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.
Yes, yes, yes Trader Joe’s! Now we’re talking awesome tea! Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea gives me a reason to look forward to tea time with eagerness every day. I have, to date, avoided reviewing TJ’s teas, for much the same reason that I avoided reviewing their otherwise amazing coffee – fear of dabbling in an arena where there is so much vehement opinion. But where regular Joe’s venture so too much venture I, and that leads us to tea.
Glancing at this box on the shelf I assumed TJ’s was making a play for the Lipton market share – their Harvest Blend tea box using the exact same color palette seen on Lipton’s giant boxes of stridently mundane tea bags. This thought was reinforced in my mind by the rather vague name. “Harvest blend” bringing to my mind the thought of nothing more flavorful than fallen foliage brewed over hot water. Ah, how wrong I was!
Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea packs an incredible amount of savory, spicy flavor into their large, square bags – so much that you can easily get two full cups of tea out of one bag. The taste is apparent immediately upon opening the box – a strong, redolent blend of orange, chicory, hibiscus and cinnamon on a soothing chamomile base. My experience with delightful smelling herbal teas has generally been that they smell much better than they actually taste in your cup. Incredibly, Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea actually tastes even better than it smells. A savory, full bodied spiciness comes out of the ingredients as they steep, along with a surprising sweetness – a very mellow, subtle sweetness that accentuates the mix of spices. I say surprising because there’s no added sweetener to the tea bags. The sweetness comes from, and I’m not certain on this but willing to make an educated guess, unimaginable magical sources. That or maybe the natural apple and orange. Forget about your tea for 15 or 20 minutes and the sweetness will have infused the whole cup, a distinct hint of ripe apple.
In any case, this tea has exactly what you want for cool, crisp autumn evenings. Soothing tastes, warming spices and gentle sweetness. Perfect for sipping in a sweater as the leaves blow by.
The box itself, by the way, wins the award for Craziest Product Description, an award I’m always happy to give out. The product copy has the tone of being trapped on a box not of it’s own design, desperately attempting to make sense of a mad world.
It begins by immediately questioning it’s own premise, “A fox enjoying a cup of tea?” it asks, then, realizing it’s blowing the sale, hastily attempts to cover up. “Of course.” Full stop. “It happens all the time – if that tea is Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Herbal Tea” You can almost hear the nervous tremble in its voice, reassuring itself more than anyone else. The box goes on to make several, increasingly unhinged claims. This includes the assertion that this tea will bring you “unbridled joy with each sip”, which is a lot more than I’ve ever asked from a tea, before suddenly announcing that it will make you feel like, “A wise owl who’s just discovered the secret of eternal happiness.”
This owl bit seems like a particularly random non-sequiter – until you open the box. Just under the flap sits a picture of a wide-eyed, staring owl, perhaps originally envisioned as a soothing image, but executed here in a hand-drawn, jittery style that makes the owl look strung out and harrowed. It gazes blankly at nothing with huge dilated pupils – as if it just discovered the secret of eternal happiness, and that secret is an unspeakably profane blood sacrifice.
Other than that, though, this is a very good tea.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is delicious tea!
Would I Buy It Again: Definitely, it’s got everything you want in a seasonal herbal tea.
Final Synopsis: The perfect tea for sipping as you watch the weather change.
You never know what’s going to sound bizarre but be surprisingly good tasting at TJ’s. Trader Joe’s Tropical Sweetened Matcha Green Tea Mix is not one of those cases. I should have known better, I actually had forewarning – this isn’t the first powdered green tea with mango flavoring I’ve had. My first experience was with Crystal Light brand Green Tea with Mango, that purveyor of powdered drink mixes. Granted, it had no passion fruit, but the concept was the same – a powdered tea mix with certain tropical fruits mixed in. The Crystal Light product, ordinarily a satisfactory brand, was all but undrinkable in this case – a revoltingly heavy mango flavor having its way with an otherwise okay powdered green tea.
Perhaps by including passion fruit TJ’s had hoped to avoid the same fate. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain. Trader Joe’s Tropical Sweetened Matcha is every bit as repugnant – a terribly mismatched set of flavors putting the nail in the coffin of a perplexing offering.
I think the first question has to be, who in the world’s been asking for this – a big tin of loose, powdered green tea mixed with arbitrary fruit flavoring? It’s the same question I ask myself whenever I order the green tea at Starbucks. “Oh yeah,” I grimace, “They mix mint in with mint.”
Look, green tea is delicious on it’s own, sophisticated and relaxing when served hot, refreshing and invigorating when served over ice, we don’t have to go and mix it with all sorts of other flavors just because we can. It’s a facet of the same madness that compels every sushi place to offer spicy tuna rolls. Guys, straight up fatty tuna is as good as sushi gets – so why is your sushi menu dominated by a dozen variations on minced spicy tuna? Are you all crazy?!
And okay, I’ll grant you that the Starbucks mint and matcha isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, it’s just not my cup of tea. If, however, you’re dead set on adding fruit to green tea for some reason, why are we dabbling in such total non-sequitors as mango and passion fruit? Let’s all just be frothright and admit that no one has ever made a good-tasting mango flavor additive. Whether it’s been distilled from the juices or ginned up in a lab, mango flavoring has never worked well as a flavoring for other foods. Just let mango be mango. Muddling the mix, TJ’s throws some in passion fruit flavoring, a fruit that, in a blind taste test, I wouldn’t be able to identify in it’s natural state.
This is a classic example of less being more. Green tea is a great, nuanced, clean taste in it’s own right. It needs to be given room to express itself. Throw in a bunch of flavorings and you end up with a beverage that is passable at best, but never excellent. If you must add a fruit to it, and I recommend against this, then keep it to something equally simple a clean. A hit of strawberry or something, not just a bunch of tropical fruit.
I could go on forever about this product, it perplexes me so. Instead, I’ll just briefly nit-pick a couple more things. One, it comes in a giant tin of loose powder. This is sloppy, lends itself to big messes and benefits no one. I would guess it’s packaged this way because Two, the serving size is a hefty 4 teaspoons per 7 oz cup. That’s not a ridiculous number until you notice that Three, the prime ingredient is sugar, which means this is no health drink lady. They also misuse the word matcha on the package, but really at this point I’m just pooped out.
Would I Recommend It: No, it’s just not very good tasting.
Would I Buy It Again: Man, are you clownin’ me?
Final Synopsis: Basing a sweet tea mix around green tea and tropical fruit is a mistake, and people should stop doing it.
Flavored vodkas, you guys. You see them up there on the billboard, looking all delicious, sparkling glasses wreathed in sweet, exotic flowers and boughs heavy with succulent berries. It makes you think, Damn, that looks delicious. So you get some and try and sip and you remember, a deep grimace crawling over your face , Oh yeah, it’s still just vodka.
Fruit infused, unsweetened tea is just the same way. You crack open a bottle, take a sip – and you grimace. Why the hell are they putting fruit in it if it isn’t sweet?, you ask, but the bottle is silent. It has no answers for you, only the tea.
Honestly, it’s beyond me as well. Same goes for fruit-infused, unsweetened water. You don’t see it quite as much as you used to in the 90’s, but it’s still out there, lurking on the highest rack of the grocery store shelves, slowly gathering dust.
These drinks fall squarely into the acquired taste category, no one ever picked up one of these drinks and fell in love with it out of the blue. Not in the America I know. Drinks like this blueberry and pomegranate green tea are the fall backs of people who, for one reason or another, simply can’t enjoy a beverage sweetened to all get out by high-fructose corn-syrup but can’t quite make a clean break of additive flavoring. Maybe it’s their health, or maybe it’s their conscience that’s got them, I don’t know.
So it’s a weird category I have to judge this bottled drink against. It’s not sweet, as advertised, but the fruit flavoring gives it a tongue-tingling taste that makes you wish it were. Blueberry is a fine taste, but I have to take umbrage here with pomegranates. I love pomegranates, they are easily in my top 5 favorite fruits of all time (FFOAT), top 3 even. There is nary a more delectable experience than splitting open a pomegranate and the leisurely plucking of it’s juicy seeds. That said, the horse has been beaten to a brutal death, long, long ago. The question I have to ask is, who was the madman who decided to start flavoring everything with it. Did he ever taste the pomegranate? Did he not realize, it’s tart as hell? Tart as shit even? Flavor something with pomegranate juice and the moment it hits your tongue it curls up and then goes dead for ten minutes. It has the same effect here – lending it’s astringent properties to the already slightly astringent green tea. The net effect? A tea that let’s you know when it’s been drunk. This is no guzzling tea, like the awesome Teajava, but a sipping tea. A tea that tells you what to do and how long to do it for. “Just a little bit,” it says, “Stop now.”
Is this a terrible thing? Not necessarily, it certainly makes the tea last, but between the tartness on the tongue and the way it leads you on without actually being sweet makes me relegate this to a highly selective drink I might enjoy once per summer, if parched on a hot day at the beach.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but only if you’re already a buyer of unsweetened fruit-infused beverages (grandma’s, etc)
Would I But It Again: Once a year, maybe.
Final Synopsis: Good tea, but I just don’t get it.