REVIEW: Starbucks Toffee Almondmilk Hot Cocoa

Starbucks Toffee Almondmilk Hot Cocoa

It’s been Christmas season for me since Starbucks released their holiday drinks and cups on November 1st. Yes, I’ve been blasting Christmas music for a solid month now.

So, I was pleasantly surprised to get another holiday surprise when Starbucks released a new festive hot chocolate – Toffee Almondmilk Hot Cocoa. It joins Peppermint, Snickerdoodle, and Salted Caramel on the seasonal hot cocoa menu this season.

While they all sound fantastic, Toffee Almondmilk Hot Cocoa (steamed almondmilk with mocha sauce and toffee nut syrup, finished with whipped cream and Caramel Brulée topping) is the star in this lineup because it’s the first Holiday drink that prominently features almond milk. This means it can be vegan and non-dairy when ordered without the whipped cream — no substitutions are needed like with other Holiday drinks.

But that’s not all when you order now (said in my best infomercial voice), you don’t have to pay extra for the almond milk! It’s usually 60 cents more to substitute drinks with almond milk at Starbucks, but this drink costs the same as all the others! Winning!

In full disclosure, I’m not vegan or lactose intolerant. I eat all meats and drink whole milk, but I do have vegetarian days. I believe the term du jour is “flexitarian.” Oui oui!

Now on to the good good.

When I first received my drink, it looked like a whipped cream wonderland speckled with brown sugar crystals (the Caramel Brulée topping). Naturally, I plucked one off and tried it. It was just sugary and feels like the candy that gets stuck in your teeth – nowhere near as bad as say a Butterfinger though. Its flavor was fine on its own.

I particularly enjoyed my first sip because of the temperature contrast with the cool whipped cream and warm drink. I immediately tasted the chocolate from the mocha sauce, but didn’t really pick up on the distinct toffee nut. I could tell there was a subtle “je ne sais quoi” but I took a blind taste test, I wouldn’t be able to say that it was toffee nut. But as I continued drinking, I almost forgot it was an almond milk hot chocolate. I was amazed and surprised by its richness.

Starbucks Toffee Almondmilk Hot Cocoa 2

But, I didn’t love the topping with the drink. When I did get some of the topping in my sip, I didn’t enjoy that it was large enough to require chewing. It also threw the sweetness balance off because the drink itself wasn’t overly sweet or artificial tasting despite the four pumps of sauce and syrup. But the topping pushed it over the sugar edge. I actually liked it better without it.

As whole milk’s #1 fan, I’m overall very impressed by Starbucks’ execution with almond milk (except for their decision to make almondmilk one word). I also love that Starbucks is being extra inclusive this holiday season; this new release is great for vegans and non-vegans alike. It’s officially been added to my Starbucks holiday drink rotation!

(Nutrition Facts – Grande – 280 calories, 14 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 240 milligrams of sodium, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 28 grams of total sugars, 4 grams of protein, and 15 mg of caffeine.)

Purchased Price: $3.75
Size: Grande
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: It’s vegan and non-dairy when ordered without whipped cream. No additional cost for almond milk = winning! Surprisingly rich for almond milk.
Cons: Toffee nut, who? Caramel Brulée topping is gratuitous.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies

Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies 1

The Oreo factory has been cranking out limited edition flavors like a proliferative hen laying her eggs. The latest to come out of the Mondelez coop is the Hot Cocoa Oreo. I thought this was a curious move as they recently launched their Hot Cocoa Mix – maybe they’re running out of ideas.

I also thought it was odd that there was a new packaging bubble on the front stating that it’s “Always Made With Real Cocoa.” I don’t know about you, but I’ve never thought about it being/not being made with real cocoa. It has always been in its own league – dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, and Oreo. Oreosities (oreo + curiosities!) aside, I thought this latest flavor was a nice break from all the pumpkinundation, caramel apple, and gingerbread flavors.

Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies 2

Lifting the flap, they looked and smelled like regular Oreo cookies. The only difference was the crème which was half chocolate and half regular. Of course, it’s never as pretty in real life as it is on the outside packaging shot, but, whatever, when it comes to food aesthetics – I always say that it’s all going to the same place (my stomach).

I tried it in multiple ways — whole sandwich form, then layer-by-layer (cookie, regular crème, chocolate crème then cookie), then dunked in milk (per standard Oreo protocol!), and finally compared it with the Oreo Hot Cocoa Mix.

I thought it tasted best whole because I experienced more of the hot cocoa, or what I interpreted as such because of the subtle marshmallow flavor. Like a regular Oreo, the last taste in your mouth is still the chocolate cookie, but the marshmallow was definitely there.

Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies 3

When eaten layer-by-layer, it was like a disappointing peek behind the curtain of magic. They just replaced half of the regular crème with some chocolate crème, which I was able to peel away. But, it’s surprising to find the marshmallow flavor was actually coming from the chocolate crème. My least favorite combination was the cookie dunked in milk because the marshmallow flavor was completely washed out, which made it taste like a regular Oreo.

Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies 4

Limited Edition Hot Cocoa Oreo Cookies 5

Finally, I compared it with the Oreo Hot Cocoa Mix. Depending on how you look at it, it could be a good or bad thing that they taste nothing alike. Dipping the cookie into the hot chocolate also didn’t do much; it was a chocolate cookie wash. But, I thought the cookies were better than the drink.

Even though this new flavor is very subtle, I think subtlety is an art! Plus, I don’t know how else they would’ve done a better job capturing hot cocoa experience – except to make something pie in the sky like a self-heating Oreo or something. These still don’t dethrone my favorite limited edition flavor (Reese’s), but it’s still a tasty addition.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 60 calories from fat, 7 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 85 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 13 grams of sugar, and less than 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 10.7 oz.
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Nice break from all the pumpkinundation, caramel apple, and gingerbread products. Marshmallow! Doesn’t taste like the Oreo Hot Cocoa Mix.
Cons: Subtle flavor gets drowned out if dunked in milk. I don’t know how else they could’ve better captured hot cocoa since a self-heating Oreo doesn’t exist.

REVIEW: Cheez-It Buffalo Wing Crackers

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers

It’s officially football season (a.k.a. Americana foods season) and Cheez-It is getting into the spirit with its Flavor Playoffs. It’s a face-off between cheeseburger, cheese pizza, and cheddar nachos-flavored Cheez-It crackers and snack enthusiasts like you and me can choose the winning flavor.

Around the same time, the brand released a Walmart-exclusive Buffalo Wing flavor that features the same packaging but isn’t part of the promotion. Weird. But, that’s okay. It wouldn’t have been able to hold its own against the other classic tailgate flavors anyway.

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers 2

The crackers looked like the typical orange squares in a box of regular Cheez-It, but with some extra dusting. It would have been a nice visual touch to see the crackers bright red-orange to mimic a beautiful fried chicken wing doused in red-hot Buffalo sauce. I could also see the light dusting was inconsistent across the crackers, so I knew some were going to be more flavorful than others. I was even more surprised that for a flavor as pungent as Buffalo, these didn’t smell too different.

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers 3

Not surprisingly, the lackluster appearance and smell translated into a lackluster taste. I wanted it to be as flavorful as Cheez-It’s Sriracha Snack Mix, but it was nowhere close. Any initial Buffalo taste was quickly drowned out by a mild bleu cheese taste and then the sharp cheddar flavor that typically accompanies the regular flavor. The crackers that were extra toasted and extra seasoned were closer to that bold Buffalo flavor, but still not quite. This is the only time I will EVER say that the 100 percent real cheesy goodness did not work in its favor.

Cheez It Buffalo Wing Crackers 4

When it comes to Buffalo wing-flavored snacks, the gold standard is the Pretzel Pieces version from Snyder’s of Hanover. So, I pitted the two against each other. The Snyder’s one was hands down better and continues to be reigning champion. It not only packed a flavor punch, but it also didn’t have any seasoning inconsistency as it didn’t look like they used powder only. But, I will say that the pretzel pieces didn’t capture the bleu cheese flavor as well as Cheez-It.

For good measure, I also tried Rold Gold’s Buffalo Wing Thin Crisps Pretzels and I’m happy to share that Cheez-It won that round. You could taste the Rold Gold’s Frito-Lay backing as it reminded me of Cool Ranch Doritos more so than Buffalo.

At the end of the day, Cheez-It crackers are damn delicious no matter what seasoning you sprinkle on it. So in that vein, this isn’t the bottom of the barrel when it comes to Buffalo-flavored snacks, but it isn’t best-in-class either.

(Nutrition Facts – 25 pieces – 150 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of total fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 230 milligrams of sodium, 18 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 0 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 12.4 oz. box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: It’s a Cheez-It. More complex flavor journey than other Buffalo flavored products: Buffalo then bleu cheese then sharp cheddar. Beats the flavor of Rold Gold’s Buffalo offering.
Cons: Seasoning inconsistency. Wanted that Buffalo flavor punch but it doesn’t deliver. Not as good as Snyder’s Buffalo Pretzel Pieces.

REVIEW: FYE Food Fight Funky Fry & Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar

FYE Food Fight Funky Fry  Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar

Y = French Fry + Ketchup + Chocolate.

Take a moment to let the foodgebra (food+algebra) sink in. I could not believe my eyes either, but this franken-food was brought to life by retailer FYE and Astor Chocolate with an equally as complicated product name — Food Fight Funky Fry & Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar.

The FYE-exclusive Food Fight Chocolate Bar line includes other franken-flavors, like Crispy Caramel Popcorn, Crunchy Tortilla Muchacho Taco, and Together Forever Peanut Butter & Jelly.

FYE Food Fight Funky Fry  Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar 2

I was very intrigued by the Killer Ketchup wild card because the chocolate and deep-fried potato combo has been done. A little part of me was dubious that they’d actually put all of it into a chocolate bar, but the ingredients were listed on the back very plainly: milk chocolate, potato chips, sea salt, freeze dried white onion powder, dried tomato powder, roasted garlic powder, and chipotle chili pepper powder.

I assumed the chili is where the “killer” part comes in. After reading the ingredients, I was a little terrified but the Aqua Teen Hunger Force-esque characters on the packaging dared me to take the plunge.

FYE Food Fight Funky Fry  Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar 3

When I opened it, I was surprised to find the chocolate bar looked like a regular chocolate bar – even the cross-section reminded me of a plain ol’ Nestle Crunch Bar. It also didn’t smell any different – whew. The chocolate did seem softer as it started melting where my fingers were holding it. Said softness translated into a pleasant melt in your mouth texture (think Hershey’s Kisses) and I thought the chocolate itself actually tasted better than Hershey’s.

FYE Food Fight Funky Fry  Killer Ketchup Milk Chocolate Bar 4

Despite the rich milk chocolate-y sweetness, there was no mistaking the savory elements. After the initial chocolate taste, the garlic and onion flavors were the most prominent followed by a mild heat. It was like eating slightly spicy sour cream and onion chips topped with chocolate, which tasted as weird as it sounds.

Net net, it was nothing like eating ketchup and fries. I simultaneously felt relief and disappointment. It would’ve been pretty epic if this was the ultimate food mind-trip, but it would also ruin chocolate and/or ketchup and fries for me forever.

So, let’s solve the equation at the beginning of this review and let Y = WHY?!

I know it’s trendy to create crazy limited time only flavors, but I think this is way too far on the deep end. It was definitely a unique-once-in-a-lifetime-because-you-only-need-to-try-it-once experience, but don’t say I didn’t warn ya.

(Nutrition Facts – 260 calories, 15 grams of fat, 9 grams of saturated fat, 10 mg of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 1 grams of fiber, 25 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 1.75 oz. bar
Purchased at: FYE
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Most unique chocolate experience I’ve had. Better chocolate than Hershey’s. Good heat from the chili.
Cons: Doesn’t taste like fries and ketchup. Honestly, not something I want to eat again.

REVIEW: Reese’s Stuffed with Crunchy Cookie Cups

Reese s Cookie Crunch Cups

I want a chocolate chip cookie stuffed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

But, sadly, while the insides of a Reese’s Crunchy Cookie Cup look like a chocolate chip cookie, it’s the same peanut butter studded with bits of chocolate cookies (think Oreo).

Announced back in March as part of Reese’s CUPfusion rebrand to CUPspiracy, this cookie iteration follows the Reese’s Pieces Stuffed Peanut Butter Cups. Like the Pieces version, these look exactly like the regular cups on the outside. The ones I had looked like they had a rough going with the summer heat and the sun won, so they weren’t the typical smooth and round cups.

Reese s Cookie Crunch Cups 2

?The Reese’s food scientists must have heard my fellow TIB food reviewer’s gripes about the Pieces’ lack of texture in its stuffed peanut butter cups, because they turned it all the way up this time. But, that’s all it offers.

Reese s Cookie Crunch Cups 3

I was disappointed to find that it mostly tasted like a regular cup. I found the lingering chocolate peanut butter aftertaste to be a tad bit saltier than usual, which is the cookie bits doing. As a habitual ice chewer, I enjoy crunchy textures but I expected so much more than JUST texture and an ever so slight taste difference.

Like a looping slow-motion replay on a contentious referee call, I ate cup after cup for a total of four cups just to be sure I wasn’t missing something. I had little bites and big bites with swishes of water in between to cleanse my palate. Unfortunately, I came to the same conclusion…four times. Cue the sad trombone because we’ve all been played by the Reese’s marketing team.

While the chocolate cookie bits don’t provide much flavor, if you’re a Reese’s diehard like I am, you’ll still get to enjoy the classic peanut butter and chocolate combination. And that’s better than nothing.

But for now, I shall continue to wait for my something — a chocolate chip cookie stuffed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

(Nutrition Facts – 2 cups – 200 calories, 90 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 125 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 21 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $1.59
Size: 1.4 oz/2 cups
Purchased at: 76 Gas Station
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Texture! It still tastes like a good ol’ Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Cons: The only difference is the texture. I want a whole chocolate chip cookie stuffed in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.