REVIEW: Starbucks Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Latte (Bottled)

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte  Bottled

Is there any doubt Starbucks’ proprietary Pumpkin Spice Latte isn’t the single most influential fast food/junk food item of the 21st century? One look at the seasonal goods section of any grocery store in America ought to be all the proof you need.

Pumpkin spice cookies. Pumpkin spice marshmallows. Pumpkin spice cereal. Pumpkin spice vodka. For crying out loud, there are even pumpkin spice cough drops, and I’d be shocked if we aren’t a few years away from somebody selling pumpkin spice deodorant, pumpkin spice mouthwash, or pumpkin spice family planning products. So profound the impact of that one Starbucks beverage that, 14 years after the humble PSL was first introduced, the entire Halloween season has now become hardly anything more than a three-month bombardment of all things pumpkin spicy.

Although it’s fun to trudge through/lament the avalanche of PSL-inspired snack foods, the conversation inevitably leads back to the original beverage. While the PSL has been commercially offered in bottled form as a limited-time-only Frappuccino for several years now, Starbucks hasn’t offered the PSL as a one-and-done, glass bottled solo shot until this fall. Unfortunately, the big retail debut of arguably the most imitated foodstuff of the century isn’t exactly the cafe-to-store shelves success we were hoping for.

First, the good news. The bottle itself – with that nice ocher tone and regal lettering – is downright beautiful. Secondly, the scent on this sucker is pretty much a dead ringer for the “real” PSL. And thirdly, the latte’s aftertaste – that milky goulash of nutmeg and cinnamon – is very faithful to the in-cafe drink we all know and love.

Alas, this is still far from a perfect recreation of the classic PSL. There’s too much milk and not enough coffee flavoring, making the whole beverage taste more like a weird Yoo-hoo imitator than a Starbucks drink. And while the ingredients do add up to a more robust, flavorful “pumpkin spice” taste than most PSL-inspired seasonal products, I’m afraid it doesn’t stack up to the “real” stuff.

Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte  Bottled 3

The drink feels very watered down and the huge chunks of seasoning are a major turn-off (indeed, I almost choked to death on a nickel-sized wad of nutmeg at the bottom of the glass.) This is a drink designed to be ingested piping hot, with a thick layer of whipped cream atop it – and that’s something that can’t be replicated in a 14-ounce, refrigerated glass vase.

To be fair, it’s a much better grab-and-go PSL drink than most of the bottled pumpkin spice coffees out there, but it nonetheless feels like a pale imitation of, well, itself. As a glorified jug of chocolate milk with artificial pumpkin flavoring, it’s actually quite decent, but as the long, long awaited convenience-store-ready port of THE most copied seasonal beverage out there? It’s pretty hard to consider this iteration of the PSL anything but a disappointment.

(Nutrition Facts – 270 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4.5 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 42 grams of sugar, and 11 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 14 fl. oz.
Purchased at: Flash Foods
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: The container looks classy and dignified. The nutmeg and cinnamon taste is quite authentic. The scent is an almost perfect imitation of the “real” PSL. 
Cons: It tastes more like chocolate milk than coffee. The beverage doesn’t really “work” as a cold drink. Getting huge, pencil shavings-like clumps of seasoning caught in the back of your throat.

QUICK REVIEW: Pure Leaf Tea House Collection Organic Green Tea with a Hint of Fuji Apple & Ginger

Pure Leaf's Tea House Collection Organic Green Tea with a Hint of Fuji Apple & Ginger

Pure Leaf’s Tea House Collection Organic Green Tea with a Hint of Fuji Apple & Ginger has an aroma that makes me think the ginger is going to burn and a name that’s so long it makes me parched.

But thankfully the ginger was mild enough that it didn’t burn and I could take a sip of the tea that made my mouth dry after saying its name.

The ginger flavor is front and center with every sip. The apple gets lost with the ginger, but it does seem to give the tea a sweetness. Perhaps the apple is there to tone down the ginger, which itself isn’t potent flavor wise. All I could think of while gulping it down after every time I said Pure Leaf’s Tea House Collection Organic Green Tea with a Hint of Fuji Apple & Ginger was how it just tastes like a sweetened ginger green tea.

I’m disappointed the apple doesn’t stand out, but it’s still a tasty and refreshing tea. Although, maybe after saying its full name, any liquid would be refreshing to my mouth.

Purchased Price: $2.59
Size: 14 fl oz.
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 90 calories, 0 grams of fat, 10 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 20 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Mtn Dew White Label

Mtn Dew White Label

Gather ‘round, kids: it’s time for a Choose Your Own Adventure story!

You are Mountain Dew Pitch Black, a heroic soda knight whose early 2000s Halloween conquests — and recent 2016 revival — made him the sugary stuff of legends and memories alike.

But although you’re a more mythic Mountain than Olympus, people aren’t as charmed by radioactively purple syrup as they used to be. So if you don’t want to join Heinz EZ Squeeze in Violet Valhalla, you’ll have to grow up.

Which path will you take at this pivotal crossroad?

If you choose the dark path, turn to a different review.

If you choose the light path, turn to the next page and prepare to see a threatening, all-caps THE END that’ll make you glad you kept your thumb on the previous page.

Why? Because while Mountain Dew’s recent Black Label was a deliciously classy Pitch Black who grew up to host dinner parties and own an art house theater, this new White Label tastes like an adult Pitch Black who bitterly yells at the local news with his mouthful of lukewarm Hungry Man dinners.

Mtn Dew White Label 2

Enough doom, gloom, and microwaved rib eye for now: let’s start with the positives. Mountain Dew White Label does preserve much of the grape flavor that makes Pitch Black great, without the syrupy discomfort that Pitch Black’s many grams of sugary slugs slime onto the back of your throat. At only 35 grams of sugar and 140 calories per can, this comparatively light Dew won’t leave you shamefully feeling like you drank a Nickelodeon prop.

I say “much of the grape flavor,” because the fruitiness is lighter, too. The white grape juice concentrate lacks the sour, tangy punch of its red sibling, but it replaces it with an unparalleled crispness that’s nearly floral. It’s no chardonnay, but I can see this flavor appealing to a niche audience of Dew snobs.

Unfortunately, that’s the nicest thing I can say about Mtn Dew White Label. Because once the white grape flavor fades, an unwelcome orange backend takes its place. The can claims that White Label is “Dew with Crafted Tropical Citrus,” but the bitter, acrid tang of this orange finish just tastes like the juice of a wrinkly tangerine that was infused with expired SunnyD and the pity tears of a passing pineapple.

In short: this tropical shipwreck’s more LOST than Gilligan’s Island.

Mtn Dew White Label 3

Mtn Dew White Label isn’t undrinkable, and it might work for those seeking a super smooth soda that won’t pummel their trachea with the aggressive jabs of a million bubbles, but Black Label just tastes superior in every way. White Label is pretty much Diet Black Label (it contains Sucralose, and you can tell), and since Black Label was already a less carbonated Pitch Black, this new Dew’s one degree of separation too far away to be worth it.

So please, young Pitch Black, if you’re reading this, disregard Master Kenobi and embrace the power of the Dark Side.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 can – 140 calories, 0 grams of fat, 70 milligrams of sodium, 36 grams of carbohydrates, 35 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.69
Size: 16 oz. can
Purchased at: Meijer
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: White grape concentrate that’s crisper than Denny’s hash browns. Not feeling like my taste buds went on Double Dare. Liquid opacity that rivals Crystal Pepsi. Pairing this with Doritos for a low-budget wine & cheese night.
Cons: Diet Diet Pitch Black. Cantankerous citrus aftertastes. Pineapple pity parties. Suddenly: sucralose! Never getting to eat purple ketchup again. Throwing so much shade they could’ve called it “Grey Label.”

REVIEW: Coca-Cola Plus Ginger (Japan)

Coca-Cola Plus Ginger (Japan)

For most of my life I’ve thought of ginger as more of a medicine than an ingredient.

When I felt nauseous playing DOOM, I sucked on ginger candy. When I felt something funny in my tummy while watching someone play DOOM, I drank ginger ale. And when it felt like the room was spinning around every time I closed my eyes after playing DOOM, I hung out next to the toilet.

While ginger ale is quite possibly the most popular beverage with ginger, more drinks are being offered with it, like ginger beers, ginger kombucha, and, last year, Pepsi put some into their wonderful 1893 Ginger Cola.

Because of my love for Pepsi’s craft ginger cola, the first thing I sought out during my Japan trip was the new Coca-Cola Plus Ginger.

While Pepsi Japan comes out annually with limited edition soda flavors you’ve never seen in a PETE plastic soda bottle, Coca-Cola Japan keeps it simple by just adding a bit of flavor to the standard Coke and does it at an Olympics-like frequency. About three years ago, Coca-Cola Japan sold a delicious orange-flavored Coke.

It’s funny that the Pepsi Japan flavors are like ideas from a cocaine binge (cucumber, baobab, cherry blossom), while the cola that once had actual cocaine in it ends up being tame.

Much like the amount of orange flavoring in the last limited edition Japanese Coke I had, this soda had the right amount of ginger flavor. You can’t miss it, but it doesn’t overwhelm the cola. To be honest, it tastes right at home with the cola spices. Also, it didn’t burn, like it does with ginger beer. Coca-Cola Plus Ginger is such a great tasting soda that I bought two more bottles at the end of my trip.

If you enjoyed Pepsi’s ginger cola, you’ll like this, if you get your hands on it. It’s only available in Japan for a limited time (it was available in Australia in 2016) or from an online Japanese snack seller. If you think you’ll be able to replicate it by mixing Coca-Cola with Seagram’s Ginger Ale, you won’t because I tried using various ratios and none of them tasted anything close.

I really hope Coca-Cola Plus Ginger ends up in the United States, or at least be an option on a Coke Freestyle machine.

(Nutrition Facts – 100 ml – 44 kcal, 0 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of sodium, and 0 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: 130 Japanese Yen
Size: 500 ml
Purchased at: Lawson Station
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: If you’re a fan of Pepsi’s 1893 Ginger Cola, you’ll like this. Right amount of ginger flavor. Ginger complements the cola spices. Doesn’t have ginger burn.
Cons: Not available in the U.S., but might be available through online Japanese snack sellers. The nauseous feeling I got when playing DOOM.

REVIEW: Ripple Chocolate Milk

Ripple Chocolate Milk

If you told me a decade ago I’d be drinking pea milk and enjoying it, I’d laugh and tell you I’m not into that gross stuff. Then after explaining it’s p-e-a and not p-e-e, I’d again laugh and tell you I’m not into that gross stuff.

I don’t care for the pea’s texture, flavor, and ability to affect a princess’ sleep. I avoid chicken pot pies because of the chance I’ll eat one and I always throw out that one freeze dried pea you get with every Cup Noodles.

So it’s odd I ended up buying a bottle of dairy-free Chocolate Ripple Milk, which is made with flavorless pea protein. It’s not the green peas you’ll find swimming in a chicken a la king, it’s yellow peas. But it’s still peas. Although I don’t care for the vegetable, I might’ve bought this so that I can say in a pretentious tone, “Oh, you drink almond milk? Well, have you tried pea milk? No? You should try it someday.”

According to the Ripple website, a cup of Chocolate Ripple has more protein and less sugar than an equal serving of chocolate soy milk. Plus, it provides Omega-3 fatty acids.

Ripple is available in original, unsweetened, vanilla, and chocolate flavors. I haven’t tried any of the others, but this chocolate one reminded me of reduced fat chocolate milk. If you gave some to a kid and told them it came from a cow, they’d believe you. But I guess if you put cocoa into any milk it’ll do a great job at hiding whatever it’s made from, probably even pee milk.

While I enjoyed its flavor, I noticed an oddity with its texture. It initially was creamy in my mouth, but then it became thinner. However, I noticed it because I was swishing it around in my mouth, like some pretentious wine taster or Listerine burn lover. But I imagine most folks won’t notice since their mouth to throat transit time will be much quicker than mine.

There’s also the issue of price. Forty-eight ounce bottles retail for five dollars. A half gallon (64 ounces) of other dairy-free milks are about the same price or cheaper.

Overall, I do see myself buying Chocolate Ripple Milk again, if its price comes down. When it does, it’ll be the only way I’ll consume peas.

(Nutrition Facts – 12 fl oz – 220 calories, 80 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 135 milligrams of sodium, 680 milligrams of potassium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 26 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, 15% vitamin A, 70% calcium, 45% vitamin D, 20% iron, and 4% magnesium.)

Purchased Price: $2.79*
Size: 12 fl oz bottle
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like reduced fat chocolate milk. More protein and less sugar than chocolate soy milk. Provides Omega-3 fatty acids. Conversation starter with vegetarian or vegan? Listerine burn.
Cons: More expensive than other dairy-free milks. Slightly changing texture is odd. Peas. Listerine burn. Bragging about all the dairy-free milks you’ve had.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.