Review: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Oct 10

When I spotted Pumpkin Spice coffee at Trader Joe’s, I knew I had to give it a try. The ingredients included orange peel, and orange is a big favorite of mine, so I had high hopes.

Now, a warning about flavored coffee beans: adding flavor to ground beans is often a way to try to mask substandard coffee. And coffee that’s sold pre-ground, as this is, may not be at the peak of its freshness. I don’t grind my beans fresh at home like I should, but at least I have an idea how long ago they were ground. When you buy a canister of ground beans, all bets are off.

Ponder the alluring packaging.

Ponder the alluring packaging.

When I opened the canister, the smell was quite striking. Unfortunately, I don’t mean that in a good way. I expected to smell pumpkin pie spices, or possibly orange peel. What I actually smelled was … honestly, I don’t know. It seemed almost chemical. It certainly didn’t smell like any ingredient I would expect in pumpkin spice coffee.

I brewed this coffee the same way I brew my regular morning coffee — as a cold brew. It’s too fine a grind for a French press filter, so I had to strain the grounds out manually, but that’s no big deal. I tried brewing it with and without the brown sugar included in my usual cold brew, so I’d have a good basis for comparison.

This coffee is definitely flavored. But the flavor doesn’t seem like any other pumpkin spice product I’ve tried. If you’re brewing this hoping to get something similar to a Starbucks pumpkin spice latte, you will be disappointed. I couldn’t really identify any of the traditional spices, nor anything in the ingredients list. It just has a vague “some kind of spices” flavor.

As for the coffee beans themselves, I’m not impressed. But then, I have never been a fan of Trader Joe’s coffee. It may be a quality thing or it may be a personal preference. I have tried some coffees of theirs that were pretty decent (the Breakfast Blend comes to mind). But compared to the cold-brewed Verona I have every morning, this stuff was just not as good. A little bitter, a little burnt — and yes, I know that’s an odd thing to say in comparison to a Starbucks dark roast! — and just underwhelming.

If you like Trader Joe’s coffee, you may enjoy this more than I did. But don’t expect it to have a classic pumpkin spice flavor.

 

  • What: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Coffee
  • Where: Trader Joe’s grocery stores
  • Verdict: Underwhelming coffee, with a not-very-pumpkin-spice-like flavor. But it may be a decent brew for fans of other coffees from Trader Joe’s.

 

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What I’m Drinking: Cold Brew

Sep 05

One of the downsides to brewing your own hot coffee in the morning is that it requires measuring, filling, and operating equipment before you’ve had your coffee. This leads to all kinds of bleary-eyed brewing mishaps, like forgetting to put the espresso in the machine before brewing a shot (guilty), forgetting to put water in the machine (guilty), forgetting to put something under the spout to catch the coffee (oh so guilty) … it’s a recipe for disaster.

Well, have no fear because there is a delicious solution to this problem, and it’s called cold brew.

The deliciousness just radiates through your screen. Stainless steel press optional.

The deliciousness just radiates through your screen. Cat bed on the table is optional. (photo courtesy of my wife)

Now, this is not the same thing as iced coffee, which is generally brewed hot like regular coffee and then cooled down. Cold-brewed coffee doesn’t involve heat at all! And in fact, in some ways it’s easier to make than traditional coffee.

Here’s the basics: you mix ground coffee and room-temperature or cold water, you let it sit overnight in your fridge (or on your counter, depending on the temperature), and in the morning you just need to filter out the coffee grounds and your coffee is ready to drink! It’s the sun tea of the coffee world. It comes out just as strong, and even a little less bitter because the interaction between the coffee and the ground beans is different when no heat is involved.

If you Google up some instructions on cold brewing, you’ll find there’s a bunch of different ways to get the ground coffee out of your cold brew. But to me, this is a no-brainer. There’s already a piece of equipment perfectly suited for brewing and filtering coffee: a French press!

Here’s how I brew my coffee every day now. It’s adapted from this recipe on The Cooking of Joy — Joy deserves the credit for all the inspirational deliciousness.

 

You need:

  • a 32-ish ounce French press
  • 3/4 cup coarse-ground coffee beans (get decent stuff, and if someone else is grinding it for you tell them it’s for a French press)
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar (optional)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • 3 cups water

Instructions:

  1. Put the coffee beans, brown sugar and cinnamon (if you’re adding them) in your French press and stir to combine.
  2. Add 3 cups water and stir well.
  3. Give it a minute or two — a lot of the coffee will float to the surface — then stir well again.
  4. If the shelves on your fridge are tall enough, place the lid on the French press with the plunger juuuust resting against the top of the coffee. Otherwise, cover the press with plastic wrap or something.
  5. Put it in the fridge and leave it overnight. 8 hours minimum, 12 may be better, try not to let it go 24.
  6. In the morning take the press out, put the lid on if you haven’t already, and slowly push the plunger down as far as it will go.
  7. Pour your coffee, add ice and/or some kind of cream if you want, and drink! Makes enough for 2 or 3 glasses.

Not only is this straight-up delicious, but the bulk of the work is done the night before, when you’re not groggy and caffeine-deprived. All you have to do to get your fix in the morning is push the plunger and pour!

If it’s too much for you to drink in one morning, no worries — you can keep the brewed coffee in your fridge for a couple of days. Just make sure to pour it out of the French press so the brewing process stops. And for heaven’s sake empty the grounds out of your press and rinse it right away. Coffee grounds grow mold like whoa if you let them.

So go ahead and give this a try. If you’re anything like me, it’ll soon become a daily part of your morning routine.

 

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Review: Massetti Caffé Mobilé

May 02

Usually in the past my reviews have been of individual drinks. Today I’m doing something a little different, though. Today you get a review of an entire coffeeshop, because I’ve enjoyed their drinks so much I feel like it’s only right.

Massetti Caffé Mobilé is a mobile cart-style coffeeshop located in the Corporate Center plaza on Lake street in Pasadena. I passed by it many times without trying it, because let’s be honest — coffee carts, especially those catering to the white collar office tower crowd, are rarely anything to write home about. I’ve had drinks from many carts, from college campuses to airports to venue lobbies, and they’ve all fallen into the “drinkable but not amazing” category. Another reason I often passed without partaking is that this particular cart is located just a couple blocks from two Starbuckses, a root beer float shop, an independent coffeeshop, a bookstore with a cafe, and a whole slew of restaurants. When I’m in that area, my beverage needs are never wanting.

MassettiSign

A sign you’re at the right place

One day, I found myself near Massetti while it was open and I thought, “What the hell, I should at least give them a shot.” And man am I glad I did.

Massetti offers a wide range of coffee and tea drinks, including some that are hard to find elsewhere — such as cold-brewed coffee and a shaken espresso drink called the Shakerato. They have some pastries and paninis, plus a few types of soda if you’re not in the mood for coffee or tea. Their beans are roasted locally at Jones Coffee Roasters. Various types of milk are available, including soy milk; brewed tea is served with pyramid-shaped tea bags. They’ve got something for pretty much everybody.

The service is excellent. There’s often just one person taking orders and making drinks, so your drink will not appear at the speed of light, but it is absolutely worth the wait. Each drink is made fresh in front of you with care, and the barista will be happy to chat with you and answer any questions you have. They can always recommend you a drink to try if you can’t make up your mind. As I sit here typing this review on a bright, warm Friday afternoon, I can tell from the conversations the barista is having with various people walking by that this is a coffeeshop with many devoted regular customers. Little details like that can take a coffeeshop experience to a whole new level.

Every drink I have tried here has been delicious. The prices are a little higher than Starbucks but the quality is absolutely worth it. Here’s a few things I recommend:

Vanilla latte: When I try a new coffee place, this is usually the “test drink” I get. It’s like ordering pad thai at a Thai restaurant — if they screw it up, the place is no good. Massetti passed this test with flying colors; the latte was smooth, with just the right amount of vanilla, and really good foam. Unlike Starbucks, which has switched to push-button automatic espresso machines due to the sheer volume of drinks they make, Massetti uses a good ol’ La Marzocco, so pulling a good shot and steaming a good pitcher of milk take a certain amount of practice and skill. A good latte is a sign of a good barista.

MassettiColdBrew

Cold brew, easy ice, with some half-and-half

Cold brew: Cold-brewed coffee is brewed overnight in a fridge, instead of quickly with hot water in a machine or press. This results in a strong, less acidic cup of iced coffee that really hits the spot. I’m usually not big on cold coffee drinks, even in hot summer weather, but this is one drink I’ll make an exception for. In the picture you see a cold brew as I drink it — unsweetened and topped off with some half-and-half. It normally has more ice in it, but since it’s over 90 degrees F today and nobody remembered to tell the barista to bring extra ice on his way in, this is the last ice he had. Operating a cart rather than a full brick-and-mortar store does have its limitations.

MassettiChai

Spicy chai with freshly steamed milk. Mmm.

Chai latte: This is available in two versions, sweet and spicy. The spicy version (that’s spicy as in regular chai spices, not as in peppers) is still somewhat sweet, and it’s the version I prefer. The flavor comes from powder, but it’s not as artificial-tasting as a lot of chai powders. It’s mixed with milk that’s steamed to about 140 or 150 F, so not too hot. Definitely tastes more like spices than like tea, but overall it’s a delicious drink. If you need an extra kick of caffeine, try the dirty chai — this is a chai latte with a shot of espresso.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Massetti Caffé Mobilé
  • Where: 251 South Lake in Pasadena, CA
  • Website: http://www.massettiespresso.com/
  • Serves: Wide variety of coffee, espresso, and tea drinks
  • Verdict: Well-made drinks and knowledgeable baristas, highly recommended
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