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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Trader Joe's Joyous Joe

Let's do some quick analysis here: Thanksgiving is a four day weekend. That means four days off, with a couple small kids. That equates to a lot of coffee consumption for us adults. Conveniently, there's four mini-cans of coffee that come in Trader Joe's Joyous Joe, so there'd be like a new flavor every day, right? How can this go wrong? Heck, it might even made a great little holiday gift for a white elephant-type deal, right, so it'd double as review fodder. Really, can't go wrong here....


There's four flavors here: Peppermint Mocha, Wintry Blend, Pumpkin Spice Coffee, and Gingerbread Coffee. Each variety comes in a canister that holds enough pre-ground coffee to make a large 10 to 12 cup pot o' joe.  I'll go through them in order we tried them...

Gingerbread Coffee: Thanksgiving Day. There's an issue here. Usually, we're French press folks, which requires course ground coffee. It's the standard grind for these beans, which means a regular drip pot is required. No matter, we have one of those, with the right size paper filters, let's fire it up...Cue catastrophe. the gingerbread coffee has ground ginger in it which apparently "blooms" a bit when wet. Because of this, somehow, some of those ginger bits Houdini'ed themselves out of the paper filter and lodged themselves under the rubber gasket of the dispenser drip nozzle thing of our coffee pot. So, right after Sandy filled her first cup, the coffee just kept flowing - nonstop - all over the counter and floor and everywhere. I was in the other room and I hear her yell for help and in our pre-caffeined state we have to figure out what in the heck is going on. I have to take the reservoir off and carry to the sink while Sandy holds a cup underneath it to catch all the drips, which sounds easy enough to do until you remember: no caffeine yet. Not easy or fun. This happen to anyone else? Please tell me this happened to someone else.

Tasted decent enough, with a strong ginger flavor. A little robust, and I'm not sure I'd make it my usual cup, but it worked for the day. Probably my favorite out of the bunch.

Peppermint Mocha: Friday. With the Exxon Valdez-ian coffee catastrophe of the previous day behind us, and coffee pot fixed via thorough dislodging of ginger chunks with a toothpick (fun times!), it's minty mocha time. Not great, not awful. Chocolate and mint work well in tea form but never coffee for me - not sure why. Decent amount of mint, meager amounts of chocolate, tasted kinda watery and a little sad. Still better than the peppermint mocha Sandy picked me up from McD's the other day. I'd rank third out of the group.

Pumpkin Spice: Saturday. Enough said. You know what I am by now. Last in my book. Go away, pumpkin spice. Blecch. Go away.

Wintry Blend: Sunday. We are a house divided on this coffee. I think it tastes fine, with a little extra bite. Out of any of the varieties, I could see getting a full can of it. Sandy says it tastes like it was stirred with a burned stick. Hrmm, there are "spices" listed: cloves, nutmeg...and cracked pepper? Pepper, in coffee? Now that's a new thing to me at least, and it does add an extra little slap that I could see would be offputting - I do get the burned stick sensation, but I just so happen to like it. Not Sandy.

So, there you have it. I'd prefer a full bean version so I could use a French press; however I know not everyone has their own bean grinder so I get why it's pre-ground as a default. If you need an inexpensive (less than $10) gift for someone who likes flavored coffees, or if you just want a little seasonal variety pack, I could see it the Joyous Joe being a worthwhile pick up. But we'll probably pass going forward. Sandy's in the spirit with giving it a three, I'm bah-humbuggin' it with a two overall.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Joyous Joe: 5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Chili Chocolate Collection

Ah, spicy chocolate. That concept was completely unfamiliar to me until I met Sonia. She and her friends introduced me to Abuelita our first Christmas season together, and I've been having it each December since. Turns out, Trader José has his own spicy hot chocolate, and it's worth a purchase as well. But here we have chocolate guajillo, jalapeno ganache, chili lime, and habanero chocolates—like actual candies with different kinds of chili in them, just in time for the holidays. Sounds pretty exotic...good thing I'm feeling adventurous today.

First up, Milk Chocolate Guajillo: Amazing. For a second, it just tastes like very sweet, ultra-smooth milk chocolate, but wow. Wow. A few moments in, there's this delightful warmth that skates across your tongue and glides down the back of your throat. It leaves your mouth tingling long after it's done. I loved it.

Next, Jalapeno Ganache: Where have I heard that word "ganache" before? Oh yeah. That bacon-infused nonsense. Apparently, it's like a chocolate cream sauce. Well, not only is this ganache pork-free, but it's also got a jalapeno-esque kick and happy little green jalapeno chilis printed right on the candy. If you ever wanted to know what a chocolate-covered jalapeno would taste like, this is probably pretty close. Not my favorite, but I feel just a bit more urbane and sophisticated for having tried it.

Then there's the Chili Lime chocolate: Outstanding. Never had a chocolate candy like this before. The "zesty lime oil" is tart, tangy, sweet, and simply awesome. Blended with chili, caramel, and chocolate, the lime flavor still stands out as dominant. It was an experience I won't soon forget.

Finally, there's Habanero Milk Chocolate: With an impressive amount of heat, this red chili-printed chocolate also features ganache. When I heard the phrase "chili chocolate," this is the flavor I imagined. It's sweet, it's chocolatey, and it's most definitely spicy. It's certainly not bad, but I think my favorite flavor was the chili lime, followed closely by the guajillo. Sonia wasn't as big on the chili lime, but she raved about the guajillo. This habanero flavor was her second favorite.

At $4.99 for 16 candies, they're not exactly giving them away, but this would make a great gift for any adventurous chocolate lover, and I can't emphasize the high quality of this product enough. And most other comparable chocolate collections are much pricier elsewhere. Four stars from me. Four and a half from the lovely Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Trader Joe's Chocolate Mint Flavored Black Tea

Finally, begrudgingly, reluctantly, and much to my chagrin, the heat is on my house for the fall/winter. It's not that I don't like being warm. Who doesn't? But what I don't like is paying a whole bunch extra on utility bills just so I can be comfy in a t shirt around the house. Plus: it's a 101-year old house I live in. Turning on the furnace does more than make it a little bit warmer; it also makes my dwelling's inherent draftiness all that much more palpable.

In my house, if you're cold: Put on another layer. Grab a hoodie. Lay on another blanket. Still cold? Go run a fast lap or two around the block then come back inside. Bet you're warmer then. There's other ways I occasionally recommend to my wife Sandy that we can keep each other warm, but she's not terribly amused by it. Fill in the blanks yourself. 

And of course: hot beverages. Coffee is nearly almost always welcome, but there are certain times and places a hot cuppa tea hits the warm beverage spot a little bit better. While in search of our favorite seasonal TJ tea, Sandy and I instead came across Trader Joe's Chocolate Mint Flavored Black tea, and were just intrigued enough we had to try.

Good stuff, this tea. Each tea bag comes individually sealed in a plastic wrapper that once cracked elicits a strong, fragrant mint scent that's fairly inviting. It's almost as strong as some mint gums, but in a more pure/less candified way. When brewing and sipping, it's still that same smell that carries through, so naturally, it's a pretty pepperminty tea. But that's not all there is. There's some coca shells in the tea bag, presumably crushed to itty bits, which add a definite chocolate flavor. The black tea itself, along with some chicory, make for a good tea base for the chocolate and mint to play off of one another. To me, sugar and cream aren't necessities, but I tried a sip of Sandy's, and with a little something added, the chocolate and mint seem to pop even more. I don't want to say it tastes like an Andes Candy in tea form, because that's not precisely it...but it's not terribly offbase either.

Gotta love the bear in an ugly Christmas tree sweater too, with the look in his eyes suggesting he just spilled some on his pant leg or bare bear feet. Would this bear wear pants? I'm thinking a nice pair of corduroy khakis.

Regardless, it's a fine tea, with just enough going on to suggest a dessert vibe. I could see getting some flavor fatigue if drinking this tea a few days in a row - admittedly, it does taste a little gimmicky. But I like it, as does the wife. She's going for a four, while I'm coming in a little lower - in the end, she's more of a tea person than me. No matter. Now pass me another blanket.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Chocolate Mint Flavored Black Tea: 7 out of 10 Golden Spoons