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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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Trader Joe's Sugar, Chocolate & Coffee Bean Grinder

There's some things that hold a lot of appeal for Sandy that, while I understand on a certain level, I'm not really all that enamored by. Take, for instance, gadgets like any e-reader device. I know that as humans we come preinstalled to like anything with a glowing screen as a standard feature, but, to me, if you're gonna read a book, make it an actual book. Not Sandy. She's been researching these and polling friends left and right about the Kindle, Nook, and whatever else is out there these days as she's been saving up her babysitting dollars for one of these and has been talking about them endlessly. We've talked about it, and I get the arguments for, like ease of portability (Sandy at any time can have up to seven books in a backpack, though I believe she can still only read one at a time), but the arguments against are much stronger to me, such as: breakability/durability (like if you were planning to read at a beach, would you really want to take one of these? Think of all the places sand could go), risk of theft (airports, etc), "another screen," and finally, just, there's something about a book and holding it in your hands and turning actual physical pages that make it a more satisfying experience. And don't get me started on the iPad and other tablets. It strikes me as just being an iPhone for old people, kinda like the large print Reader's Digest you see at nursing home versus the regular sized ones. If they could be a viable, versatile-enough alternative to a laptop, sure, I could be on board, but until then they seem like some overall gimmicky marketing ploy to get folks to spend money they don't have on things they don't need. Maybe I'm some old school ornery codger, but I just don't get it. Sandy definitely does, and we've come to more or less a truce about it, and chances are she'll be picking up a Kindle or something soon, and maybe then I'll see the light. Til then, meh.

Of course, this is a bigger example of something that plays out in much smaller circumstances. Take, for instance, Trader Joe's Sugar, Chocolate & Coffee Bean Grinder. Last week, Sandy spotted it on an endcap touting TJ's new products and immediately started this kinda weird, silly, not remotely serious little"gimme gimme oh please please please" dance that immediately said "You better put this in the cart, there, Mister." Since it was something like two bucks, eh, sure. Cheaper than an e-reader. Sandy's little dance was definitely cute and gave me a chuckle, so I didn't mind, but whenever we have a kid and Little Russandra does that, you can bet I won't be so amused.

Okay, so I get the appeal of the sugary chocolatey coffee beany grinder guy. There's a built-in grinder that, instead of dispensing tellicherry pepper or sea salt, grinds up sugar crystals (both brown and white), chocolate bits (dark?) and coffee beans wherever you can dream it can go. Good in theory. The side of the grinder says it goes great with ice cream, coffee, and toast, among other things. Sandy's preferred method of consumption is to hold it high and grind directly into her mouth*, which she did once we got home like a sugar-deprived lunatic, and still does occasionally when she thinks I won't know but I can hear the telltale scrapy-grindy sound from the living room. Anyways, I tried it on vanilla ice cream, which was alright. I could definitely taste the three main elements and it almost made my ice cream not taste like plain vanilla, and added a gritty, crystally texture that though a little odd wasn't completely unwelcome. When ground on top of coffee, it honestly didn't add too much, which shouldn't be surprising if you think about it. While okay with buttered toast, if I wanted something sweet and tasty on toast and have it not be jam, I would have much preferred the timeless classic of cinnamon and sugar. And finally, straight from shaker to mouth...meh. That's a silly, not overly rewarding thing to do if you ask me. Overall, I think it's safe to say it just doesn't tickle my fancy all that much.

If you ask Sandy, though? She loves it. Besides the aforementioned methods of consumption, she's also put some on top of cottage cheese and maybe yogurt, too. She loved it with ice cream and with toast, but agreed with my thoughts about it with coffee. And I hear her grinding away in the kitchen often enough to know that she's happily plotting her next cavity in a way she finds most satisfying. Sandy said she gives it a four, which I thought was low for her but made sense when she explained, "It adds flavor, and it's really good, but it could add more." Me? I think I've made my opinion fairly clear, but to summarize it strikes me as being something akin to parsley for your desserts. Looks good, but doesn't do much of anything worthwhile, a Paris Hilton of the pantry, if you will. I'm going with a 1.5.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons
* For some reason she wouldn't let me take a picture of this. I can't imagine why.


  1. The best thing for this sugar thing is toast! I got my toast all buttery and then shook a bunch of this on...and then had to limit my self to only one piece of toast. I'm strange, we all know this. I also love this: http://www.littledutchgirl.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=27

    Chocolate jimmies for toast?! Yes please!

    On the e-reader note: What Russ fails to mention is that I own several hundred books. (that doesn't include the entire BSC series that I keep in the closet) We have a tiny house. E-reader=more books in less space!

  2. I've been contemplating this grinder, maybe Ill give it a shot on yogurt, that sounds yummy!

    As for the e-reader, Sandy, the nook is the way to go. You have access to PDF files, libraries, etc. My husband didn't like the idea until I got mine either, my favorite part is the ease of reading in bed, no more clunky large hardback novel to fight with, something you can read with one hand and just push a button with your thumb to turn the page? Awesome! The newest nook is the best (not the color!). Good luck!!

  3. I downloaded the free Kindle app for my Android phone and I download free books all the time. I also have it on my laptop and I have the same books synched on both. I LOVE having them on my phone to read while waiting at the Drs. office etc. I always have my phone in my purse and I don't have to carry a huge e-reader thingy along with me. Not to mention the fact that I'm cheap and wouldn't pay for a Kindle.

  4. LOL!
    "Sandy's preferred method of consumption is to hold it high and grind directly into her mouth*"

    Ya know, as soon as I started reading the description of this product, the first thing that popped into my mind was that I'd want to aim it at my mouth and grind away? Great minds think alike, huh?

    And I also am jonesing for a new nook e-reader!

  5. I love it but can't find it in Escondido, CA.

  6. Lo and behold, there is now a cinnamon sugar grinder! Toast everywhere rejoices.

  7. When I read the title I literally thought it was a joke! xD