REVIEW: Starbucks Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

Summertime arrives each year following much anticipation of great weather, long days, and lots of opportunities for seasonal activities. By the time most of us get to August, the luster is gone. Skin in a mosaic pattern of sunburn and bug bites remain as a reminder of the overcrowded beaches, holiday weekend traffic jams, uncomfortable humidity, and unfinished must-reads that we experienced over the last six weeks.

Starbucks aims to rekindle some of that summer charm by introducing their new line of Teavana Shaken Iced Tea Infusions. Teavana, previously a member of the top five free mall samples, was an expert at pairing blends and other enhancers (fruit among them) to create samples that were steeped (pun intended) in flavor. Their iced tea offerings (often paired with lemonade) were always the most strongly flavored and had me looking forward to their presentation of how “Good Feels Good,” represented in each drink by two infusions (tea and a fruit/plant/floral infusion) shaken together.

Teavana Peach Citrus Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

The first variety, Peach Citrus White Tea, was inspired by Teavana Peach Tranquility Herbal Tea. The tea and a small amount of liquid cane sugar (just 70 calories and 19 grams of sugar in a 30 ounce Trenta), enhanced with an infusion of apples, licorice root, rose hips, hibiscus, orange peels, lemon verbena, chamomile pollen, lavender flowers, AND nondescript “natural flavors.”

It was generally light on peach flavor. This clearly wasn’t a Snapple or Nestea offering that beat you over the head with peach flavor. Peach does not show up on that lengthy infusion list in any form. But as I consumed more, the flavor evoked the scent of peach blossoms.

This drink captured the blending benefits I was familiar with from Teavana, and that’s a big win in my book. Iced tea is not complicated to make, and you don’t have to have exotic additions like rose hips or flower pollen to enjoy it. This is clearly a premium experience you’re being offered, and comparing other soft drinks puts this in a class by itself. Reviewer-speak aside, I nearly drank it too quickly to do the review justice!

White tea’s ability to be a featured and flexible background player (the Katherine Hahn of herbal beverages) was key, and I was concerned black tea might overwhelm the floral intonations and green tea might dampen their impact with a bitter counterpart.

Teavana Pineapple Black Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

My first fear was confirmed by the Pineapple Black Tea variety, inspired by Pineapple Kona Pop herbal tea, frequently used in Teavana’s iced tea samples. The strong tea choice did, in fact, overwhelm any subtler influences, and without the appropriate level of sweetness emanated a slight smoky nature in the aftertaste.

The pineapple flavor is a positive, a rare fresh pineapple taste infrequently found in beverages, particularly without coconut. This was the real deal. At least I think, despite a more tidy infusion list devoid of actual pineapple, save for the ubiquitous “Natural Flavors” catch-all.

Teavana Strawberry Green Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

The third variety was the Strawberry Green Tea, oddly inspired by the Strawberry Paraiso White Tea. How would the change to a more pungent tea change the overall complexion of the drink?

I found the strawberry green interesting, as it feels like it’s working backwards. This beverage’s initial impact is very plant-based, surely due in part to the earthy herbal quality of green tea. The strawberry hits after you swallow, and, like the pineapple, tastes pretty close to “real” strawberry flavor (once again no strawberry indicated, although spearmint and lemongrass each made an appearance). If you consume the drink faster, the delay of the fruit impact lessons, but I appreciated having two taste profiles in one beverage. This option is meant to be savored slowly, which after all, is what iced tea’s heritage is all about.

Teavana Pina Colada Shaken Iced Tea Infusions

BONUS SEGMENT! Reviewing the Starbucks website, I discovered a less-promoted option: the Pina Colada Infusion. Through the generosity of the Main Street Newark partners, I had the chance to try this version on the house. The only change was a simple addition of coconut milk to the Pineapple Black Tea Infusion, or so it appeared. This time the ingredients list revealed a potentially significant adjustment, the reversal of the black tea and the plant/fruit, indicating less of the former and more of the latter in this incarnation.

The drink now consisted of creamy, slightly sweet, and slightly floral coconut milk; a greater concentration of plant/fruit infusion; and a reduced amount of black tea. The results were a marked improvement, albeit a beverage unlike iced tea you’ve ever had. Instead, a mildly sweet, fresh-tasting, not-cliche pina colada beverage is created, one that largely hides the black tea component and could be a counterpart to the Violet Drink. It’s unique, and perhaps not as impressive as the Peach Citrus White Tea, but it’s the option I find myself hankering for.

On my summer bucket list, I’ve got a few of the usual things left to do — catch a superhero flick, ride a roller coaster, read through the last seven reasons why. Thanks to Starbucks, I can leave planting in the garden far off the list. I’ve got all the flowers and pollen I need from this delightful line of tea infusions.

(Nutrition Facts – Trenta – Peach Citrus White – 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 40-45 milligrams of caffeine. Pineapple Black and Strawberry Green – 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 19 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, and 50-55 milligrams of caffeine. Pina Colada – 160 calories, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 26 grams of sugar, and 50 milligrams of caffeine.)

Purchased Price: $4.25 each except Pina Colada ($4.75)
Size: Trenta
Rating: 9 out of 10 (Peach Citrus White Tea)
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Pineapple Black Tea)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Strawberry Green Tea)
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Pina Colada Tea)
Pros: A gourmet effort at iced tea. Light balance between tea, fruit, and flower in the Peach Citrus White. Pineapple and strawberry flavors. The re-balancing act with the Pina Colada infusions ratios. The other members of the top five samples: (Auntie Anne’s, whatever places give out hibachi chicken or smoothies, and Charley’s Philly Steaks)
Cons: Overwhelming smokey black tea aftertaste. Starbucks adding another competitor’s outlets to the RIP pile (Seattle’s Best, Evaluation Fresh, La Boulange). When you’re a kid and move to a new house with a pool that your parents immediately replace with a vegetable garden.

REVIEW: Limited Edition PB&J Oreo Cookies

Limited Edition PB J Oreo Cookies

If you’re holding a grudge against Oreo for temporarily ruining your taste buds with its Swedish Fish flavor or turning your poop pink with Peeps Oreo, Limited Edition PB&J Oreo might be the olive branch that causes you to forgive.

The sandwich cookie features a creme layer that’s half peanut butter-flavored and half raspberry jelly-flavored between two Golden Oreo wafers. It’s disappointing Nabisco didn’t use their Oreo Thins technology to stack two thin creme layers on top of each other to make it look more like a PB&J sandwich and less like Grimace lying on top his own filth after drinking too many McDonald’s chocolate shakes.

Limited Edition PB J Oreo Cookies 2

The peanut butter creme has a pleasant balance of sweet and salty. I haven’t had Peanut Butter Oreo Cookies in a long time, so I’m not sure if this one tastes similar. But when I lick the creme and eat the cookie, Nutter Butter pops into my head. The jelly creme tastes like the same one used in the Limited Edition Jelly Donut Oreo. While I didn’t care for it with that cookie, I like it in this one. While it has an artificial raspberry flavor when eaten alone, it’s turns into a generic berry flavor when eating a whole cookie.

When the two cremes come together in one bite, it brings a smile to my face because the cookie hits the PB&J flavor target. There’s the right balance between the two cremes, one flavor doesn’t overwhelm the other. These cookies make Smuckers Uncrustables seem more like Unbearables. The Golden wafers are great as the “bread” for these cookies because, while sweet, they’re also mild enough to allow the cremes to shine.

These cookies are delightful, so much so that I’d bet money we’ll be seeing these as a permanent or returning flavor in the future. Also, let me include more praise by stating this is one of my Top 5 favorite limited edition Oreo cookies.

Limited Edition PB J Oreo Cookies 3

While wonderful, I do have some minor issues with it. The way the creme layer is forces us to bite into a particular side to get both flavors in our mouths. Approach it from the wrong side and you end up with all peanut butter or all jelly. Of course, one can overcome that by shoving the whole cookie into your mouth like a competitive Oreo eater.

Also, raspberry jelly is an odd choice. If I was playing Family Feud and Steve Harvey asked me “Name me a jelly flavor you’d put on a PB&J sandwich,” I’m sure answering “raspberry” wouldn’t be any help towards getting to 200 points.

So to all who have been burned by previous Oreo flavors, the Limited Edition PB&J Oreo is one helluva “I’m Sorry” card from Nabisco.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 95 milligrams of sodium, 25 milligrams of potassium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: Too much from eBay
Size: 10.7 oz. package
Purchased at: Kroger (by eBay seller)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Does PB&J well. Peanut butter reminds me of Nutter Butter. Jelly creme works better with this cookie than Jelly Donut Oreo. Possible future varieties, like strawberry jelly, grape jelly, or crunchy peanut butter creme.
Cons: Raspberry jelly seems like an odd choice for jelly. Creme is half peanut butter and half jelly, not two layers on top of each other. Currently a Kroger-exclusive.

REVIEW: Krispy Kreme Reese’s Peanut Butter Doughnut

Krispy Kreme s Reese s Peanut Butter Doughnut

How many ways are there to eat a Reese’s? Aside from the classic cup formation, there are many candy offshoots, a breakfast cereal, spreads, Chips Ahoy! cookies, Baskin-Robbins ice cream, Breyers ice cream, and on and on. Apparently, people like Reese’s.

Coming in right as the dog days of summer settle in with increasing heat and laziness, Krispy Kreme unleashed a morning confection that features a classic yeast doughnut filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter Kreme, dipped in milk chocolate icing, topped with Reese’s Peanut Butter Chips and chopped peanuts, and finished with a drizzle of chocolate and peanut butter. Whew. Are you still breathing? I’m not sure that I am.

This doughnut is a thing of beauty. It feels heavy in the hand and looks like a million lip smackin’ peanut buttery bucks. The light brown drizzle is exactly as advertised, and is straight peanut butter that squishes and moves to the touch. I was anticipating an icing or frosting with some firmness but it maintains its gooey-ness, and as I lick it off of my fingers, it is salty and fatty in all the right ways.

Biting in is a revelation of Krispy-meets-Reese’s indulgence that is damn near everything I had hoped it would be. Given KK’s notoriously sweet reputation I’m shocked by the restrained and balanced sweetness in the overall flavor. The rich fattiness from the peanuts and peanut butter on top mingle with the chocolate icing and chips for the ultimate topping yin and yang, pairing wonderfully with the pillowy, soft, not at all greasy, and not at all sweet yeast doughnut. The toppings do well to boost the intention of the doughnut but also bring a solid crunch to push up against the abundant fresh softness of the chew itself.

Krispy Kreme s Reese s Peanut Butter Doughnut 3

The highlight of this Krispy masterpiece, and likely what will draw most people to want to try it, is the Reese’s Kreme filling. Krispy Kreme’s usual kreme is smooth and very sweet with vanilla undertones. It has many similarities to the filling made famous by Hostess and Little Debbie. This filling takes that same thick, slightly whipped texture and tempers it flawlessly with rich peanut butter-y notes that are juuussst sweet enough to honor the iconic candy. It’s smooth and velvety with a bold nuttiness that still leaves enough room for a little of that signature KK filling flavor to sneak through. My one minor complaint is I wish there was a bit more filling, as both ends of the doughnut were a bit naked.

Krispy Kreme s Reese s Peanut Butter Doughnut 2

Simply put, this doughnut tastes better than it costs, and for $1.59 it is an absolute steal and must-try for any peanut butter or fried dough aficionado. With a touch more chocolate and a hint more filling, the chain pastry world would be looking at a perfect 10, but no matter how I try and nitpick, I already want another one.

(Nutrition Facts – 400 calories, 220 calories from fat, 24 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 42 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 21 grams of sugar, and 7 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.59
Size: N/A
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Amazingly balanced sweetness. Beautiful peanut butter kreme. Real peanut butter drizzle. Soft pillowy fresh yeast base.
Cons: Could use a touch more chocolate and PB filling…but truly it’s a struggle to find a weakness here.

REVIEW: Lay’s Crispy Taco Potato Chips

Lay s Crispy Taco Potato Chips

First off, let me address the large potato chip in the room. Or seven potato chips, actually.

Lay’s decided to reveal the ten semi-finalists before announcing the top three and my taste buds were bouncing off the walls of my mouth with the imminent possibilities.

Smoked Gouda and Honey? Interesting, but still sounds yummy. Toasted Ravioli? Now you’re talking, Lay’s! Bring ‘em on! However, this new information soon turned to dread when the ten were whittled down to three.

This is it? The best you could do? Where’s the really off the wall flavor, like Cappuccino? Are you telling me Avocado Toast didn’t make it??? But it’s so trendy right now!!!

I was thoroughly disappointed. But, of course, I had to try the finalists.

Crispy Taco was the one I was the least excited about because it was probably just some of taco seasoning on a chip. Wow, how innovative Lay’s (here is exactly where I would be sending a side-eye emoji if I was texting my BFF). After opened the bag I got a big whiff of, yep, taco seasoning, just as I had suspected. The chips themselves are intensely covered with an red/orange color and a plethora of seasoning.

Lay s Crispy Taco Potato Chips 2

My first few bites were pretty uneventful. I only tasted taco seasoning. However, I was eating these with a friend who mentioned biting into a head of lettuce. I was very perplexed. But then, as I put another few in my mouth and focused, it hit me.

These are the Willy Wonka of potato chips! As in, instead of a three-course meal in one piece of chewing gum, these are potato chips that embody an entire crispy taco with all the toppings. Once you start chewing you get a little bit of the lettuce flavor then it morphs to the creaminess of some sour cream. I swear there were also tiny hints of cheese and tomato. The end of the bite turns into the common taco seasoning but you also get the meaty, ground beef flavor as well. There also seemed to be a bit of a corn taste representing the shell at the very, very end.

Lay s Crispy Taco Potato Chips 3

The more I ate these chips the more I liked them as it seemed like each time I would notice a new component in the flavor profile. The flavor is intense though, so I could only eat so many before it was too much to handle. I was also slightly concerned about succumbing to Violet Beauregarde’s fate and perhaps transforming into the world’s largest crispy taco that would have to be carted off somewhere for processing.

Even though my fingers are still crossed for Avocado Toast, these were fun and tasty. I’m sorry for suspecting they were made with just a simple seasoning packet, Lay’s.

I’ll never doubt you again!

(Nutrition Facts – about 15 chips – 150 calories, 10 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 160 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.48
Size: 7.75 oz. bag
Purchased at: ShopRite
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Willy Wonka’s chewing gum in taco-flavored chip form. Multiple layers of flavor. Not judging a potato chip by its boring flavor name. Eating new chips with friends.
Cons: ay’s pulling back the curtain on some of the Do Us a Flavor Competition while crushing dreams at the same time. Big flavor that is sometimes overpowering. Turning into a giant taco that can’t be simply juiced like a blueberry. RIP Avocado Toast. Not having emojis when you desperately need them.

REVIEW: Nissin Top Ramen Chicken Pringles

Nissin Top Ramen Chicken Pringles

If you want an inexpensive, crunchy snack that tastes like Chicken Top Ramen, you could take the dried block of instant noodles and sprinkle the broth seasoning onto it and enjoy. Or you could buy a can of these Nissin Top Ramen Chicken Pringles.

Nissin Top Ramen and I go way back.

It was the first food I prepared on a stove when I was ten years old, and it was also the first food I ruined on a stove when I was ten years old. It got me through lean times during college. It got me through lean times after college. It got me through lean times last week.

And through all those times it’s been the chicken flavor, because, let’s face it, the traditional beef and shrimp flavors are THE WORST. Okay, they’re not horrible, but I’ve always considered the chicken one to be far superior to the other two.

Even though I’ve eaten over 1,000,000 milligrams of sodium-worth of Chicken Top Ramen, I’ve never gotten sick of it. It’s a cheap comfort food and a decent soup replacement when you’re too sick to go out and get a can of chicken noodle soup. I love it and will never forget its flavor.

So it’s awesome that these Pringles smell and taste EXACTLY like the sodium saturated broth made from a flavor packet and boiling water. For those sophisticated palates who have never crossed paths with chicken flavored instant ramen, it’s like a cheap, herbaceous chicken broth. And I get to experience that flavor without burning my mouth, overcooked noodles, undercooked noodles, or wondering what’s wrong with my life.

Nissin Top Ramen Chicken Pringles 2

As enjoyable as these crisps are, after eating several of them, I felt they were beginning to be a bit too salty. But then I thought, “THAT’S JUST LIKE CHICKEN INSTANT RAMEN!” And that brought smile to my face.

Now if you think about it, we could make these seasoned potato crisps at home. We just need to dump the seasoning powder into a can of Pringles and gently combine the two. And I might just do that because these Pringles are awesome and they’re available for only a limited time.

Sure, there’s a much cheaper way to enjoy Chicken Top Ramen, which is to buy an actual package of the instant ramen that costs a fraction of these Pringles. But if you don’t want to deal with flavor packets, boiling water, bowls, or lots of sodium, these Pringles are the next best thing.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 ounce (about 15 crisps) – 150 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 16 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, less than 1 gram of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: A lot since I had to buy it on eBay
Size: 5.5 oz. can
Purchased at: Dollar General (by eBay seller)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes and smells just like Chicken Top Ramen.
Cons: Currently a Dollar General exclusive flavor. Cheaper to buy actual Chicken Top Ramen. Limited time only.