REVIEW: Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte

I have personally ordered maybe four different things at a Starbucks in my lifetime. This is not because I never go to Starbucks, but because I find myself with a crippling stammer and irrational fear every time I approach the register.

My method was usually to ask a friend to order for me, and then order whatever they gave me for the next three years if it was good. I am consistently tempted to ask for a mocha-chocalata-yaya and see what comes out. Forget the “secret menu” guides all over the Internet. I need a manual for navigating the printed one.

The problem is, I can’t really bring myself to like black coffee. I love the smell. I love the energy. I love the idea of permanently staining my teeth in rebellion against my body at a young age. But every time I have a cup I cringe a little and leave most of it sitting there. And, being an ignorant novice coffee drinker, I don’t know how to make anything but black coffee. I’m not sophisticated enough to like the coffee I can make at home, but I’m too afraid to learn how to order anything I might actually like.

I dreamed that these Starbucks Via Lattes would fill this void. I could finally learn to drink a morning coffee like a real adult without having to embarrass myself in front of a barista. The idea of not having to put on pants to get said morning coffee was equally appealing.

I purchased an individual trial pack at Starbucks for a dollar, choosing to try the vanilla over the mocha. I was first shocked by the size of these. They are not your normal instant coffee packet, but probably four times larger.

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte Instructions

The instructions are pretty minimal, but include a little infographic that tells you what to do. It seemed pretty straight forward, and I do have a high school diploma, so I assumed I had it under control. I made a cup of hot water with a Keurig machine, dumped the packet in, and stirred. It was not until I finished making it that I realized I was not supposed to pour the powder into the boiling water. So maybe words would’ve been helpful.

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte Powder

I was then surprised by the color. There did not appear to be any coffee granules at all in this pouch. Instead, there was an endless stream of a powdery white substance. Although many do refer to coffee as their crack, so maybe this makes some sense.

Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte Closeup

This drink was really sweet. And not in the good way of “hot chocolate sweet” or “vanilla milkshake sweet.” It was like a cup of hot, watery milk with six packets of sugar. I was even hoping some more coffee taste would come through, but it was nonexistent. Since the ingredients list both dairy powder and sugar before coffee, I probably should have expected this. But if even I am wishing for some stronger coffee flavor, you know you’ve taken it too far.

I could not finish this. It was intolerably sweet, and this is coming from the girl who will treat frosting as a cookie dip and add extra Oreos to cookies and cream ice cream. Maybe if iced and blended this could make a decent at home Frappuccino? But that seems like far too much work for something coming from an instant package.

This did not solve my coffee dilemmas. My only hope at this point is that Starbucks starts up a delivery service with a tracker like Domino’s so I can order my coffee online without human interaction and know when to put my pants on before it arrives. Until then, you will find me drinking one of my four safe things at Starbucks, dreaming of the day I can join the elite ranks of the people who know how to order drinks with names that take a full minute to say.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 packet – 130 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 65 milligrams of sodium, 21 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 19 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Via Latte Vanilla Latte
Purchased Price: $1.00
Size: 1 packet
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: At home convenience. Simple assembly. Generous serving. Not any more sugar than most Starbucks drinks. Confusing baristas with Moulin Rouge references. Good movie stunt double for cocaine. Potential for fancier at home drinks. No pants, still service.
Cons: Sickly sweet. Impossible to drink whole cup. Minimal coffee taste. All powdered milk and sugar. Not being able to read picture instructions as an adult. Lack of coffee aroma. Domino’s Pizza Tracker not expanding to other businesses.

QUICK REVIEW: Market Pantry Chocolate Truffle Muffin Caps

Market Pantry Chocolate Truffle Muffin Caps

Purchased Price: $3.79
Size: 4 count
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: They look good. You can stick them in the microwave or let them thaw at room temperature for 45 minutes. Contains live and active cultures. Only 100 calories. 5 grams of fiber per muffin cap.
Cons: Weird slightly bitter flavor. Looks more chocolatey than they really are. Melted chocolate chips have a grainy texture. They look like VitaTops, but don’t provide the same amount of vitamins and minerals. Odd chewy texture. Makes me want my money back. There are tastier ways to get fiber. Calling these muffin caps instead of muffin tops.

Market Pantry Chocolate Truffle Muffin Caps Closeup

Nutrition Facts: 1 muffin top – 100 calories, 15 calories from fat, 1.5 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 105 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, 4% calcium, and 10% iron.

REVIEW: Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted Sandwich

Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted Sandwich

Every few months or so, some poor “high-end” food product makes the jump from pretentious to a diluted all-audience nature. It gets filtered through a wood chipper and then a toilet so in the end it no longer resembles the actual item. All this for the sake of mass consumption. Therefore, not only does it lose its pompous aura (which is fine by me), but its unique characteristics as well (which is not okay at all).

Remember Wendy’s bragging about its fries being sprinkled with sea salt? Give me a break if you’re expecting it to be the actual harvested finishing salts chefs preen about.

Kobe beef, with its already dubious nature in what can actually be called Kobe, is another victim. Kobe hot dogs? Kobe hamburgers? My eyes rolled so much that you would swear I had two lazy eyes or was the inspiration for the guy that graces each Mad Libs cover.

Another example is Kobe beef’s less-complicated, but just as maligned, American cousin, the Angus. This poor bastard is being passed around faster than a cotton towel at an orgy. I’m guessing the “certification” for Angus beef is low enough that even Stephen Hawking can jump over it. Okay, that’s a tasteless cheap shot that’s just as tasteless as the Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted.

I commend Dunkin’ Donuts for attempting to separate itself from the pack by using Texas Toast for its sandwiches. The thick bread borders on overindulgence, but is perfect for capturing runny eggs and butter. Some people prefer wheat or pumpernickel, I lust after Texas Toast.

I mean c’mon!!! It’s Texas Toast, steak, eggs and cheese. You know what’s better than sliced bread? Sliced bread with beef, cheese and egg in between it. So what can go wrong? Apparently, if you make a living primarily selling donuts, then a hell of a lot.

Look, I’m a big fan of their Texas Toast Grilled Cheese. Its buttery and flaky toast and melted cheese makes me act like those monkeys in the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted Sandwich Angus

But stupid me because I was expecting the same from this new sandwich. I opened it immediately to look at this “Angus” steak and it had the natural color of a cadaver stuffed under a house because he didn’t pay his bets on time. It was charmingly grayish and resembled an unsauced Salisbury meatloaf concoction served at all the finest detention centers.

The steak also had an overwhelming artificial smokey taste. The texture itself was flaccid and rubbery, two things I don’t want my meat to feel like. The worst part? The beef was chewy. Not Mentos candy-chewy, but chewy like the bits resting on the bottom of a beef jerky pouch.

Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted Sandwich Split

Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted Sandwich Egg

The toast had the dampness of a basement, but it was sufficiently buttered. The two eggs only helped in taking your hopes, smashing them, and then pissing on the remains. The eggs were laughably fake looking, like a Fisher Price plastic fried egg toy. Another thing, it had an unnatural powdery texture and lacked any of the richness an egg normally has. It was also mealy and it disintegrated in my mouth into a sandy mush.

Most things can be saved by melted cheese since it provides an extra boost of flavor and texture, which was sorely missing in this sandwich. Unfortunately, there was so little cheese, all I could taste was fake smoke and a bland egg that broke apart into grainy beads in my mouth. It was like a bad French kiss between bread.

I’ve eaten the McDonald’s Angus burgers, so I know fast food “Angus” can be achieved with some success. But it’s as if Dunkin’ Donuts is the fat kid in gym class looking at the rope their meathead teacher is telling them to climb.

Finally, what really kicked me in the balls was the price — $4.29. I haven’t felt this ripped off since I was conned into buying Viagra from Mexico.

(Nutrition Facts – 620 calories, 34 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 180 milligrams of cholesterol, 1290 milligrams of sodium, 43 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 34 grams of protein)

Item: Dunkin’ Donuts Angus Steak Big N’ Toasted Sandwich
Purchased Price: $4.29
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Dunkin’ Donuts
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Texas Toast. Having the option to buy a donut instead. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Sufficiently buttered toast. Soft drinks from Mexico.
Cons: Texas Toast. Artificial smoke flavor. Rubbery grey beef. 2010: The Year We Make Contact. The powdery egg that looks fake. Small amount of cheese. Pharmaceuticals from Mexico.

QUICK REVIEW: Lay’s Fun Wasabi Shrimp Flavor Potato Chips (China)

Lay's Fun Wasabi Shrimp Flavor Potato Chips

Purchased Price: FREE
Size: 75 grams
Purchased at: Received from a friend
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable mild wasabi flavor; very little wasabi heat. Kind of smells like McDonald’s Hot Mustard Sauce. Whatever I eat to get the flavor of these chips out of my mouth.
Cons: Not fun after the wasabi flavor goes away. Do I taste cheese? Shrimp isn’t noticeable until the aftertaste. Smells fishy. I can’t eat much of it. Gagged twice while eating my way through the bag. Dollop of wasabi on the bag looks as sad as I do while eating these chips.

Lay's Fun Wasabi Shrimp Flavor Potato Chips Closeup

Nutrition Facts: 30 grams – 656 kcal, 9.2 grams of fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 144 milligrams of sodium, 16.2 grams of carbohydrates, 1.7 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Nabisco Raspberry Oreo Fudge Cremes

Nabisco Raspberry Oreo Fudge Cremes

It was 98 degrees and I was searing in an oven of pavement and diesel fuel, waiting in the line for ice cream sandwiches that curved through the park. The line of 23 people seemed an eternity in the summer haze that swept across my weary brow. As I swatted the mosquitoes spinning near my heat-struck face, I saw it. There. In the distance. The grocery store. It promised air conditioning, self-checkouts, and ice cream cookie sandwiches 48 percent less expensive than anything I’d get out of a food truck.

Damn the line. I wanted my cookie sandwich and I wanted it now and, with a healthy mix of hunger, heatstroke, and adventure, I stomped right in for a trip down the cookie aisle, where I found these new fudge-covered goodies.

Yes, human beings of the world, Milk’s #1 cookie is at it again, this time in a rubus idaeobatus rendition. As a fan of raspberry-and-cream popsicles, Oreo cookies, and anything covered in a fudge-like substance, I decided I’d take the dive, and thus, with a tub of Cool Whip and my newfound cookies in hand, I trounced back to my apartment and ripped ‘em right open.

Peeling back the resealable tab, I was shocked as the smell of Extra Raspberry Vanilla Cupcake Gum attacked my nose. “What in the name of Popsicle Man hath overtaken my Oreo?!” I asked, shaking a blighted fist to the sky.

I now found myself hesitating to reach my hand in, fearing the bizarre berry burst that was shocking my senses, but one look at the melty, chocolatey little rows of O’s and my hand soon sullied forth, hooked by curiosity and fudge cravings.

For those not yet versed in the ways of the Fudge Creme, the construction of said cookie is a simple one in theory: a single Oreo cookie wafer, thin layer of creme, all covered in an especially fudge-like substance. It’s a thinner, dare I say, sleeker rendition of an Oreo, but not necessarily better.

It’s much smaller than a Oreo sandwich, thus giving it a lower ratio of crème and denying one from the “Twist and Lick” eating method. But what it lacks in “sandwich” qualities, it more than makes up for in the ample fudgy coating, which serves as a protective goo that tastes of chocolate and melts faster than a Ziploc bag on the surface of Venus (And Ziploc bags melt really fast. I discovered this in an unfortunate incident involving a microwave…)

Nabisco Raspberry Oreo Fudge Cremes Double cookie time

However, in a much more happy, non-microwave-related accident, I found that the fudge reminds me of Hershey’s milk chocolate: slightly grainy, quick to melt, and milky sweet. This is the kind of chocolate that helps me understand why people burst into spontaneous show tunes on the subway. It can be a little waxy in taste, but I give it a respectable one thumb up. The cookie is the traditional charcoal-black Oreo disk, which adds some needed crunch and crumble to counteract the mighty fudge.

A fair warning to those not yet experienced: this fudge has a super low melting point and is sure to transfer itself to your hands and fingers and, potentially, that dashing new white shirt your significant other got you the other day. I’d encourage you to consume wisely. It’s a messy affair, but, just like eating from a can of Reddi-wip, sometimes the messiest things are the most rewarding.

Nabisco Raspberry Oreo Fudge Cremes Raspberry filling! Ah!

However, this time, the creme just doesn’t jive for me. The raspberry-ness tastes a bit like a Mixed Berry Skittle with hints of cotton candy popsicles and raspberry gum. I respect this flavor as a popsicle or chewy gelatin candy, but it’s not really my thing when combined with the chocolate experience. Like someone building a nuclear testing facility over the green, fertile pastures of hippity-hoppity bunnies and happy-dappy squirrels, the creme is demolishing the fudge and cookie that held beautiful potential.

But, hey, I give props for taking risks. While some of their more recent flavors may raise accusations of blasphemy and shock, one cannot accuse Oreo of being shy. They have created a cookie of great renown, and they are using that confidence in their product to shake things up and see if they can’t nail the next Great Flavor lurking in the social subconscious.

This particular rendition doesn’t quite do it for me. But maybe I’m just a small child on the wrong end of the see-saw, and these Oreos are a bigger, more powerful kid and, as so often happens with small children on the wrong end of see-saws, these Oreos ker-plonked themselves down and catapulted me over the fence. On the whole, I’m happy to have tried them. Maybe you should, too. But I can’t say I’ll be buying them again in the near future.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 cookies – 180 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 70 milligrams of sodium, 60 milligrams of potassium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 19 grams of sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Item: Nabisco Raspberry Oreo Fudge Cremes
Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: 11.3 oz.
Purchased at: Met Foods
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Not boring. Hershey-like fudge coating. Crunchy Oreo cookie base. Dark chocolate and milk chocolate balance each other well. Reason to buy a tub of Cool Whip. Reason to get messy. Reason to use “hippity-hoppity” in a sentence.
Cons: Flavor of creme reminiscent of cotton candy popsicle and raspberry gum in semi-liquid form. Lacks the trademark “cookie sandwich” eating experience. Fudge not good for white shirts. Microwave-related accidents. Getting flung off a see-saw.

REVIEW: Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage

Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage

There are certain cravings that make sense.

I want an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Watching Chris Davis go yard at the Yard, I feel a sudden urge for peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Other cravings are a little more “out there,” but understandable given extenuating circumstances. It’s what excuses adding pork rinds to your milkshake after a night at the bar, or what allows pregnant women to justify eating Pillsbury brownie mix right out of the bowl. Some cravings, though, just make no sense whatsoever.

Take me and canned meat. Growing up with a bountiful supply of, well, your typical American upper-middle class food, I always had the blessing of fresh meat to eat during my formative gastronomic years. Likewise, in college, I enjoyed an all-you-can-eat dining hall which, despite being a young man with a plan, did not leave me with a necessary reliance on any sort of can. And having never lived through a natural disaster, been subjected to a dinner party at a Doomsday Prepper’s home, nor decided to engage in any kind of cross-oceanic voyage that would make canned food a necessity, you might surmise that I should have no attraction to the canned meat aisle to begin with.

You, my friend, would be wrong.

Quite the opposite, really. My fixation on canned meats knows no limits, which is probably why the 53 cent can of the new Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage captured my imagination.

First, a word on perspective. My romanticized version of canned meat aside, I’m still a realist when it comes to these kinds of products. At less than a pack of the really cheap gum (you know, the one with the multicolored striped zebra), I realize I’m getting something which probably has no taste whatsoever of the chicken, beef, and pork which I’m told make up each sausage. By the same token, I can dull my expectations of full bodied maple flavor when it comes to “syrup type sauce.” Just a quick recap of the hierarchy of syrup and such:

1) Maple Syrup

2) Pancake Syrup

3) Syrup-Type Sauce

Clearly we fall below the gourmet line. Actually, we even fall below the school cafeteria line, but who’s judging? Well, besides me. Now, about this aroma. There really is no experience short of a career as a dump truck driver that will prepare you for the initial waft of a freshly opened can. “Fresh” is the operative word here.

Overall, the smell strikes boldly of truck stop leftovers. Not just your generic Route 66 truck-stop leftovers, mind you. I’m talking Western Pennsylvania scrapple drowned in a weak corn syrup liquid which proudly claims a hue bordering on Diesel brownish-yellow and “if your pee is this color, please consult a doctor immediately.” Yeah, that kind of leftovers.

If you’ve never had a Vienna sausage, the best way I can describe it is like a cheap hot dog, only the size of your thumb. It’s a bit slimy on the outside, with an initial rubbery bite and a bit of pasty consistency on the finish. It doesn’t really taste like meat, but bad smell and all jokes aside, it’s not completely objectionable.

Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage Syrup Closeup

If you’re not averse to eating highly processed meats you might even find it “meh.” That said, you probably will need something to jazz it up. That’s where the “syrup type sauce” comes in. But who are we kidding? Calling this stuff a sauce is like calling watered down Pepsi a sauce. The consistency is that of water, with no body in texture and little, if any, flavor to the sweetness. It’s just kind of there, and what’s more, only has seeped into the sausages in moderate amounts. What it creates is a mildly sweet-salty combination, but only one on the atomic level. All things considered, it tastes exactly like you’d expect; a mini cheap hot dog with some sugar poured on it.

Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage Toothpick

While the epicurean toothpick method is highly preferred in most “snack from the can when nobody is looking” occasions, consider that the fine folks at Armour want you to remember that these are “Great with Breakfast!” To this end, I must admit, they are not.

Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage Waffle

And should you take it upon yourself to whip sliced pieces of Syrup flavored sausage into your favorite waffle batter, you will in fact yield an utterly insipid waffle with burnt pieces of said Vienna Sausage. Unless you prefer your waffles burnt on the outside, chewy on the inside, and just kinda weird tasting all over, I recommend passing on this cooking application of the product.

At 53 cents a can, Armour’s new Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausages might be the most economical way of getting your sweet and salty fix on this side of pouring a Splenda packet and salt packet in your mouth simultaneously. Nevertheless, the latest and greatest creation from Armour serves as a tried and true reminder that you get what you pay for.

I can forgive highly processed meat that doesn’t taste like meat. I mean, that’s what canned food is all about. But I was really expecting more from the syrup. to this end, I have to proclaim this bold innovation in canned food a failure. Oh well. I guess there’s always SPAM.

(Nutrition Facts – 3 sausages with syrup – 120 calories, 70 calories from fat, 8 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 510 milligrams of sodium, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein.)

Item: Armour Syrup Flavored Vienna Sausage
Purchased Price: 53 cents
Size: 4.75 oz. can
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 3 out of 10
Pros: Not completely detestable. Extremely cheap. Has kind of the salty-sweet thing going on, albeit in a leftover truck-stop diner food kind of way.
Cons: But, why? Syrup looks like gasoline. Not desirable by any means. Syrup lacks body, depth, or noticeable flavor outside of high fructose corn syrup. Sausages taste like cheap hot dogs out of a can, which technically they are. Cravings that make no sense.