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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Monday, December 3, 2012

Trader Joe's Unsweetened Cocoa Powder

After living the first five years of my life in Hershey, PA, just blocks from the famous intersection of Cocoa and Chocolate Ave, and then growing up no more than an hour away from Hershey after that, I developed a mild sense of brand loyalty to the massive chocolate corporation. I'm not a chocoholic by any means, but I don't go out of my way to avoid chocolate, either. Who does?

And, as many of you regular readers may know, I'm open to try new things and I can provide the average person with a few insights about most Trader Joe's foodstuffs, but my child-like sweet-tooth refuses to be ignored. I'll often choose a "chick-drink" over beer, and I very rarely drink coffee because I want my caffeine to taste like candy. So I indulge on energy drinks instead. Likewise, I'm all about white chocolate and milk chocolate, and haven't much love for the dark stuff.

Now, I'm married to a beautiful Mexican-American woman, and one of the prerequisites for that is a love of traditional Mexican beverages, such as champurrado and Abuelita, which is pretty similar to Trader Joe's Spicy Hot Cocoa. All those beverages get a big thumbs up from me, as does microwaved Hershey's syrup and milk. But this stuff is darker than them all. It's bitter. Even after the specified tablespoon of sugar, my hot cocoa was thick, rich, dark, and not very sweet. I put the sugar in myself. It's scary how much sugar I put in. A tablespoon is big. There was practically as much sugar as there was milk. And still, no sugar shock. No sweetness surge. That's something I'm looking for in a chocolate. That's something I crave. And there are those of you who would tell me that if it still wasn't sweet enough, I should have just gone ahead and put another spoonful into the cup. But I couldn't. That would have been wrong. Like asking Santa to bring me diabetes for Christmas. It was just a bit disappointing.

But for those of you with "refined palates," you'll agree with my wife: this stuff is delicious. Coffee connoisseurs and lovers of beany things, rejoice. And go buy a box. The packaging proclaims that the product is made with Tumaco beans from Colombia. Apparently, Juan Valdez and his ornery mule picked up a sack of cocoa beans while he was out there in the bush collecting coffee, and he sold it all to Trader Joe when he came to port. I googled "Tumaco cocoa" and more than half of the results I found referenced this Trader Joe's product. I'm not sure if that reflects the success of Trader Joe's brand or the fact that "Tumaco cocoa" really isn't that famous. Either way, I think you folks that like dark coffees and chocolates will like it.

On that note, I don't want to give it a deceptively low score. I can tell that it's a quality product. It's just not my cup of tea..er, hot cocoa. I'll give it a 3.

Sonia, predictably, gives it a 4.5. She loved the drink and would like to add that it's good for baking, too. She used it in a cake she made. It was yummy.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

33 comments:

  1. I have never made hot cocoa w/this TJ version... I needed it for baking and it seemed to do the job.. Can't beat the price!.

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  2. Just found your blog. I go to TJ's once a week so this is great for me. Just curious, been following a few weeks but haven't seen a 10 yet. You give any of those out? I want to know what's reeeeally good. ;)

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    1. Every once in a great while - look up in the right column under "Ranking Roll Call" and click on "Pantheon" - all of those have scored a 9.5 or 10!

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    2. Oh I hadn't noticed that yet. Perfect! Thank you!

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  3. Please correct your post to spell the country Colombia. Respect those of Colombian heritage :) Thanks!

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    1. OMG, in defense of the blog author, it was probably and honest mistake and not disrespect!

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    2. Indeed! Thanks for pointing that out...my Colombian friends would be appalled.

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    3. And thanks, KBF, for giving me the benefit of the doubt :)

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    4. I didn't mean that it was disrespect. See the smiley? :)

      Thanks for the correction!

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  4. I haven't seen this around yet...must keep my eyes open! Yay! :)

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  5. I use TJ's unsweetened cocoa powder for all of my baking and I love it. But I haven't used it for other things. Nice review.

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  6. My wife is fond of it for baking now, too, Tiffany. Thanks for the love!

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  7. how much did this cost? i am out of cocoa and was just about to hit up hershey's as per usual, but then i read this review and would love to give it a try!

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    1. Hi! It was $1.99, another reason why I really like this product. :)

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  8. If you look at the ingredients of TJ's spicy hot cocoa, it lists sugar as the first ingredient - so more sugar than cocoa. But you just don't notice it because you didn't have to mix it in!

    But I don't like hot chocolate. So I won't know. I only use TJ's unsweetened cocoa for baking, such as these brownies I made this weekend: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2010/01/best-cocoa-brownies/ They are my favorite. I also add TJ's chocolate chips to the recipe.

    I see that the brownies also has twice as much sugar as it does cocoa. Apparently I don't need to ask for diabetes from Santa - I might be doing it to myself!

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  9. I love this cocoa - but I use it for cookies, not hot chocolate! I usually melt chocolate chips with milk for my hot chocolate or use the instant.

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  10. Totally, Caroline...I'm sure there's preposterous amounts of sugar in many of the things I eat/drink, but if I don't see it, it doesn't bother me as much! Ignorance is bliss...

    And yes, vhoiten, I think most people use this for baking rather than hot chocolate...if I could bake worth a darn, I would have reviewed it more as a baking item. Love the idea for melting choc chips in milk!

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  11. Let me first say how much I love TJs and your blog-- I'm not a troll or a negative person, honest. BUT... I'm a little surprised at this review. Unsweetened cocoa power isn't a drink mix. It's a raw ingredient, exactly on the level of plain flour straight from the sack, so that the only fair review of such a thing would be a review of baked goods prepared with it -- and then (unless it was simply dreadful) there'd be too many other variables fot most palates (mine, for sure!) to be able to discern many of the niceties. A 7.5 is, I suspect, unduly negative for a competitively priced pantry staple.

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  12. for drinking purposes, you might want to try trader joes 'sipping chocolate', which i like a lot! and if you're feeling very adult, toss a shot of bailey's in there ^_~

    i used this cocoa powder when i feel like an over-achiever, and make oreos from scratch, a purpose which it works very well for!

    ps- been reading the blog for a few months, but this is my first comment. hi! i like your blog!

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  13. Would it completely shock your sweet tooth if I told you I drink this stuff as hot chocolate without ANY sweetener? I don't use sugar in my coffee either though, so...

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  14. Dear Friend, you are my hero. I wish I were like you. No, seriously. I mean that. If I could kill my sweet tooth, I would do it in a heartbeat. You must have reached some kind of zen/ nirvana/ moksha stage on enlightenment that I can only dream of at this point.

    ifandany, thanks for the recommendation, and thanks for the love!

    camillofan, yes, in retrospect I shouldn't have reviewed this item as a base for hot chocolate from a recipe my wife found online, but as an ingredient for baking...which was little more than a footnote in this review...a 7.5 isn't too bad, though...it fits our second-highest category "really darn good," and if you check some of our other reviews, we can be totally brutal from time to time...but thanks for calling me out on reviewing this product under a potentially misleading premise.

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  15. Instead of Ghiradelli's cocoa, I used this in my frozen hot chocolate and it was excellent!! http://whisktogether.wordpress.com/2011/05/31/frozen-hot-chocolate/

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  16. I don't have a problem with you reviewing this product based on how it makes hot chocolate. My father always makes his hot chocolate on the stovetop using cocoa powder. He loves dark chocolate - I will have to buy some of this to take home at Christmas!

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  17. Yeah, this stuff needs a TON of sugar to be palatable as hot cocoa! But it makes fantastic brownies, chocolate cake, and pretty much any other baked good containing chocolate that you can think of!

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  18. I am definitely going to try the cocoa. I recently had Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Covered Marshmallows and I must get more! I pop 2 or 3 at a time. I found them on Amazon.com and will be getting more for Valentine's and Easter.

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  19. Today is feb.18, 2013, just discovered your blog after returning from TJ with this 'POWDER' and without reading the label/instructions I made myself a cup, with some honey and stevia, a little milk and it tastes ok,but i already have a headache,then i remembered that the REAL cocoa for drinking tasted a little different,better and I read the label and i hate to tell you, but nowhere on the label says you can drink it and how much to use, THIS ONE IS ONLY FOR BAKING! Thats why still contains so much cocoa butter, etc.... This is too cheap also to be drinking pure cocoa!(they're in excess of $7-$10 for the same size!!!) Please read the label in the future, this wasn't made for drinking, only baking! I know, I feel it now, instant bathroom trip!!! Cocoa butter!
    PS..Oh, by the way, where do you think Girardelli get their cocoa also? Central and South America!!! Im sure sometimes they share distributor!

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  20. Can't say I agree. I find it bland and will not buy again. I will go back to Sharffen-Berger (or however you spell it). The cake I made with T.J.'s was tasteless compared with using a better quality cocoa powder. Not worth it.

    I guess people just have different tastes.

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  22. Thank you again for another” feel good, uplifting, that there are good people in this world story”. We read so many stories that are negavite about people and what they do to others. A random act of kindness is always such a great thing to hear about. Peace and blessings.

    cocoa powder

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  23. Bought the book by Will Fowler, Eat Chocolate, Lose Weight. He also wrote the Fat Fallacy, which is an awesome book. He talks about finding good, non-dutch cocoa. It hasn't been treated with an alkalai, which makes it very healthy. I just bought some from TJs and am anxious to get home and make the hot cocoa, as good, dark chocolate is excellent for the heart and circulatory system. I will be adding it to my coffee in the mornings...since I drink it black, I will not sweeten it. I will also try it in baking...I have a wonderful recipe for mole from Fowler, which calls for cocoa. His book is full of recipes using good cocoa...Will post how they taste. I had a bakery for several years so this will be an experiment for me...I bake a whiskey cake which is dark chocolate. Will see how this works.

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  24. Correction: the acid left in the cocoa is what makes it more healthy...making it a dutch cocoa removes this area of health.

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  25. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this cocoa from Trader Joe's!! Why? Because I'm currently following the Eat to Live regimen, which means eating lots of greens, legumes, vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds and very little of anything else. I'm trying to limit processed foods, veg. oil, salt, sugar, and all junk food. So what does a bona fide carboholic do when she needs a chocolate fix?? She mixes Trader Joe's cocoa in with almond butter or organic peanut butter (with salt or no-salt) and a packet of Truvia to make a much closer to natural chocolate-nut spread to eat with sliced apples or celery sticks. DIVINE!

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