So if you can get past appearances, what can you expect? What, to return to our thought experiment, does red wine blended with chocolate taste like? The answer, surprisingly, is a mudslide. That’s not to say the two taste identical, but they’re shockingly close. This is due in part to the large amounts of chocolate that have gone into the drink, but also thanks to a large amount of cream or, as the website puts it, “the finest Dutch cream”, that goes in as well. There’s almost nothing of the wine taste left in this drink by the time Europa has finished with it. Take a sip and you’ll be hit with a sharp bite, then swept up in a very sweet, very chocolaty liqueur taste, which finally fades into a subtle, almost imperceptible wine tail. It’s enough to make you wonder why Europa is so big on billing how fine the wine is that they’re using. They would be just as well off if they we’re using some of Trader Joe’s two buck chuck. That said, there’s nothing untasty about this drink. It’s sweet enough and chocolaty enough that you’ll be able to finish your glass.
If you’re looking for a substitute for a creamy, sweet, mildly alcoholic drink this would be a great stand in for your Kahalua or Baileys – as long as you don’t mind the somewhat dismal look. Just don’t confuse it for a wine.
*The Nutrition Facts below are based on website data only. There is no nutrition information posted on the bottle so, you know, be a little dubious.
Would I Recommend It: A good gift for lovers of sweet liqueurs.
Would I Buy It Again: No thanks, I prefer mixing my own drinks.
Final Synopsis: Perfect if you like mudslides, pointless if you like wine.