Chai tea lattes are sweet, spicy and milky. I typically find them to be a great alternative to hot chocolate on a cold day when you want something that offers a little more indulgence than another cup of coffee. On a recent trip to Trader Joe’s, one of their holiday items caught my eye: Salted Caramel Chai Latte Mix. Of course I put it straight into my cart, because there are few things that are more appealing than treats that feature salted caramel.
The latte mix is like many other tea latte mixes: add hot water and stir. The mix includes a blend in cinnamon, clove, cardamom, anise and ginger, as well as black tea, honey, sugar and nonfat milk. The overall flavor is good, and you get a nice blend of spice and honey with a smooth black tea aftertaste. It is quite sweet because of both the sugar (which I assume went towards the caramel flavor) and honey included. For all the sweetness – which made this a good dessert tea drink – I did not get much caramel flavor and I didn’t really notice any notes of salt, although it is listed as an ingredient. Of course, I don’t want my tea latte to actually taste salty, but I did expect there to be a more distinct nod to salted caramel and I don’t think I would have guessed the flavor without knowing in advance what it was. I might have guessed caramel, but definitely not salted caramel.
All that said, I still like this mix even if it doesn’t quite capture the essence of salted caramel. It’s a good blend of flavors and has a holiday feel to it. It is a little too sweet to be a breakfast tea for me, but I like it in the afternoon and after dinner as a sweet way to end the evening.
If you have any interest in rare coffees, you have probably heard of Kopi Luwak, a coffee made with beans that are eaten and partially digested by civets in Vietnam. It’s not a coffee for the squeamish (although the beans are definitely safe to brew by the time they get to a coffee shop), but it commands a high price tag. One forward thinking entrapaneur wondered if there were other animals out there that could help process coffee in a similar way. The result was the creation of Black Ivory Coffee, the world’s most expensive coffee, which comes in at about $500 per pound.
The coffee is produced by collecting beans that a group of elephants in northern Thailand have eaten and excreted. The Canadian developer behind the coffee, Blake Dinkin, says that the elephants’ stomach acid breaks down the coffee just enough to remove some of the bitterness from the bean – leaving you with a smoother cup. It takes about 72 pounds of raw coffee cherries to make 2 pounds of drinkable coffee.
Black Ivory Coffee sold out of its initial inventory, but they hope to have more available next season for coffee connoisseurs looking for the next unique thing in coffee.
I tend to drink inordinate amounts of tea when I have a cold, so the silver lining on having a cold for me is that I have the chance to try a lot of new teas. This Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Rooibus had been in my tea stash for a couple of weeks and had gotten passed over in spite of the very nifty tin that is packed in. The onset of the cold made me crack it open and I haven’t looked back.
This herbal tea is packed loosely in nice looking square tea bags. It includes a redbush (rooibus) herbal blend, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and natural pumpkin flavor. I’m not exactly sure what the natural pumpkin flavor is (it is unlikely to be actual pumpkin, since dried raw squash has a rather unpleasant flavor to it), but I felt that the spices came through more than the pumpkin “flavor” in any case. The tea definitely reminds me of a well-spiced pumpkin bread, with a great balance of all the spices in the tea. The rooibus is the perfect base for the spices and it is a great tea overall. This tea is particularly good hot, when sweetened with a little bit of honey or agave. If you have a loaf of pumpkin bread on hand, so much the better.
I recently gave some friends who weren’t too familiar with Sumatran coffees a little bit of a crash course in them by serving them some Sun Dried Sumatra Rasuna, one of Starbucks’ current Reserve coffees. This particular coffee is rather unusual because Sumatran coffees are typically semi-washed, not sun dried, during processing. Totally dry processing is uncommon in Indonesian coffees, due at least in part to high humidity, which doesn’t create ideal conditions for drying coffee.
My friends either loved or really disliked (fortunately, most loved) the coffee, and I think that Sumatran coffees tend to be a little bit polarizing because they have very bold flavors. I, personally, really enjoy Sumatran coffees and think that this is a great example of one when it comes to its flavor profile. It is dark, rich and super earthy. I got some very juicy, sweet fruit towards the beginning and a very moist, tropical earth flavor throughout, with a nicely clean finish. This coffee was also good served cold, over ice (I did that with the Clover).
As for the dry vs semi-dry processing method, I couldn’t say that one is better than the other based just on this one coffee, but would be interested in doing some side-by-side comparisons sometime to see how much of a difference I could detect.