Every summer Trader Joe’s parades out a new selection of beverages with the goal of quenching your thirst. Sometimes these are legitimately quenching, like Trader Joe’s Coconut Water, and sometimes they’re just picking your pocket book, like Trader Joe’s Maple Water.
|What it is:||Green tea with a touch of mint.|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 64 oz. jug|
|Worth it:||Yes. Great tea at a good price.|
What makes something truly refreshing? I couldn’t tell you – but I can say that Trader Joe’s Moroccan Mint Tea definitely has *it*. A cool, quenching not-too-minty, subtly sweet green tea that is here just in time to beat back the summer heat. It might just be tea, but it’s tea done right.
What’s so good about it? This green tea is infused with both spearmint and peppermint, then sweetened with a touch of cane sugar. Unlike most mint teas, which tend to be overpoweringly minty, or cloyingly sweet, TJ’s Moroccan Mint Tea gets it just right. Take a big swig of this, and the first thing you’ll taste is… tea. The actual kettle-brewed flavor of a cool green tea. Notice the deep mellowness of it – not too astringent, certainly not sweet – just right. Only as you begin to take a gulp does the minty back show itself, enhancing the flavor of the tea and cooling the palette without overwhelming the natural flavor of the brew.
It’s a similar play with the cane sugar – just a hint has been added. Just enough to balance out the naturally bitter edge of tea, but not enough to make it a traditionally sweet drink.
Trader Joe’s attributes this tea to Moroccan, but this sort of sweetened mint tea is common throughout the Mediterranean regions – or anywhere that the sun gets too damn hot. If that sounds like where you live, you’ll definitely want to consider picking up at bottle.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – extremely refreshing!
Would I Buy It Again: Most certainly.
Final Synopsis: Perfectly balanced, wonderfully quenching tea.
You guys know me – I never miss a chance to talk about rooibos tea. What a surpise, then, to see that Trader Joe’s has brought out a new Pumpkin Spice Rooibos herbal tea! The tin looks very nice – but this is rooibos tea we’re talking about. Is there anyway it can live up to the pretty packaging? Frankly, no – not at all. While it’s an improvement on other types of rooibos tea, it’s still just not that great.
|What it is:||Bland rooibos tea with cinnamon and pumpkin herbal spices|
|Price:||$3.99 for 20 tea bags|
|Worth it:||No, rooibos tastes like cardboard|
Generally, when you spend enough time with a food product, no matter what your initial reaction is, you tend to warm up to it. I’ll share a story with you. The Japanese produce a food called natto, which is a “fermented” (read: partially rotten) slag of soy beans. Natto is typcally served in these little styrofoam bowls, about the size of a cassette tape, and when you crack one open all you see is this beige, lumpy, nobby, sticky, slimy mass of tiny, fetid soy beans. You’re then supposed to stir it up with chopsticks, which makes the gooey beans froth up into a white, stringy mess – almost like a thick tangle of spiderwebs mixed into the beans. I’m not even going to describe the sound or smell it makes when you stir these up. The taste is, as you can probably guess, gross and slimy and sticky. In short, it’s a food that offends all 5 senses – a foul-looking, foul-smelling, foul-tasting, gross sounding mess with a repulsive texture. Sometimes people like to crack a raw egg into it.
After living in Japan for a time, and being surrounded by the natto-eating Japanese, I eventually came to enjoy natto myself. It took about 18 months of extended exposure, but even to this day I will still pick up natto from local Asian market and have it for breakfast. My point is that, after extended exposure, I was eventually able to appreciate the acquired taste for natto and even came to enjoy it. Yet despite numerous tries and repeated attempts, I am absolutely unable to apprecieate rooibos tea on any level. It’s simply the lamest drink on the planet.
Maybe the difference is that natto, for all it’s shortcomings, is at least a taste. Rooibos tea, on the other hand, tastes like wet cardboard. That’s not meant to be a put down on rooibos, it’s simply the most descriptive phrase I can think of. Rooibos tea tastes exactly like wet cardboard – and coming from a guy who ate his fair share of pasteboard story book covers as a child, I know what I’m talking about. Of course, what else would you expect from rooibos tea? After all, the rooibos bush, from which it is cut, basically just a dry collection of scrubland twigs, and rooibos tea is just some of the twig shavings from that bush.
Yes, twigs! You’re boiling twigs! Look at what you’re doing people! And sure, I suppose you could say that we’re just “boiling leaves” when we make ordinary tea – but the difference is that there’s a long history of delicious edible leaves (Uh, Spinach? I’m looking at you!), and no record at all of delicious twigs. In fact, I’d say anytime you find yourself eating or drinking twigs, that’s a sure sign that you’re doing something wrong.
Look, it’s absolutely telling that Trader Joe’s keeps coming out with versions of rooibos tea that are rooibos…and something else. Trader Joe’s Rooibos and Honeybush tea was certainly an attempt at trying to make these twigs more palatable, This new Pumpkin Spice Rooibos tea does a much better job of it, adding to the rooibos cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pumpkin flavor. Trader Joe’s is definitely onto something here! These traditional pumpkin pie spices add a delightful scent to the tea, and lend it a spicy, nuanced flavor tea. They just need to follow the trend and next time leave the rooibos out entirely. A pumpkin spice herbal tea that doesn’t also taste like wet cardboard? That’d be incredible. As it stands, this tea is palatable in so far as you can ignore the rooibos part. Everything else but that is nuanced and pleasantly invigorating and seasonal.
I’d certainly praise this as the best rooibos tea I’ve ever had, but that is faint praise indeed. If you’d like to drink a nice cinnamon spice tea this isn’t exactly that, but it’s close enough that it may satisfy you. However, I would strongly advise you to try some of Trader Joe’s much stronger Vanilla and Cinnamon Black Tea or delectable Spiced Chai instead. If you prefer an herbal tea, then definitely go with Trader Joe’s Herbal Blend Harvest Tea – a seasonal blend so good that I literally count the days for its return. Or go ahead and try this pumpkin spice rooibos – just don’t come complaining to me when you throw out the tin before you finish it.
Would I Recommend It: No, there are better teas at TJ’s.
Would I Buy It Again: No man, it’s rooibos tea.
Final Synopsis: A good cinnamon herbal tea, undermined by bland rooibos.
Occasionally I’m compelled to review something not of the Trader Joe’s brand. Why? Am I crazy? Am I trying to sabotage the accuracy of my own blog’s name. Far from it! Every now and then, Trader Joe’s simply finds a product that, for one byzantine, boring reason or another, they choose to bring in under its original brand name instead of using the TJ label.
|What it is:||Very sweet, alcoholic ginger ale.|
|Costs:||$4.99 a bottle.|
|Worth it:||Nope, too expensive.|
To that we can add Hollows and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer. Yes, you all know that I’m a sucker for those potent ginger brews – case in point, Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer, Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew, etc. What makes Hollows and Fentimans’ Ginger Beer any different from the others crowding the shelves? 4% alcohol by volume, as fact would have it.
Yup, this is the first actually alcoholic ginger beer available from Trader Joe’s. And as exciting as that prospect is, it’s actually kind of a let down.
After so many delicious ginger drinks – in particular the recently released, cloudy and complex Brewed Ginger Beer – Trader Joe’s has set the bar quite high when it comes to spicy root-based beverages. Given that Hollow and Fentimans’ offering is billed as “all natural”, and comes from a British company with a 110 year history of brewing the stuff, I was expecting something equally flavorful, nuanced, and ginger-tastic. And while it certainly isn’t swill, this ginger beer is more like a syrupy ginger ale than a spicy taste bud tingler.
The contents of the bottle are golden-yellow, non-carbonated, and very sweet – sweeter than any can of regular ginger ale you can find on the shelf. This is actually a mark of its pedigree. The very first ginger ale ever sold, dating back to one Dr. Thomas Cantrell in Belfast in 1851, was also golden-yellow in color and sweet as the dickens. It wasn’t until the 1900’s that Canadian John McLaughlin developed “Canadian Dry” ginger ale – the more common, paler variety found in North America under big names like Schweppes, Seagrams and, yes, Canada Dry.
While that shows excellent adherence to tradition, it doesn’t really make Hollow and Fentimans Ginger Beer all that pleasant to drink. At the quite low 4% alcohol by volume, you don’ taste the beer in this ginger beer, just the sugar. The ginger part isn’t all that impressive either. After getting zazzed up by Trader Joe’s more sophisticated and intense ginger offerings, this ginger beer tastes positively juvenile – flat and one-note, with an unremarkable ginger taste dominated by cloying sweetness.
So if neither the “Ginger” part, or the “Beer” part are particularly appealing, what is there to draw you to this ginger beer? Certainly not the price, which comes at an outright expensive $5.99 per 12 oz bottle.
If you could get a six-pack for six bucks, this ginger beer might be worth it. As it stands, it would be easier, cheaper and tastier to mix a boozed up ginger drink yourself with Trader Joe’s own excellent offerings and a little bit of imagination.
Would I Recommend It: No, too expensive for such an average a drink.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope – see above.
Final Synopsis: A very sweet ginger ale, with little alcohol and not much kick.
There’re ginger ales, then there’re ginger beers, and then there’s this. Trader Joe’s Ginger Brew is an intense, carbonated ginger drink unlike anything else I’ve ever had – and I’ve drunk a liter of Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Brew.
There are a lot of types of ginger drinks in the world – ginger ale, ginger beer, this stuff, each one offering its own take on the complex, nuanced spice of ginger. Growing up on the ubiquitous Royal Canadian brand of ginger ale, I remember being absolutely gobsmacked the first time I tried a bottle of Reed’s Jamaican Style Ginger Beer. Never had I suspected that ginger soda could be so intense – never had I dreamed that someone would dare!
Since then I’ve warmed up to the idea of extremely gingery soda. Not a beverage you enjoy so much as explore – a sippin’ drink. The whiskey of the soda world. But even I was taken aback by Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer – a real ass kicker of a ginger soda that doesn’t let you off the hook just because you wanted to drink something sweet.
TJ’s Brewed Ginger Beer has the same intense ginger flavor of the seasonal Triple Ginger Brew, but adds in a mixture of lemon and lime, as well as a proprietary mix of natural flavorings and extracts – additions that are quite visible in the sediment that settles onto the bottom of the bottle. Not that you’ll be able to pick these flavors out from behind the fierce wall of extra ginger gingeriness that blasts you in the mouth.
However, it’s not just the ginger that makes this drink so unique, it’s the bitterness. Lurking behind the first blush of sweetness and the sharp slap of ginger there is a hard, bitter burn – like a hint of tonic water. That shocker is what sets this brewed ginger beer apart from other’s of it’s ilk. Of course bitterness isn’t necessarily a bad thing – in fact, in this case I actually think it’s a nice touch, adding an extra dimension to the already complex play of flavors without being unpleasant to drink..
Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer certainly feels like a manly ginger ale, earning the bold nautical imagery TJ’s throws on the label. It’s so manly, in fact, that I can’t help but think about using it as a mixer in alcoholic drinks. Any ginger soda will work for your Dark and Stormy (dark rum and ginger ale), Moscow Mule (vodka and ginger ale) Horsefeather (whiskey and ginger ale) or Ginger Shandy (beer and ginger ale), however Trader Joe’s Brewed Ginger Beer’s complexity and not-too-sweet delivery is a natural choice for adding extra depth to your drink.
This may not be the most quaffable ginger soda in the world, but if you’re looking for a good ginger beer to savor, or an high-class mixer for your cocktails, it’s tailor made for you.
Would I Recommend It: To certain refined palettes, I wouldn’t hesitate.
Would I Buy It Again: Yeah, along with some more dark rum.
Final Synopsis: A strong, slightly bitter ginger beer with a lot of complexity.
It’s hard to find a good Aloe Vera based drink in this city. Now I had better fess up to the fact that I belong in that distinct subclass of people who enjoy things floating in their drinks, the kind of guy who likes pulp in his my orange juice. Funnily enough, when it comes to peanut butter I fall firmly on the smooth side of the smooth/chunky debate, but that’s a story for another time.
You may or may not remember Orbitz, but I sincerely hope you do. Released in the early 90’s, during that time when a mass madness had gripped the populous that compelled it to produce an endless succession of gimmicky soft drinks, Orbitz was king of all gimmicky drinks. This clear soda was imbued with a loose matrix of what amounted to slime which served to kind of hold aloft “flavor orbs”, little chewy candy balls. The idea was that the balls would appear to be levitating in some sort of futuristic super soda to be cherished by all. The practical effect was that everyone hated the look and taste of Orbitz immediately. Everyone but me that is. The audacity of these floating balls immediately captured my heart, only to break it when they left me forever following the almost blindingly quick bankrupcy of the company.
Some years later, my older brother returned from a trip to Korea with the very first bottle of Aloe Vera drink I had ever seen. The weird color, the floating bits of chewy stuff – aloe vera drink immediately conqured that place in my heart that Orbitz had cleared before. My brother, a kind and gentle soul of a teenager at the time, immediately forbade anyone from drinking any of the Aloe Vera Drink but himself and certain, select friends. I didn’t care. Tip-toeing up to the refridgerator at a moment when the house was absolutely empty, I snuck my first sip. The taste was more wonderful than I could have imagined!!!! I immediately forgot all about Orbitz – Aloe Vera Drink would be my new refreshment king. Go to hell, Orbitz! Rot and die, for all I care. Aloe Vera drink would be seeing to all my needs from then on.
Unfortunately, I had to cut my felonious aloe vera sipping to an absolute minimum, lest I incur the vicious, teenaged wrath of my older brother. Always since that day have I searched the shelves of our bland America stores in hopes of finding an aloe vera drink that did that one justice. Always have I been disappointed. Worst of all, is to find over and over again that malicious, deformed contender El Sol brand Aloe Vera Drink. Looking in all the unseeming ways like authentic aloe vera drink, El Sol masks any enjoyable aloe vera taste with a heavy grape flavoring. What the hell, El Sol? Let the Aloe Vera speak for itself, man – dare to taste its beauty. The consumer public can handle it.
This old quest was rekindled when I happened across OKF Organic Aloe Vera Drink at Trader Joes. This product deserves full high marks on many fronts. It keep additives to a minimum (no preservatives, artificial flavors or coloring), uses organic aloe, includes plenty of aloe vera bits into the drink along with aloe vera gel itself. Was it good enough to do to that Korea Aloe Vera Drink what Korean Aloe Vera Drink did to Orbitz? Alas, no. Aloe Vera Drink ventured too close to bland for me. There is no sugar added which means while there are only 60 calories per serving it tastes more like water than soda – similar to the new coconut water beverages. So while it may not have been what I was looking for, it was the most enjoyable Aloe Vera drink I’ve had in years. I give it my full recommendation to people looking for a healthier alternative to soft drinks or just a new beverage to try.
Would I Recommend It: If you’ve never tried an aloe vera drink, this isn’t a bad one to get started on. For everyone else, this is likely to be the healthiest aloe vera drink you’ll find.
Would I Buy It Again: It’s not perfect, but I predict I’ll be coming back for more.
Final Synopsis: Let’s the aloe vera speak for itself, but doesn’t have quite enough to say.
[Editors Note: Today’s article may not be suitable for all audiences, in particular those with an aversion to purple prose and/or madness.]
Man oh man guys, I try to avoid any sort of shameless self-promotion on this blog, let alone before the article in question has even begun, but are you in for some sensationa;, insightful analysis today. Mango flavored green tea! That’s green tea with MANGO JUICE in it. Actually INSIDE – FLAVORING THE TEA. Whooooooo yeah! When I bought this I had no idea what sort of unimaginable treat I was in for – I mean, mango juice, green tea, who can imagine what tongue-tingling, soaring heights of flavor and…. and… and…
Guys, I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing for you today. I bought this even though I knew I wouldn’t have anything to say about it. Mango green tea tastes exactly how you think it tastes. Like ice tea with the nice flavor of mango juice in it, and a mellow, lingering mango after taste. There’s not much more to add. You know lemon flavored tea? Like that, but with mango juice instead. It’s good chilled, and I recommend it. That’s all I got.
Listen, I knew I shouldn’t have bought that dried green mango, but I thought I could handle it. I always think I can handle it, but mango has me locked tight in its grasp once again. I twist and writhe in the throes of my mango lord, my mango god, as it occupies every shape around me, blinding me with it’s majesty, looming out at me from every shelf and corner in Trader Joes.
“Mango!”, it shouts, unreasonably, as I browse for items to review.
“But Mango, I can’t buy you again,” I beseech it, “I’ve done mango all week.” “Mango!” it reiterates, unconvinced. “MANGO!”
Shut up mango, SHUT UP! You will not control me. This is it, this is the last of my unending mango madness. No more – you hear me. Leave me alone!! GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!
[Editor’s Note: The rest of this article has been transcribed as dictated by the author following the adminstration of a mild sedative and a period of enforced rest.]
Would I Recommend It To You: Yes, but gird your soul
Would I Buy It Again: Get away from me, Dark Temptress!
Final Synopsis: Like Plutonium or LSD, mango is best used in small, regulated amounts, and with a healthy respect for its dangers. A little mango here and there can make life worth living, but to make it the corner stone of your existence is to wager recklessly with the Devil.
Blood oranges are, of course, awesome. I mean, c’mon – it’s an orange with crimson pulp and the word “blood” in its name. It’s like the Xtreme version of your everyday, buttoned down breakfast orange. Who wouldn’t want a soda made from it?
The main thing that bothers me about this product though, is the nomenclature. Are they proclaiming that it’s an Italian Soda with Blood Orange flavoring, or a normal soda that tastes like blood oranges from Italy? That might seem like quibbling, but the distinction matters.
An Italian Soda (sparkling water mixed with syrup) is quite different from a can of Fanta. On the other hand, if the marketers are actually calling out which strain of blood orange they’re using that is a much more subtle distinction – Italy is famous for it’s blood oranges, namely the Toccara, but there are also popular, and sweeter, Spanish and American varieties.
With the images of rolling, Tuscan-esque orchards on the label, it seemed most likely that Trader Joes just wanted to get the word “Italian” up front as soon as possible to entice simple-minded buyers who equate the word with Mediterranean luxury (like me).
Unfortunately, Italian Blood Orange Soda let me down. Not because there is anything wrong with it. It’s a quite tasty and slightly bitter, orange flavored soda. It has the calories of a regular soda, the effervescent fizz of a regular soda and, basically, the taste of a regular soda. Although the label proves it is, in fact, sparkling water mixed with blood orange extract, in the end it’s just another soda.
This is a perfectly safe purchasing option for people who want to try something only a little bit different, or as a light warm-up for more adventurous consumption to follow.
On a final note: I was initially pleased by the very blood-orangey look of the soda, but later dismayed when I saw the color was brought on through the use of coloring agents, then finally pleased again when those coloring agents turned out to be derived from the sinister sounding “black carrot.” Not necessarily ideal, but certainly much cooler than resorting to red dye #6.
Would I recommend it? If I was bored.
Would I buy it again? Not any time soon.
Final Synopsis: In the end, just another soda.