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.
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.
What else is the tangerine but the perfect example of the forgotten also-ran. At some point in the unknown past man stood over the Ur-carafe, his hand wavering for a moment between two nearly identical citrus fruits, and for reasons lost to us now, it was the orange he chose to squeeze for his morning juice forever more. There is an alternate universes where all coin flips came up opposite, all substance is made from anti-matter, cash is based upon the silver standard, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit towers over Mickey Mouse and people wouldn’t dream of having breakfast without a glass of fresh-squeezed TJ.
It’s beyond me to imagine what the Trader Joe’s bigwigs were thinking when they decided to stock their shelves with a juice that 95% of the population will automatically pass up in favor of good ol’ orange juice, but whatever the reason is I decided to honor it with a purchase this week. Practically, the tangerine is almost as near to the orange as it is possible to come.
I will say, first and foremost, that I prefer the color of tangerine juice to your ordinary store boat orange juice. It’s hue is just slightly more rich, almost imperceptibly closer to red, than a glass of Florida’s best. I expected much the same from the taste. The tangerine is, after all, close cousin to the orange, there is even debate in scientific communities over whether the tangerine is it’s own species or just a variety of orange. If scientists can’t tell the difference, how different could 100% TJ be from OJ? Markedly different, is the answer.The same citrus bite is there, particularly on the top note as it graces the tongue, but the heart note and follow through are both startlingly bitter. If I had to make a tangerine juice stand-in, I would go for a 70/30 OJ, grapefruit juice split – it’s that bitter. But, if I may say so, bitter in a good way.
As is so often the case with pure juices tangerine juice is a complex and engrossing taste. It is not chiefly bitter, so much as it is interestingly bitter. Orange juice, like apple juice, can be at times too sweet. Tangerine juice is a sipping drink, and drinks that insist on being sipped are perfect for people who love juice, but fear the massive caloric load inherent in a big glass of juice. I tend to guzzle purely sweet drinks, and so I never tempt myself with large cartons of orange juice in the fridge. This drink packs just enough of a punch to make me sit up, pay attention, and set the cup back down. The perfect replacement for a breakfast juice or, in a pinch, the perfect way to mask a particularly strong mixed drink.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, particularly to iconoclasts.
Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely, seasonal if nothing else.
Final Synopsis: Orange juice’s older, more refined brother.
Carrots have always been something of a mixed bag for me. Raw, a find them delicious – be they shredded, sliced, julienned, or dropped on the table as an unvarnished, knobbly stick still covered in garden dirt. I also love them boiled, roasted, toasted or fried -just don’t steam them. If you steam them I’ll punch you in the face. Don’t steam them anywhere near me, the odor alone is uniquely repulsive. Steamed carrots are bastards and we can all hate them together.
I’ve written on unusual forms of carrots (and their unusual history) before, but as I stood in my local TJ’s, staring a stately array of gleaming orange bottles in the face, I realized I’d never had carrot juice before. Not straight carrot juice, at any rate. Of course, I’ve had it in my fruit juices, yogurts, salad dressings and, of course, smoothies before. People have been squeezing the fluid from these oddly colored roots as a natural food dye for decades. The stuff’s all but ubiquitous in adulterated forms, but as straight-from-a-bottle, only-ingredient-listed-on-the-bottle, honest-to-god, organic carrot juice? That’s something you don’t usually see. I had to imagine there were two possible reasons for that fact, either it tastes dreadful, or it tastes fine but $3.50 for 100 ml is an unseemly price for the privilege of drinking a handful of carrots. Reckless as always, I took this one home.
The taste of organic carrot juice is shockingly complex. Shockingly because, again, we’re talking about a single, pure ingredient. The juice advances through your mouth in three distinct phases, each dominated by an almost alarming sweetness. Pure organic carrot juice is like drinking a box of strawberry milk, if some joker swapped out the artificial strawberry flavoring for artificial carrot flavoring. Shocking, guys, like I said.
Let’s break this down to the blow by blow, shall we.
At the setup, you are ready for anything but sweetness. The nose detects nothing but the odor of the unleashed carrot. As you tip the drink into your mouth, a wave of intense carrot sensation runs before it. This is an amazingly brief sensation, existing in the few milliseconds before the juice itself hits the tongue, but distinctly notable nonetheless. It’s as if the liquid is so supercharged with pure carrot-ness that the air itself becomes infused with these uncontainable motes of carrot essence. Like a reverse aftertaste, in effect. At this moment you are absolutely convinced that this is going to be a healthful, if untasty, experience. However, in the very next moment the juice pulls a trick so unforeseen as to make you fear, momentarily, for your sanity. As the opaque milky juice bathes your tongue you are rooted to the spot by unrelenting sweetness. Yes, you know it’s just carrots, and yes, somewhere deep within the juice the flavor of carrot lingers, but any such vegetative taste is overwhelmed totally by the unyielding, delicious sweetness.
Once you gulp, the sweetness vanishes like a dream and leaves in it’s place a taste exactly as if you’d just gnawed upon three inches of solid carrot root. Only the absence of lingering, carroty fragments in your teeth marks any real difference.
In my experience it’s really totally unprecedented. After every sip I couldn’t help but think “Really? This is pure carrot?”
Would I Recommend It: Oh yeah, so long as you don’t mind the aftertaste of raw carrots.
Would I Buy It Again: Only if the price comes down by about 30%.
Final Synopsis: You will never look the same way at a carrot again.
For me, nothing says it’s the holiday season like a little spiced apple cider. I live in Los Angeles now, a place as inimical to the change of seasons as you are likely to find, where the only difference between summer and winter is that it rains sometimes, but a single sip of mulled apple cider makes me feel like I can smell the first snow flakes on a lonely north wind.
I know that’s a tall order to ask of a simple juice, but I’ve never had an apple cider that fails to deliver that chilly, first sensation. So it was with great interest that I picked up a jug of cinnamon spiced pear cider from Joe’s today. To be honest, I didn’t even know there were ciders other than the apple kind, but just as ketchup is in no way bound only to tomatoes so too is cider as much a method as it is a product.
So what exactly is the difference between a cider and a juice? The internet abounds with non-answers on the subject. Both are made from the same apples in the same way, with their being some contention over whether or not cider has to be made from young apples, or if it has to be unpasteurized. Effectively, the only difference between the two lies in how it’s marketed to you. For my two cents, I always consider it cider if it’s a bit opaque, comes in a big jug and, most important of all, is spiced. With such easy prerequisites its a surprise that I’ve never seen the juices of other fruit sold as cider.
Now that said, I obviously have high expectations for my cider, and I’m happy to say that pear cider fills apple cider’s ample shoes perfectly. From the very first sip I felt myself transported to a chilly hillside strewn with colorful leaves, an overcast sky just about to bring snow down from the mountains. I could go on about the delicious taste of cinnamon and other spices, etc.., but for me it’s already fulfilled the all important “autumness” criteria. That said, spiced pear cider doesn’t really offer me anything all that different from spiced apple cider. The degree of pearness that comes through is heavily masked by the bouquet of spices. It’s a fun item, and well executed, but not much different than anything you’ve had before.
Would I Recommend It: Yeah, give it a shot.
Would I Buy it Again: Over regular spiced apple cider, probably not.
Final Synopsis: A good spiced cider, but it doesn’t offer anything new.
Goddamn beets got me again. After enjoying my marinated beet salad so much I thought I’d pull a Jesus and turn the other cheek, try and welcome all beets back into my life. Unfortunately, Jesus has once again out done me, for I simply cannot forgive what these beets have done to me.
I might be being a little unfair toward beets – the purple carrots can’t be totally blameless here. Purple carrots are just carrots that happen to be purple – nothing more exotic than that. In fact, before the reign of William of Orange in the 16th century it was more outlandish to see an orange carrot than a purple, red, yellow or white carrot. Allegedly, as part of a great ploy, the farmers of the Netherlands teamed up to produce nothing but orange carrots as to pay tribute to their king, thereby establishing orange as the standard color for the last 500 plus years. Pretty good tribute guys!
To return to the subject at hand, this ungodly combination was the worst thing I have drank in recent memory. I hope this blog goes somewhat toward testifying my openness to even the strangest foods and my willingness to consume anything food like, because I assure you this is the case. This beet juice simply affirmed all my worst fears and suspicions about Satan’s vegetable – all the horrible taste of drinking the liquid canned beets come in, combined with a cloying, lingering flavor that simply will not leave your tongue alone. I’m afraid I found this one simply undrinkable, and I don’t say that as a knee-jerk reaction. I am proud to say that I managed to give it my level best and fight my way through an entire glass, though it was consumed in small sips with generous periods of walk-it-off time in between. I could do no better, and was relieved when I was finished with it. Wasting food was deeply ingrained in me as a sin, but I will dump this muck into a gutter and laugh at it’s demise.
That said, the juice is good for you. It’s phenomenal for you in fact – so chock full of Vitamin A, C, Iron and Calcium that if you drank it daily you would all but explode in a thunderous shock wave of healthy energy. I’m sure there are beet fans and health fanatics alike who embrace this product as an exciting new way to drink their favorite vegetable. I don’t care, and will do my best to avoid having my eye line accidentally cross sight of another bottle ever again.
Beets – you got me again! Damn you beeeeeeets!
Would I Recommend It: Uh, like no.
Would I Buy It Again: It’s hard to imagine a situation so dire that I would be compelled to.
Final Synopsis: Beets are monsters and they should all be destroyed.