Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Trader Joe's Harvest Blend Herbal Tea

This awesome autumn season isn't over yet, but it never hurts to venture outside the pumpkin patch once in a while to see what other goodies are out there in TJ's land. But don't worry, the 73% of you that love pumpkin won't be disappointed. Stay tuned for more pumpkintasticality next month! I just had to try this harvest blend because I've been looking for a nice caffeine-free way to wind down at night. Plus, whenever you see an animal on a Trader Joe's brand box of tea, you know you're in for a treat. I'm thinking elephantslemurs, and now foxes.

This beverage is almost like a subtle cinnamon cider mixed with chamomile tea. And it actually has apple in the ingredients! Like an apple cider, it works both hot or iced, although I think you get more of that soothing chamomile effect when it's nice and steamy. Perfect for those long, dark late autumn nights—which reminds me, don't forget to "fall back" this weekend, folks!

The flavors are balanced beautifully, with a calm core of chamomile rounded out by flavors like ginger, hibiscus, chicory, and orange peel. The cinnamon isn't overbearing, and believe it or not, you can totally taste that aforementioned apple. I've never heard of such a thing before. Apple in tea. It's an understated essence, but it lends a nice hint of faint fruitiness to an otherwise herbal aroma.

Sonia and I both like it, and I must confess, I'm not the biggest fan of chamomile. But in this context, it's absolutely welcome. This is a very relaxing, delicious tea. Have a hit of the Harvest for homely hibernation. It's a four and a four for the fabulous Mr. Fox.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trader Joe's 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider

It's like I've been heard by the Trader Joe gods, who have chosen to smile upon me.

As a voice calling out from the pumpkin-goodie riddled wilderness, I, Russ, the increasingly long-bearded prophet, have stood firm against the gourd-gorging ways of society that befall every autumn. Okay, with that one exception - more gingerly than pumpkinny, but anyways...Moving along...I have cried out for the need of a fall-time product that is delicious and satisfying and has nothing to do with any silly orange thing that grows on a vine. Additionally, I've mentioned  my love of honey crisp apples, and have referenced my semi-adhered-to Paleo diet far too often, and have hoped that somehow, some way, Big Joe would hook a brother up.

BOOM.

Trader Joe's 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider. That's right. All juice. No added sugar. No sweeteners. Not from concentrate. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. No nothing except the sweet, sweet nectar of God's most delicious apple. Caveman friendly (though, like most things, not in excess). There's few things more delicious in the world than chomping into a sweet, crunchy, juicy honey crisp apple right off the tree - as a family, we ate half a peck in just over a week and our jonesin' for more. So darn delicious that I salivate just at the thought.

And this cider? Listen, it's not the same...but it's close. It's everything except that satisfying bite, without the resulting stickiness in the aforementioned facial hair from excess juice. It's tart yet sweet, and very clean and smooth tasting since it's just one apple variety, not a blend like a lot of other ciders. The cider tastes wonderful both cold right out of the fridge and hot in a mug - it's a delicious, satisfying beverage that paired well from dishes from a lamb stew I made the other night to a simple chicken/sweet potato fry dinner from a Target bag - really, for $2.99, it's real good stuff.

I'm not here to say the TJ's can compete with the local, fresh-pressed stuff from an area farm or a place like Cold Hollow up in Vermont, because I don't think it can, but for a cider that's commercially mass-produced, it's pretty darn good. Almost perfect, I'd say. Sandy enjoyed the cider as well, saying after we polished off the last of the bottle that she wished she had the chance to infuse some with a little cinnamon. Well, when we go back to TJ's, I know what we're putting in our cart, so dear, you'll get your chance. Definitely worth a repeat buy all fall long.  

Bottom line: Trader Joe's 100% Honey Crisp Apple Cider: 8.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, October 27, 2014

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Latte Mix

Of all the pumpkin products I've tried this year, I think this one's the most underrated. It certainly doesn't have the internet buzz that many other fall foods do this year, but sometimes the best things come when they're least expected.

This beverage certainly isn't much to look at. But dishwater gray or not, this stuff is sweet and flavorful, and in my opinion, exactly what you'd want a pumpkin chai to be. There's still plenty of classic chai spices in the mix, like clove and cardamom, but they blend very nicely with the more pumpkinesque spices like nutmeg and allspice. And it seems as if both types of drinks traditionally contain ginger and cinnamon. Mix it all together with sugar and a base of black tea, and you have yourself one tasty, exotic brew.

I'm generally into cold beverages more than hot ones, so I followed the directions for a "cold chai latte," pouring the drink over ice after mixing. I substituted water with milk. I tried both almond milk and cow's milk, and I honestly think almond worked best with this mix (although there is powdered nonfat cow's milk in the mix already). You really have to stir this stuff like crazy to get all the little crystals to dissolve in the liquid, but the excessive agitation not only swirls all the ingredients together, but gives the drink the slightest bit of foaminess, too. The tea definitely has some caffeine in it, so get ready for a little buzz with your beverage.

Now I must admit that some of that buzz just might be from the sugar, though. Sonia thinks the mix is too sweet, so she simply used less of the mix in her milk. I guess 23 grams of sugar per serving safely excludes this product from the category of "diet drink," but it's still significantly less than say, a can of coke, for perspective—and sweet-toothed me drank it up like a fat kid at a soda fountain.

At $3.99, a can containing eight quality chai lattes is a decent deal. Sonia is still holding steady with her string of solid four's for this year's pumpkin blitz. This time, I'm going with four stars also.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.