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, July 1, 2011

Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Caramel with Black Sea Salt Bar

Like any married man, I have certain habits and tendencies that really bother my wife. A lot. One of my absolute worst offenses that I regularly commit is, Sandy wants to hold on to some tasty snacky treat. I see it in the pantry for, oh, a week, or more and figure it's fair game and start helping myself. One time, I swear, she had this box of Girl Scout Tagalongs for something like three months just sitting on a shelf, not even touched. Finally one day, I get hungry, see them, and say to myself, "Self, this is a good treat for which I am hungry. This is past any statute of limitations for any claim of right of spousal exclusivity. Indulge." So I did, and man oh man did I get the stinkeye once Sandy discovered that I dared break its seal to snatch away three measly treats. Just recently, there was this bag of jellybeans that we had since Easter which she hadn't touched since Donald Trump looked like a possible presidential candidate. I took them to work one day for a snack, a couple weeks go by, and she randomly decided maybe on Sunday she wanted them. Again, the stinkeye. It's enough of a regular thing that she now freely admits that she sometimes hides a stash of treats for herself away, like candied nuts or Christmas hard candies, because unlike me, she "doesn't have to eat everything right away." Oh, that girl.

What does all that have to do with this particular (and peculiar-sounding) chocolate bar? You'll read soon enough. First, let me tell you how amazingly good this is. It's so good, one of my good buddies randomly called me one night and first thing out of his mouth, he inquired, "Have you tried the Trader Joe's sea salt/caramel/dark chocolate bar? Holy cow, it's amazing." I didn't think chocolate was something one dude usually called another dude about, no matter how tasty, but I kinda rolled with it. Last week, Sandy and I made an over-the-state-border Trader Joe's run to, uh, procure some other products I'll be reviewing in the upcoming weeks and we started our TJ's shopping after a good dinner out (where I had, among other things, a remarkably good peanut butter coffee porter). In the mood for a good dessert and after a successful crazy taste combination, I saw this on the shelf and decided, what the hay, worth a shot.

A few miles down the highway on the way back home, Sandy and I decided to bust it out. Oh man. First, the chocolate. I'm a guy who has cut his sweet tooth on many a Hershey's milk chocolate bar, so that's what I'm used to. The darker, higher percentage cacao variety has never held much appeal for me - I can appreciate some types but find others to be too bitter for my taste buds. The TJ's bar is 70% cacao so I wasn't sure what to expect. I can only say I was fairly surprised as it was some of the tastiest dark chocolate I've ever had, and any bitterness was more than covered up by the silky rich caramelaliciousness oozing out of each square. Pretty fantastic by it's own right, but amazingly enough, add in the sea salt...out of this world. I wouldn't have guessed it, but the sea salt seems to accentuate the chocolate and caramel with this smoky undertone that just heightens both tastes. In every bite there's the chocolate, caramel, and sea salt, all present yet balanced and very complimentary of each other. I have never had anything that's tasted quite like this. Between the two of us we quickly wolfed down the entire bar, which consisted of eight roughly one-square inch bites to snap apart.

So, back to my opening tangent...I have decided turnaround is fair play. That's right, wifey, it wasn't just dog food I was planning to pick up Thursday night at Trader Joe's. I have listened to you and decided this is something I want to savor again and enjoy over the space of a few days, maybe even a week or more, instead of plowing my way through it first chance I have. And since I couldn't just let you interfere with this plan, I was going to go stash it away somewhere and keep all for me. Anyways, that was my plan, but...dang local TJ's ran out. All the other kinds of chocolate bars but not a single one of these, and believe me, I looked and begged and pleaded to no avail. Obviously, somehow, you discovered what my secret plan was and collaborated with TJ's to make sure they weren't available. Or maybe...wait... you bought them all and hid them all away from me now, didn't you? Oh my gosh, yes, that's what you did. I can't believe you. It's a good thing you're cute, otherwise...dangnabbit, wifey wins again.

Sandy gives it a four and a half, the only demerit because it "gets messy." Keep in mind, this was on a warm day in a Subaru with an air conditioning system that only kinda works, so when she busted it out and started breaking up the squares, it was a little melty and left a small, tasty deposit on our fingers. If it kept cool or even in the freezer, I'd imagine this wouldn't be an issue at all. My take? I gotta give it a full-out five. Unlike other flavor combos I've tried from TJ's, this is so well executed and makes such an unexpectedly crazy good treat. Well done, TJ's, well done.

Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons


  1. I wish I had seen this before I bought the expensive chocolate bar at a fancy store earlier this week!

  2. OMG, I was crying laughing at this one. Just got back from TJ's... so sad I need to wait another week to get it now! [And they better have ii!!]

  3. Brooklyn - I hear ya. I didn't find this out til after writing this review but apparently they're made by a company that charges something like $8 under their brand name for them. At TJ's - $1.99. Don't ask me how that works cuz I don't know :)
    Elina - Apparently my wife went to extraordinary lengths and bought every single last one in the country, causing a manufacturer shortage, but I've been assured they'll be back soon.

  4. this is the most amazing chocolate bar in their arsenal! All the NYC TJ's have been out for over a week- arg! You must review the other one (the toffee). I'd love to know if that one's worth my time- because they seem to have tons of them!

  5. Oh my gosh....you are right about this. It is so so wonderful !

  6. I cannot wait until it comes back for my next bar. I am planning to hoard them.

  7. Hi- Trader Joe Crew Member here...

    First off THESE ARE AMAZING>>>>> seriously.

    Second, the toffee ones are great too and some customers like them more but overall more peopl say those are good but the caramel, sea salt dark chocolate bars are out of this world.

    I've been stocking up on them too for fear of them being TOS (temporarily out of stock)

    Trader Joe's often makes deals with more expensive brands to produce items for them under the Trader Joe's label so we can sell it cheaper! This also happened with the delicious Double Rainbow ice cream a few years ago (now just the Trader Joe's ice cream- coffee, chocolate, vanilla bean, mint chip) It is because they can only go so low in price with their own labels before it would cut into their other retailers (Like if they sold for $8.99 at all the other grocery stores but they were at TJs for $3.99 no one would want to buy them at the other stores for the marked up prices) so instead we slap the TJ's label on the product and sell you a high quality item at a lower cost so you aren't paying for the brand's name.

    The coffee ice cream needs to be reviewed. It's the absolute best thing in the store... along with edamame hummus, herb focaccia, ruby red grapefruit juice and the thai chicken pasta salad in the fresh food case... and I agree the satay peanut sauce is beyond terrible and the chile mango pops have WAY too much chile in them and are supposed to have a hint of lime juice as well... but all in all I love how adventurous they are with new foods!

  8. Rosaura - thanks for the comment and for adding some items to our "must try" list. It's getting long at this point but we'll be working on it! And I definitely like that TJ's will try stuff that's not common, and they hit more often than they miss for sure.
    Beth - Thanks! We try to educate and entertain. That and if I can't make fun of my wife here, than where can I? :)

  9. This is by far my most favoritest chocolate bar in the whole freakin world. Alas, my local trader joe's' (ALL 3 OF THEM!!!) have been out of this for weeks. I suppose its a good thing because otherwise I'd likely scarf down bars at a time and gain a ton of weight. But seriously, despite the messiness these definitely deserve a 10/10. I'm donating the extra half point on behalf of all the sad pups who can't have chocolate and are missing out on this amazingness.

  10. There's not enough good things to be said about these. These better not disappear...ever.

  11. My TJs has several marked spots for this bar on the shelves, but where they should be instead is a dark chocolate bar with pecans and walnuts. The ingredients list toffee and sea salt, but judging by the photo it's not the same. And apparently I must have this chocolate. Anyone know where to find it in Chicago?

  12. halcyon - You're not the only one. Apparently right around when I posted this (a little before, actually) the supplier ran out of them, unbeknownst to me. I've been in a couple different TJ's a few times since and not seen it once. This better come back. The pecan and walnut one is still pretty darn good, but not nearly as good as this one.

  13. Best candy bar ever. I've been devastated since they went out of stock. They do have to be kept refrigerated in warm weather, but the gooiness of the caramel is wonderful. The toffee version is good, but the caramel is better.

    TJs has nice dark chocolate-covered caramels with sea salt at Christmas-time, and this candy bar is a worthy year-round adjunct.

  14. I just went today and they *finally* had these in stock! I just wolfed down one whole chocolate bar and these are divine!!! I bought four; going tomorrow to buy more.

  15. It took me a couple of tries to find this one, but the hunt was worth it. Absolutely scrumptious, but try NOT to open it in a hot car. Fantastic, but messy. The caramel is drippy, even at room temperature, so keep it in the fridge if you don't want to lick your fingers (and the wrapper) afterwards.

  16. My all time favorite chocolate bar cost me a whopping $8 so I only get it when I really really need the fix. After reading your post I knew I had to try Tj's bar! I love salt with my chocolate, adding caramel just makes it all that better. This bar is delicious. It rivals my favorite bar and the price point is great! I do have to warn you though that it is quite messy to eat in the car while driving!

  17. Really not a fan of salt in my chocolate, and it's becoming a runaway trend, sadly.