Jan 2, 2013

Starbucks acquires Teavana

Teavana Teas
Starbucks has owned the Tazo tea company since 1999, and they are a mainstay at Starbucks stores. Quality tea seems to be generating more and more interest (in the US) these days, and Starbucks has taken note. The coffee giant recently purchased specialty tea seller Teavana for $620 million. The purchase gives Starbucks a great entry into the higher end tea market. This seems like a good move for Starbucks, since Teavana has a strong brand and lots of fans who enjoy the diverse range of teas that they offer. I could see the potential for offering more tea drinks in stores as an alternative to a traditional coffee shop and as eventually branching out to some stand-alone cafes – much as they did with Tazo earlier this year. Starbucks also says that they intend to move some Teavana products into the consumer goods market – meaning that they will likely be available in grocery stores, but at a much higher price point than more mass-market Tazo teas are.

From a more personal POV, I’ve had some bad experiences at Teavana locations due to aggressively upselling staff members. I’ve had some teas there that are very nice, but I basically swore them off after the last bad trip. A refreshing of the brand and maybe some of the attitudes there would definitely bring me back to shop there again. I love the idea of an accessible tea-centric cafe, so I’ll just keep my eyes out and see what comes from this purchase in the long run.

Dec 31, 2012

Trader Joe’s Salted Caramel Chai Latte Mix, reviewed

TJ's Salted Carame Chai Latte Mix

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.

Dec 28, 2012

Black Ivory Coffee is the world’s priciest brew

Black Ivory Coffee

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.

Dec 19, 2012

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Rooibus, reviewed

Pumpkin Spice Rooibus

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.

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