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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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Trader Jose's Spicy Hot Cocoa

Uhoh. Trader Joe's is at it again with their flavor-mixin' ways. While I'm a fan of most of them, there's been a couple that I've been pretty impartial to downright depressed by. And in this particular case of mixing sweet classic cocoa taste and spicy cayenne pepper, they decided to market under "Trader Jose" just in case it didn't work out right. I'm convinced they do that. Hence, upon a Facebook tipoff from one of our loyal readers (and the fact there was a huge honkin' end cap full of it when we made our weekly trip), when Sandy and I saw the Trader Jose's Spicy Hot Cocoa (put in the "organic" and "fair trade" as you will), we knew it made for a natural investigation, especially as we're both fans and semi-amateur connoisseurs of a good steamy mug of Mexican hot chocolate. For $4.79, it was worth a taste.

And daaaaaaaaang....I'm glad we did. I'm not going to lie, I love it. Upon cracking the foil seal I took a big whiff of the cocoa powder waiting to for hot milk to dissolve its every granule. It smells absolutely delicious, and pretty similar to Nestle's Abuelita, which is the closest approximation we've found stateside to the hot chocolate we've enjoyed in Mexico. Imagine classic cocoa-roma with a healthy dose of cinnamon, and yes, a tinge of cayenne. A few minutes later I got to pour in some hot milk and stir it up and take a sip...it doesn't hit you right at first, as evidenced by Sandy's reaction. "It's not so spicy...oh wait...*cough* it is," she said with a slight pain-free grimace. For some, that first hit might be a little much, but trust me, it gets better as tastebuds adjust. The spicy cocoa has the classic hot chocolate taste of "too rich to be milk chocolate, too sweet to be dark chocolate" with a heavy, heavy dose of cinnamon, like there's a full stick of it right in your cup. I'm almost convinced that's what most of the "spice" comes from, except there's enough cayenne to throw its weight around in there without getting out of whack. This cocoa's absolutely delicious from first sip to last gulp.

There's a few things I could quibble about, I suppose. First, $4.79 strikes me as perhaps a little high for hot cocoa mix, especially given the size and the directions to use a couple tablespoons (which is a wee overboard) for each cup. I would say something more about that, except somebody on our Facebook page said they spent three times as much on a comparable brand that wasn't nearly as good, so maybe it's not a bad deal after all. And secondly, this is dumb, but man, I hate heating milk. Don't get me wrong, milk makes waaay better hot cocoa than water ever will, and I can't imagine this being any good with water, but I actually have to pay attention while heating milk instead of waiting for a whistlin' kettle as I'm blocking all of my mom's Frontierville requests. Also, you can't heat milk as hot so it cools off faster, meaning I had to enjoy this a little quicker than I prefer. Other than that, I literally have no complaints about the cocoa picante. And as always, bonus points for being both organic and fair trade.

Sandy's not a huge fan, which to me is kinda surprising. If one were to make an action figure of her, her accessories would be, in this order: 1. iPhone 2. A book 3. A warm blanket or four and 4. Some type of hot beverage. That's how she survives these winter months, and since she's off coffee and craving sweets (the joys of pregnancy), I though this would be right up her alley. "Meh" is about what she says. "I wouldn't make a point of making it, but if you were making it I wouldn't mind having some." Possible interpretation: Heating milk bothers her way more than it bothers me. No matter, she gave it a three and she's sticking to it. That's way too low in my book. If it were up to solely me, we'd have another pantheon member, or at least the TJ spicy hot chocolate would be knockin' on heaven's door for it. At least I can say I got it as close as I could with a perfect five.

Bottom line: Trader Jose's Spicy Hot Cocoa: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

14 comments:

  1. Hmmm interesting. I wouldn't think I'd like it at all, but maybe I should try it...spicy hot chocolate just seems unnatural!

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    1. Actually, a spicy hot chocolate drink was how the world discovered chocolate ;)

      The Aztecs made their Xocolātl, as they called it, with ground cacao beans, chile, cinnamon, and water. Then the conquistadors came, drank, and loved it! The beans were brought back to Europe as one of the greatest treasures. Refined sugar and milk were added to sweeten it for the general populace...and chocolate history was made =)

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  2. Oh I am SO glad to read this. I bought it on a whim last week and haven't opened it yet. Maybe I'll crack it open tonight.

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  3. That price is too steep for me. If you tell me that the taste is similar to Abuelita's, I believe you. I can purchase Abuelita's at my local grocery store for half the price. It is what I grew up on. My grandmother (abuelita) would make this for me in Mexico.

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    1. It's not exactly like Abuelita but it's a close approximation...you could probably sprinkle in some cayenne with it. Still, I'd pick this up and have some Abeulita on hand too. Both are gooooood.

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  4. I do SOOO agree. This stuff is down right addictive. Great post. :-), Susan Cooper

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  5. The way I heat milk is pretty fool-proof (at least for me) and does the job pretty well for things like hot chocolate. I fill my big mug with milk but leave enough room so that I can stir it pretty vigorously without spilling any. I heat the milk for two minutes in the microwave. This makes it warm enough to dissolve most but not all of the hot chocolate (in my case, Sipping Chocolate, also from Trader Joe's). Then, I put in the sipping chocolate and stir. There are still some clumps, so I heat it in the microwave for another minute or so. Now, it's nice and hot, and when I stir a second time, everything dissolves perfectly.

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  6. Every time I visit this site I am jealous that there is no Trader Joes in my country.
    It is great that you are having a few photos of what the food really looks like and not just packet shots.

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    1. No Trader Joe's? Yikes. I just started doing the actual food pics and you're right - I wish I started doing them sooner!

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  7. You could experiment adding dry milk power, if you want to make it with water. That's what Swiss Miss and Nestlé do anyway.

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  8. It;s not much cheaper in Mexico as Nestle owns everything! When I go to Mexico, I buy Choco-Choco made by IBARRA. Their baking chocolate products are sold in the US, but I have not seen Choco Choco. It's a regular chocolate powder mix for cold and hot chocolate, but seems ultra fine, dissolving quickly. I get it at Soriana.

    Nice blog!
    see mine....

    Foodiewicky.Blogspot.com

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  9. I'd like to try a dairy-free version of this. I wonder how the almond milk would work? wdyt?

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    1. My instinct is no. I love almond milk for my smoothies, but its contents and flavor profile are much different from regular milk. Milk does some very specific things when it heats; no idea whether almond milk will break or misbehave when it's heated.

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  10. Are you all for real...!!!! almost 80 percent of their products are made by CON AGra and Ralcorp..... Very gmo friendly Companies.Costco is their number 1 client, Trader joe's is number 2. I guess marketing really works on Americans... Big German conglomerate buys up California company and puts surfboards on their bags, what a crock... If a company is so secretive.. their has to be a reason.... remember the peanut butter recall!! remember in Texas. Regular food companies manufactured for them. No Natural food companies got peanut butter recalls. Wake up.... Maybe you should read the lawsuit in San Francisco about fraud labeling at Trader Joe's.
    I would never never shop there.

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