Trader Joe’s French Roast Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate

 

IMG_20160502_184840.jpgSome time ago I published my review of Trader Joe’s original Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. The product was, needless to say, an instant hit. 24 ounces of fine, dark coffee, cold press-expelled and concentrated 2-to-1. It not only scratched that caffeine itch, but it did it in a damn nice way. It was, in its own way, the cookie butter of the coffee drinking world – a remarkable game changer that everyone can agree on.

Now, I’m not much of a coffee drinker myself – my monthly coffee intake is roughly equivalent to what most people drink in one morning. I bring up this as a sort of inverse bona fides – I really know next to nothing about coffee. Nevertheless, even I, untrained palette I, was able to appreciate the fine, if subtle, qualities present in Trader Joe’s Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. In fact, TJ’s cold brew coffee is responsible for the very first redaction I ever ran on this blog. After giving it an initial rating of “Eh, I don’t get what the big deal is”, I ended up going back to the bottle time and time again, until I’d polished the whole thing off. It’s that good. Even an untrained, unsophisticated coffee drinker preferred it to ordinary brewed coffee.

What’s the appeal? The biggest difference is that cold brew coffee is almost unbelievably mellow and unacidic, compared to ordinary brewed coffee – even for “low acidity” blends. When coffee grounds are cold brewed they’re basically just soaked – soaked in cool water for a day or more until gentle osmosis has impregnated their medium with all the flavor and caffeine of the bean. This lengthy process is the reason you have to buy your cold brew coffee pre-made – and why Starbucks runs out of it part way through the day. You simply can’t brew up more of this stuff on command.

As a result of this patient process, the resulting coffee avoids any of the acrid components that show up in hot-brewed, or over-cooked coffee, while also teasing out more subtle aspects of the bean that obliterated by being exposed to boiling temperatures. The coffee is still as bold, bitter and brawny as it would be of it was hot brewed, it’s just easier on the palette, teeth and, importantly, stomach.

So if Trader Joe’s cold-brew coffee is already such a hit, what does this new variety have to offer? Why bother with a French Toast? To be honest, there’s really not a whole lot of difference between the new brew and the old brew – more crunchy cookie butter vs. smooth than of cookie butter vs. oreo cookie butter.

“French roast” just refers to how long a
coffee bean has been roasted for, before grinding. In this case, a very long time. On the informal scale of bean roasting, the French is the penultimate roasting designation – only the Italian roast subjects beans to more heat for longer. As you might expect, a longer roast results in more of that smokey, toasty, roasted taste, but at the cost of burning away any individual characteristics of the original bean. As such, it’s not usually the coffee conisseur’s first choice. However, that same extended roasting process also breaks down the acid in the bean, making it a naturally choice for those looking for a lower acidity brew.

The end result means that this brew is a little bolder and even less acidic than its forbearer. Those are both pluses in my book. If you’re looking to expand your cold brew experience, or just trying to find the least acidic coffee on the market, you’ll want to give this one a try.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yup – if you like cold brew coffee, you’ll like this.
Would I Buy It Again: This jug is a 2x concentrate, so it should last me a year or so.

Final Synopsis: More of what you live in a cold brew.

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Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Latte

Trader Joe's Gingerbread Latte Mix

Another season, another tin of powdered drink mix. Despite a wealth of previous data suggesting that Trader Joe’s should not be powdering drinks and selling them in cans, they’ve gone ahead and done it again with Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Latte a “naturally flavored” drink mix. The result is predictably terrible, BUT it’s also surprisingly awful. Yes, a bit of a mixed bag with this one.

Ranking: 1 stars 

1 star rating

What it is: Terrible, flavored coffee mix.
Price: $4.49 for a 10 oz. tin.
Worth it: No, dreadful.

Do not buy, drink or serve Trader Joe’s Gingerbread Latte Naturally Flavored Drink Mix. If someone else buys it for you or serves it to you, you should come up with some way to punish them. (Throw a cup of cold water on them while they’re in the shower?) If they drink it themselves, just leave them alone – that’s punishment enough.

Trader Joe’s has disappointed before with similar powdered drink mixes – such as their Tropical Green Tea Powder, and Green Tea Matcha Powder, both of which were unpleasant tasting, messy, and bad for you. This Gingerbread Latte Mix is all that and more. The first thing I want to bring up is how fatty and sugary this stuff is. There’s a lot I can forgive in a healthy food. As I’ve written about before, you have to grade health food on a curve. If Trader Joe’s is serving you some low-cal spinach dip, it’s not fair to hold it up in comparison to a full calorie, and undoubtedly more delicious, spinach dip. To a point, you’re not buying diet food for the the taste, you’re buying it because you’re on a diet.

Well, as far as I’m concerned, the opposite case is in  effect with high-cal, fattening food. I will gladly eat you, you globs of sugary fat, but you’d better taste good enough to justify it. For instance, if you’re going to serve me unpalatable kale chips as a replacement for Doritos, they had better not have more calories than the Doritos.

This Gingerbread Latte is the absolute textbook case of something not being worth the calories. In each 28 gram serving of drink mix, there are 20 grams of sugar, and 6 grams of fat. The other 2 grams? The coffee and spices I guess. This is literally nothing but sugar and fat, and tastes terrible. Terrible and feeble. If you pour enough of the drink mix into a cup of hot water in it will taste sweet, however any sort of gingerbread taste, or “notes of ginger, clove and cinnamon”, are completely masked by the awful artificial creamer stuff that makes up the bulk of this mix. This dried creamer consists of coconut oil, lots of maltodextrin, and all sorts of other gross powders used to artificially render a sort of quasi-dairy taste into white, shelf-stable powder.

Fine, yes, it has artificial creamer in it. That makes it bad coffee, but God knows I’ve resorted to artificial creamer more than once in my life. The real problem is that this creamer simply does not dissolve – not in water, not in milk. Heat it all you like, stir it up all you like, leave it to sit as long as you want – you’ll still be left with scores of tiny, undissolved flecks of some oily substance – little globules that scum up on top of the coffee and stay plastered to the side of your mug when you’re done.

This latte mix is cheap and it’s terrible and it tastes bad and it’s bad for you. If you need to wake up in the morning and this is all you have in the house, just slam your hand in the oven and go to work. At least there are fewer calories that way.

I’m not saying don’t drink hot cups of spiced coffee over the winter, I’m saying you can do better than this. Hell, you can do better than this in your own kitchen with some coffee, whole milk and cinnamon-sugar. Or just go to Starbucks, if you don’t care about the calories. That Starbucks coffee is pretty good – and it’s waaaaaaay better than lame excuse for a pick-me-up. Even the Trader Joe’s instant powdered coffee stuff is way better (As we’ve talked about before with Trader Joe’s powered coffee packets).

The general point I’m trying to make is, I don’t like this latte mix and I wouldn’t recommend purchasing it. I could go, but it’s almost time for the next blogger guy to come in so I’d better wrap things up. To ensure a happy holiday season, skip this stuff.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Hmmmm, no.

Would I Buy It Again: *Shakes head, slowly and sadly*

Final Synopsis: Really gross instant coffee.

 

 

 


Trader Joe’s 10 Instant Coffee Packets

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets

In this case, your coffee cup is Troy.

What flattering box design. Trader Joe’s 10 Instant Coffee Packets couldn’t look more charmingly mid-century if it was in the center of a Wes Anderson set piece. If only that charm and level of care had extended to the actual coffee packaged inside. What we have here is a classic Trojan Horse situation – only the box is filled with sub-par coffee instead of vengeful Athenians.

Ranking: 1 star 1 star rating

Recommended? Nope.
Buy It Again? Nope.
Final Synopsis Finally, you can have bad coffee anywhere!

In theory, this is a pretty good idea. Trader Joe’s cutely states that their packets of instant coffee are “all dressed up with creamer and sugar”- perfect for when you’re on the go, getting on a plane, etc. Why not mix the sugar and creamer into the instant coffee right off the bat to let you get on with your hectic schedule? Unfortunately, their execution leaves much to be desired. The problem, it turns out, is two prong.

One – this isn’t actual cream we’re talking about, but “creamer” – that ubiquitous white powder passed off in break rooms around the country as a suitable replacement for real cream. It isn’t, of course, isn’t anywhere close. Instead of a dairy product, it’s a combination of corn syrup, oil, whey powder, potassium phosphate and sodium caseinate. You know, all your favorites! And while powdered creamer can get you by in a pinch, it can also comes with a particular aftertaste of something slightly chalky and unsatisfying.

Two, and much more problematic, is the powedered coffee itself. Though Trader Joe’s boasts of the “100% Brazillian Arabica coffee beans” that go into the mix, this is not good coffee. A cup of this stuff comes out not bitter, but sour. While acidity is sought out by many coffee connoisseurs in their good java, it’s usually sought after for lending a “brightness” or “snappiness” to the cup. This is not that. The sour, cheap, aftertaste of the coffee, combined with the already less than great aftertaste of the creamer, makes for a truly unsatisfying cup of coffee.

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets 2

“Now wait a minute,” you might be saying, “This is a packet of instant coffee we’re talking about, not the damn Mona Lisa, aren’t you being a little hard on it?”

The thing is, sitting right next to me right now I have a little pouch from Starbucks that contains 3 single-serving packets of instant coffee that are not just drinkable, but actually enjoyable. It’s not necessarily coffee to write poetry about, but it is good. Good enough, certainly, to kick Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Pakcets from here to Timbuktu and back.

I could be more forgiving if I thought Trader Joe’s didn’t know what good coffee was – but Trader Joe’s does some great coffee. They did their own cold-brew coffee concentrate, for crying out loud, and that was so good it actually made me go back and redact my original snarky post.

The only thing Trader Joe’s can be proud about here is the original notion of combining creamer and sugar with their instant coffee, and that doesn’t strike me as quite the life-saver they make it out to be. If you really don’t have the time to find the cream for your coffee, then just take it black – know what I mean? I can’t imagine leaving the artificial creamer out of this instant coffee would make it any worse than including it actually does.

Long story short – there are way better on-the-go coffee solutions out there. Don’t settle for something gross just because the packaging is cute. A lesson we may apply to our love life as well as our coffee.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, I would not. Pick up one of the Starbucks versions instead.

Would I Buy It Again: I’m actually going to throw this box out.

Final Synopsis: Finally, a way to experience really bad coffee anywhere!

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee Packets - Nutritional Facts

Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Packets – Nutritional Facts


Trader Joe’s Mocha Cappucino Mix

Trader Joe's Mocha Cappucino Mix

Wouldn’t “Mocha-ppucino” be a better name for this product? That one’s free, TJ!

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.


 

The Breakdown

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.

Trader Joe's Mocha Cappucino Mix - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Mocha Cappucino Mix – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s BBQ Rub and Seasoning with Coffee and Garlic

Trader Joe's BBQ Rub and Seasoning With Coffee and Garlic

I love your titles TJ, but when you have to start rotating words like puzzle pieces to fit them on your packaging, things have gotten out of hand.

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.

 


 

The Breakdown:

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.

 

 


Trader Joe’s Coffee a Cocoa

Trader Joe's Coffee and Cocoa

A handsome can, hiding a deceptive heart.

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.

 


The Breakdown

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.