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Friday, July 31, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Cold Brew Black Tea Concentrate

July is such a long month. After the Fourth, it's pretty anticlimactic: no big holidays or festivities to look forward to. Sonia and I don't even have any birthdays among our immediate family or close friends. Also, it's the hottest month. It's like the summer version of January. Thirty-one days of extreme weather. Even before lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, it was a time for me to hide inside and enjoy the air conditioning.

Last year, we spent most of July in the Pacific Northwest, where the temps weren't so bad. Highs in the 70's through this part of the summer? Yes, please. But this year, it's not as easy to galavant across the country with reckless abandon, so inside in the AC is where we've spent most of the month. And any refreshing cold beverages that can help beat the heat are most welcome.

This isn't the first TJ's brand tea concentrate we've tried, but it's the first one with plain black tea. I think it's new. But then again, I think everything I see at Trader Joe's that I haven't noticed before is new, and in some cases, it's a product that's been there for a decade or more. So you tell me if it's new. I'll believe you either way.

This particular product comes in a single pint bottle that makes "up to one gallon of tea." So let's break this puppy open and add some sugar and lemon juice and see what we get...

First impressions: it's good. Just how good it tastes to your palate is going to largely depend upon how you prepare it. How much water did you use? How much sugar or agave syrup did you add? Did you add lemon juice?

In light of that, I'm pretty sure that anyone who likes iced tea is going to find a way to tailor this stuff to their own personal tastes. I once had a conversation with a Southerner who, as many Southerners are, was a sweet tea aficionado. In my Yankee ignorance, I posed the question: "Couldn't you just, you know, like add your own sugar to unsweetened tea?" 

His response: "Or I could just stab your mother."

I think he was joking, mostly. But the takeaway was that you can not simply add sugar to iced tea in order to make true Southern style sweet tea. So you Southern folks might not be super enthused about this product. Me? I guess ignorance is bliss, because I like it quite a bit. I made mine on the strong side and added a good amount of sugar and lemon.

Sonia likes it, too. She used agave and didn't make hers quite as sweet or as strong. I really think that's the biggest strength of this tea: its versatility. It's about $5 for the little bottle, but as it states on the traderjoes website, you're getting organic cold brew tea for about 31 cents per cup. That's darn cheap. I think we're looking at four stars a piece here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea

"Cheerios water."

For better, or for worse, or for whatever reason, those were the first words out of my mouth after my first sip of a new icy cool Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea.

"Ch...Cheerios water? What the heck are ya talking about, and how would you know what Cheerios water would taste like? You tryin' that out on you own time or sometime?"

"Heck no. But like...if I had a bowl of Cherrios, but instead of milk poured water over it, ate the Cheerios, then drank the water, I think this would taste like that."

"Okay, weirdo. It's..." pauses for another sip "...more like coffee. Like a really weak coffee, like what I'd imagine emergency ration coffee would be like, all watered down and everything...which I hope we won't find out what that'll be like..."

"Thanks for the stark assessment, love."

Well, there ya have it. There's a little slice of life between my lovely bride and I the other night, after making a quick stop at TJ's after a long hot day capped off with a family bike ride to try and save some of our collective sanity. Left us parched, and I figured no better time to give a new beverage a try.

For a first time tryer of boricha (the actual Korean name for this type of drink, though I make no claim to this TJ's version's authenticity), it's so simple a drink, yet one that leaves me intrigued. I mean, literally, it tastes like nothing but grain, kinda, and water. There's no sugar, no other flavors or spices or anything to "liven" it up. It's barley...and water. Part of me wants to be all wiseguy 'merican and say to add malt and hops and then we might really be on to something, but that's not what we have here.

It's light but not overtly crisp and I waver on calling it refreshing or not. I'm sure some folks could consider it that, but I'm not quite on board. It's not awful, by any stretch, and I definitely enjoyed it the more I drank it, but I didn't finish the bottle entirely overjoyed, either. Yet I wish to try it again, and for $1.19 a bottle it's a low priced gamble.

I just noticed on the bottle it said it the barley tea can be served hot or cold. If it ever cools down, I'll definitely have try a heated up version - honestly I think I'd enjoy it more that way, but not when it's in the mid 90s and I have no AC, thank you very much.

Not overly in love, but I'll try it again for sure. That warrants a three in my book, subject to change with further experience. Despite our exclusive to ourselves oddities, my wife shares in this assessment with a three of her own.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Roasted Barley Tea: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Monday, July 27, 2020

Trader Joe's Organic Cucumber Kefir Dressing

It's been over nine years since we last looked at a Trader Joe's kefir product. Granted, that one was more of a beverage and this one is a condiment, but still, these are the only two products we've seen that contain the name "kefir" through nearly a decade of reviews. All I know about kefir is that it's basically a drinkable yogurt. I'm still not even 100% sure how you're supposed to pronounce the word. Fortunately, I won't have to say it out loud any time soon. Sonia and I have simply been referring to this dressing as, "you know, the cucumber stuff."

I'd say all things considered, we're fans. It's oddly thin for a milk-based salad dressing, but we're both fine with that. We think the thinness makes it more summery. Thick stuff is for fall and winter. This is like the warm weather version of ranch, at least texture-wise.

It's super tangy, cucumbery, and refreshing. Pretty much every ingredient is truly organic, so that's a plus. Calories and fat count are very reasonable. It's always a shame when you choose a salad thinking you're being good and then you do some math and realize you're actually getting just as many calories and often more fat than if you'd gotten a sub or a hamburger. Ah well, at least there's more roughage and fewer carbs, right?

Flavor-wise, it's not too far off from a Caesar dressing, but way more sour. There are numerous types of oils and vinegars, as well as real cucumber puree. The blend of spices is noticeable but it doesn't overshadow the tangy dairy flavors or the subtle notes of cucumber. It's almost like a thin American tzatziki. Sonia thought the sour power was a little intense—not that she disliked it, but she used significantly less dressing than I did so as to not overpower her taste buds.

I, personally, don't think this condiment works as a veggie dip so well, since it doesn't coat as much as other dips. If you've got all your greens in a bowl, it works as a classic salad dressing. I've tried it as an alternative condiment in a sandwich, but it tends to slide off the edges of the bread and drip down onto your plate. You can always try dabbing your sandwich into the little puddles of the dressing to recover some of the escaped portions, but that can be frustrating and tedious.

The price is $3.49 for a bottle that won't last long. A larger family might go through the bottle at a single meal—and I mean that as a testament both to the diminutive size of the bottle as well as to the quality and uniqueness of the product. Says there's 12 servings, but I think it's more like six the way I use dressing. Three and a half stars a piece.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

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