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Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea

There's some holiday traditions that frankly, I just don't get. Chief among them is the movie "A Christmas Story." You've probably seen it a hundred times, which is roughly how many times it gets played on TBS (or whatever station) this time of year, including nonstop on Christmas Day itself. What's the point of the movie, besides Ralphie actually getting his Red Ryder BB gun while not actually shooting his eye out? I mean, really, the whole movie is a bunch of somewhat amusing snippets of some slightly aggrandized yet skewed version of some every day life which, honestly, are mostly downers. Sure, you may get to beat the crap out of the neighborhood bully every once in a while, but the rest of the time it's getting your tongue frozen to the flagpole (why they opted for the yank method over some warm water, only God knows), your husband winning an ugly trashy leg lamp he insists on proudly showcasing, you breaking your prized ugly trashy leg lamp you insisted on proudly showcasing, your top secret decoded message turning out to be a lousy Ovaltine ad, your furnace is always breaking, your neighbor's dogs ravaging your holiday turkey, making you settle for Chinese for Christmas goes on and on. About the only thing that does go right is Ralphie not losing his eye, but still busting his glasses, which if I were his old man I'd not be amused.

On the other hand, there are holiday traditions that I fully support. Homemade cookies. My Grandma sending us pajamas every year. Pictures on the staircase. These are all great things. To a somewhat lesser (but still great!) extent, there's all the holiday goodies Trader Joe's puts out, some of which we've already reviewed. Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea, or what I prefer to simply call "lemur tea," probably has to be my absolute favorite.

I mean, what's not to love? Let's start with packaging. Look at the lemur's face! There he is, probably lost, cold from the snow, missing his home in Madagascar, and somehow he got tangled up in Christmas lights while holding a mug of tea. Yeah, it makes no sense but it works. It's cute and funny and can't help but make you smile. And that's before you even take a sip of this steeped perfection. Just by itself, it's good solid black tea with a healthy dose of vanilla and little hints of cinnamon here and there that tastes very grown-up and refined. It's excellent that way. If you're a little more like my cohort and crave something sugary and sweet, well, just add a good dose of cream and a little sugar, and you've got yourself a very tasty treat. Either way, there's very few other ways I'd prefer to warm myself up than grabbing a tea kettle, a big mug, and a bag of lemur tea. Have some while snuggling under a blanket reading, lounging on your couch with a movie, working away in your just doesn't matter where or when, it's fantastic. Overall, it's just well-balanced, good, honest tea that TJ trots out every holiday season. There's not a single bad thing that can be said.

Sandy likes it almost as much as I do. "I'm not much of a tea person," she said, "but man, I love lemur tea!" That's me, too. I'll drink iced tea all summer, but there's no other hot tea I make a point of buying and consuming at every reasonable chance other than this one. I'm a little confused by the labelled gluten-free stamp on the box...Is there gluten in other teas? Isn't there some form of gluten in the typical lemur diet?...but regardless, this is a perfect five from me. Not one single teeny-tiny complaint from me. Sandy had the audacity to give it only a four, I think, which is way too low. I'm going to assume I was so shocked by her saying "four" that I missed the part where she said "and a half" so I'm tacking that on. If there's one TJ's tea that deserves Pantheon-hood, it's this one.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Vanilla & Cinnamon Black Tea: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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, 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.

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