Some 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.
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.
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.
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.