Browsing articles from "July, 2011"
Jul 31, 2011

Trader Joe’s Sugar, Chocolate and Coffee Bean Grinder, reviewed

TJ's Sugar, Chocolate and Coffee Bean Grinder

As much as I enjoy a good cup of black coffee, I also love topping a cup of coffee or a shot of espresso off with a dollop of steamed milk or whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon or cocoa powder to add a little extra flavor and just generally dress up the drink. It is one of those little touches that somehow makes the drink seem fancier and me feel like slowing down to enjoy it – as I would do at a coffee shop, but might not necessarily do at home. It was clear that the new Trader Joe’s Sugar, Chocolate and Coffee Bean Grinder is designed to make it easy to add this sort of coffee shop flare to your coffee drinks at home. The grinder looks like a pepper mill, but is filled with white and brown sugar, chocolate and coffee beans. A few twists of the cap and you have a sweet sprinkling on top of your drink! The mix is great, and because it comes out of a pepper grinder, everything has a very coarse texture to it, so you get both an attractive look and a lot of flavor from just a small amount of this mix. The sugar crystals are crunchy, the coffee is subtle and the chocolate just leaves a hint of richness on your tongue as it melts. I’m keeping mine by the coffee maker.

TJ’s also recommends putting this on buttered toast, ice cream or other desserts. I can vouch for how delicious it is on top of buttered toast, and I’ll definitely be up for experimenting with it on other desserts that need a little spike of coffee, chocolate and sugar to dress them up.

TJ's Sugar, Chocolate and Coffee Bean Topping

Jul 26, 2011

Tea Bag Tea Infuser

Tea Bag Tea Infuser

A tea bag is a disposable bag that is meant to make it easy and convenient to infuse your hot water with the tea of your choosing. It is a convenience item, and over the years bagged tea has picked up a reputation for not being as good, as fresh or having as clear a flavor as loose leaf tea. This isn’t true of all brands, of course, and it really has very little to do with the tea bag itself. The bag is still a great way of easily infusing your tea. That said, you’ll want a high quality bag, and while you can find high quality paper tea bags, the Tea Bag Tea Infuser is definitely a step up from most designs. Designed to look just like a regular tea bag, this stainless infuser sits upright in your glass on its silicone base and can be lifted with its silicone tab when your tea is ready. It isn’t disposable, but it brews any loose leaf tea with ease and it is easy to clean. And even if you’re not the type of tea drinker that typically uses bagged tea, you have to admit that this particular “bag” is definitely a cut above the rest.

Jul 17, 2011

Starbucks Refreshers, reviewed

Starbucks Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher

Starbucks Refreshers are new summer drinks hitting the menu boards at Starbucks this summer. The drinks were test marketed in several areas last year, and must have been quite the hit to get the push to a larger market! The drinks are slightly sweet, fruity drinks that are designed to be – as the name suggests – refreshing in the warm weather. They’re made with frozen fruit and a flavor-neutral extract made with green coffee beans. The green beans are ground into a powder that is incorporated into the drinks. It doesn’t add a coffee flavor, but it does add a small amount of caffeine (less than a regular cup of brewed coffee) and green coffee beans are said to help lower blood pressure and promote weight loss. The drinks are low in calories, too.

The Refreshers come in two flavors: Cool Lime and Very Berry Hibiscus (pictured above). I felt like the lime tasted a bit like watered down limemade, and while it wasn’t bad at all, it also wasn’t terribly exciting. The hibiscus was much better. It had a very light berry flavor, floral notes and was very refreshing. It was just barely sweetened, just enough to highlight the fruits without leaving a sticky taste in your mouth. I like their tea-lemonade, but I think I would definitely choose the hibiscus refresher over that on a hot day. I didn’t notice a caffeine kick – but then again, I had already had a bit of coffee in the morning before I tried the drinks.

I also want to mention that this is the first drink in my area offered in the extra large Trente size, and having had the drink, I can actually see it working in that much larger size (remember, a lot of the volume is offset by ice ) on a hot day when you want more than just a few ounces of refreshment from a very lightly sweetened drink like this one.

Starbucks Refreshers Menu

Jul 12, 2011

How is flavored coffee made?

Dunkin' Strawberry Shortcake Coffee

French vanilla, hazelnut and other types of flavored coffee usually to consumers looking for something a little sweeter and a little milder than other types of beans. Flavored coffees don’t allow you to taste all the complexity of black coffee, but at the same time, they usually deliver more of an aroma of their “flavor” rather than a strong dose of hazelnut or, in the case of the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee pictured above, strawberry shortcake. This begs the question: how is flavored coffee made?

Flavored coffee can be made in a variety of ways. The simplest way to flavor coffee will add spices alongside the beans, and the spices are soaked into the water along with the coffee as it brews. Most flavored coffees, however, are flavored by mixing flavoring – either a natural or artificial flavoring, usually mixed with water or some other liquid – into freshly roasted coffee beans. The flavoring gently coats the beans and is essentially steeped into the brewed coffee. Often, flavored coffee is ground before flavoring is added to increase the surface area that the flavoring can cover. Powdered flavorings can also be added, although that generally works best with already ground coffee.

Coffee aficionados will tell you than many manufacturers use less expensive beans (or simply a whole variety of beans mixed together rather than a specifically formulated blend) to make flavored coffee because the flavors will cover up any imbalances in the beans. This may be true in some cases – though there are plenty of companies that use high quality beans for all of their products – but it is definitely true that you will not be able to taste the nuances of a perfectly roasted coffee bean after flavoring has been added, so it isn’t worth putting your very best or most expensive beans in a batch that is going to be flavored.

So, with the exception of the occasional batch of spiced coffee, the flavoring comes from natural or artificial flavoring liquids that are added to the coffee beans. Actual ingredients like hazelnuts and chocolate are not added to coffee to produced flavored coffee and this is why flavored coffee usually has a stronger aroma of the “flavor” rather than the distinct taste of it.

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