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.
Those word geniuses at Trader Joe’s have done it again, by gum! I never thought they’d top Avacado’s Number, and while Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch may not have dethroned my favorite math-pun named guacamole, it comes close. After all, who in this wide world of popular appeal and lowest common denominator chooses to name their product after a tongue-tangling Latinate family? Trader Joe’s, that’s who. Keep up the good work, whoever it was at Trader Joe’s who was in charge of that! Some R&D wonk, maybe!
The Cruciferous Crunch Collection, as is not at all clear from the title, is a bag of shredded kale, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage and red cabbage. It is, in short, the nightmare scenario of every little kid sitting down to the dinner table. Back in the day that would have been me panicking at the site of kale, however since growing to adulthood I’ve developed a certain fondness for robust salads. To the modern day me, this bag of greens is a god send. The texture and heft of your greens are aspects of salads that go criminally under appreciated. Every time you’ve ever sat down do a cold plate of watery iceberg lettuce, someone has taken the texture and heft of their salad greens for granted. The absolute bastards.
Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch mix brings vibrant tastes and textures to your salad, shading the other elements with the nutritious, nutty flavor of kale, the crunch of crisp shredded cabbage, and the dense chewiness of sliced Burssels sprouts. Throwing an handful of two of this mix in with your bed of baby spinach, romaine or, dear I say it, arugula, is the easiest thing you could do to upgrade your entire salad experience.
A word or two must be spared for the outre name of this bag of greens. Cruciferae is the Latin family name for a whole range of of dark, leafy greens – from broccoli to wasabi – and refers to the cross shaped leaves of the plants. Confusingly, cruciferous plants are also known under the more generally used family name brassicaceae, for no good reason other than to make trouble for botanists. I assume Trader Joe’s opted for cruciferous over brassicaceous because it’s marginally easier to pronounce, and because “Cruciferous Crunch Collection” sounds better than “Brassicaceous Bunch Bag”.
In any case, I would certainly assert that the bag is amazingly named, and that if you’re at all a fan of good, satisfying salads this is an essential addition to your fridge’s crisper drawer.
Would I Recommend It: To salad makers everywhere.
Would I Buy It Again: I already have.
Final Synopsis: An awesome name for an awesome bag of salad greens.
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.
As you may be aware, I have a thing for coconut milk. Maybe not a well thought through thing, but definitely a thing. Basically, if something is made of coconut milk, I go “Wuh? Gimme, somma dat!”
Thus picking up Trader Joe’s Cultured Coconut Milk in blueberry and vanilla flavors was an automatic grab for me. Coconut milk yogurt, awesome, gimme sommma dat. It wasn’t until later that day, as I was unpacking my bags, when the words on the label really sank in. Cultured coconut milk. Not coconut-blueberry flavored yogurt, in fact not even yogurt at all – but a blueberry yogurt substitute made from coconut milk. A vegan, kosher alternative to your dairy product breakfast. Now this was intriguing. Obviously the world is full of human beings, many of them wonderful human beings, who elect not to eat dairy products for a variety of reasons. Nevertheless, the hankering for dairy products persists – an itch that one perpetually hopes to have satisfactorily scratched by innovative new products such as this one. Not an issue I personally have, but one that intrigues me none the less.
The first question, of course, is does this stuff taste like coconut?
No it does not, not at all. No more than your pot of Dannon tastes like milk. The coconut milk base here is effective obscured and overridden by the “yogurting” process, a process that is scientifically not actually referred to as “yogurting”, but which in this case seems to involve a great deal of flavorless seaweed extracts (our old friends agar and carrageenan among them), and some industrious bacteria.
A second question arrives hot on the heels of the first – how much like regular yogurt is this cultured coconut milk? Not more than a close miss, actually. Coconut milk “yogurt” falls squarely into the imperfect facsimile camp, alongside such not-quite-there simulacra as Tofurkey, Silk, and Fakon. Simply put, you won’t mistake this cultured plant fluid for Yoplait.
That said, Trader Joe’s does score points in two important arena. One, it doesn’t violently merge two words into a terrible vegetarian pun (“cocogurt”, perhaps), and two, cultured coconut milk tastes pretty good in its own right. Taken as a dairy yogurt supplement coconut milk yogurt doesn’t quite hit the mark, but taken as a new sort of breakfast item it’s not bad at all.
Trader Joe’s Cultured Coconut Milk differs from dairy yogurt in two chief ways – it’s much looser, fluidic almost to the point that threatens to spill from your spoon. However, it’s also strangely creamier than other yogurts, with an underlying velvety smoothness that coats your tongue in pleasant way.
The strength of this yogurt substitute depends almost totally on your enjoyment of this novel texture. Taste-wise the coconut milk culture tastes fine – the blueberry tastes like yogurt blueberry and the vanilla tastes like yogurt vanilla. Not much news there. Being able to enjoy the coconut milk culture is simply a matter of being okay with a loose, velvety yogurt over a firmer, less smooth one.
I’d be a convert, honestly, if it wasn’t for one thing. Quickly scroll down and check out the protein content – a single gram. Not much protein in those coconuts, evidently.
The main reason I turn to yogurt for my sustenance in the mornings instead of, say, a bagel or muffin, is because of the aura of healthiness surrounding the concept of yogurt. There might be just as much sugar in a little pot of Yoplait (27 grams) as there is in a whole donuts but yogurt has protein, dammit! That has to count for something. Trader Joe’s Coconut Milk Culture has 20 grams of sugar in it per serving, a considerable payload in it’s own right. Take the protein out of the equation and all you’re left doing is slurping up a sweet, loose paste of dubious nutritional value.
Would I Recommend it: Tailor made form my vegan-Hasidic friend, less compelling for everyone else.
Would I Buy It Again: As an experiment for a smoothie base, maybe, but probably not.
Final Synopsis: An intriguing yogurt alternative, but no protein and plenty of sugar ultimately make it less than desirable.