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: Baskin-Robbins Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream

Baskin Robbins Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream

The crafty cookie-obsessed churners at Baskin-Robbins entered the middle of 2017 facing a real dilemma. How the hell could they make another dessert-themed frozen dessert with the iconic Oreo?

It isn’t enough that the chain always stocks Cookies n’ Cream and now has Golden Oreo ’N Churro as a summer seasonal. Even last month’s All About Oreo couldn’t possibly quench America’s thirst for the beloved sandwiched “white stuff.” There needed to be another…layer.

After malted chocolate and cake batter and birthday cake and cereal and mint, there’s seemingly only one place to go – the decadent, heavy, cheesecake. One of the oldest desserts in history, which was allegedly served to athletes at the first Olympic Games, was destined to make sweet creamy magic with Nabisco’s #1 seller during the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Baskin-Robbins’ Oreo Cheesecake combines Oreo cookie pieces, cheesecake pieces, and a chocolate cookie crumb ribbon in cheesecake flavored ice cream.

The base is immediately apparent with a distinct tanginess that jumps out from the first bite and doesn’t fade. It’s smooth, velvety, and delicious with a good balance of sweet and savory. Oddly, the tang reminds me a little bit more of Greek yogurt than cheesecake, as I don’t get any particular cheesiness coming through. But the point gets across and I don’t think I’m eating vanilla or sweet cream.

Baskin Robbins Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream 2

The cheesiness goes up a notch with the actual cheesecake pieces. They’re like those small-to-medium sized ones you can find at build your own frozen yogurt shops. They’ve maintained their squishy-dense texture and give off a hint of graham cracker crust flavor that pops against the tangy ice cream base.

Baskin Robbins Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream 3

I worried about the redundancy of the Oreo pieces and cookie crumb ribbon, but the two are distinct and interwoven very well throughout the scoop. The ribbon is more akin to what you find in typical cookies and cream flavors, with some good gritty texture and mellow bitter cocoa notes.

Baskin Robbins Oreo Cheesecake Ice Cream 4

Much more prominent are the bigger pieces of Oreo cookie, which have entire layers of creme filling intact. They’re a welcomed sweet element to temper the tang of the cheesecake. The wafer cookies soften and soak up the creamy goodness, and the sizes of the mix-ins are pretty big for Baskin-Robbins’ standards which makes the whole experience elevated and impressive for what I expect at a chain shop.

It’s a pretty simple recipe – Oreo and cheesecake. Baskin-Robbins could’ve been lazy with this one and made a cookies & cream ice cream with a cheesecake base, but they didn’t. By hitting each element from two different angles, this monthly special is one of the more enticing in recent memory. It’s worth scooping up to end the last full month of summer on a blissfully tangy sweet frozen note.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 oz. scoop – 300 calories, 150 calories from fat, 17 grams of fat, 8 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 45 milligrams of cholesterol, 200 milligrams of sodium, 33 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 22 grams of sugar, and 5 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 4 oz. scoop
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Tangy creamy cheesecake base. Ample cheesecake chunks. Big pieces of Oreo cookie with distinguishable creme.
Cons: Tang is a little closer to yogurt than cheesecake.

REVIEW: Taco Bell Beefy Potato-rito

Taco Bell Beefy Potato rito

Potatoes.

It’s an ingredient some of you may not realize is available at Taco Bell. It doesn’t get as much love on the menu as seasoned ground beef, reduced fat sour cream, or shredded lettuce.

So all this time you could’ve had a Mexican Pizza topped with potatoes, a Taco Salad topped with potatoes, or a Breakfast Crunchwrap, that already has hash browns, and added potatoes to it.

While Taco Bell’s potatoes don’t usually get center stage, it’s gotten a little love with the new Beefy Potato-rito. The “beefy” is the seasoned beef. The “potato” part is the seasoned crispy potatoes. And, I guess, the cheddar cheese, nacho cheese sauce, chipotle sauce, and flour tortilla represent the “-rito.” The menu item is a dollar at most Taco Bell locations, but, after eating it, it seemed like I got more than I paid for.

But I’m not talking about the extra curricular restroom activities that folks joke about when it comes to eating Taco Bell.

It’s hefty for something on the value menu. That’s due to the Mr. Potato Head’s head amount of potatoes in it. There’s enough that you’ll get spuds in every bite. It’s not a forearm-huge burrito, and I wasn’t expecting one for something you can buy with pocket change, but the cubes of carbs make it filling.

The seasoning on them is hard to detect because of the creamy sauces. Their insides are fluffy, but they’re not crispy on the outside. But that’s understandable since they’re sitting in a flour tortilla cocoon with other hot ingredients. I imagine it’s like a sauna, except instead of using water to create steam, it’s chipotle sauce.

Speaking of the chipotle sauce, it’s the highlight of the burrito, providing a smoky flavor and a little kick. It adds a bit more flavor to the standard seasoned beef and goes well with potatoes. If I could buy a serving of the spuds a la carte, I’d eat them with the sauce and call it Chipo-tatoes.

Taco Bell Beefy Potato rito 2

As for the other ingredients, I’m not sure why there’s shredded cheddar cheese, because it doesn’t add anything. Its flavor gets lost among the nacho cheese and chipotle sauces. So why have it? Does the dairy industry have dirt on Taco Bell that gets released if a shredded cheese quota isn’t met?

The nacho cheese sauce gives the burrito a creaminess and, of course, cheesiness that goes well with the cubes of starch. If I could buy a serving of the potatoes a la carte, I’d eat them with the cheesy sauce and call it Potat-chos.

Overall, I enjoyed the Beefy Potato-rito. It fulfills everything I expect from a Taco Bell item — it’s filling, inexpensive, and tastes good.

(Nutrition Facts – 450 calories, 24 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 1030 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $5.75 (Beefy Potato-rito Box)
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Tasty. Inexpensive. Potatoes give the burrito a bit more heft than other Taco Bell value menu items. Chipotle sauce.
Cons: Potatoes aren’t crispy and seasoning does come through with all the other sauces included. Why is there shredded cheddar cheese?

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: McDonald’s Signature Sriracha Burger and Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

McDonald s Signature Sriracha Burger

Welcome to 2014, McDonald’s!

Okay, I kid.

But McDonald’s Sriracha Signature Crafted Recipe would’ve been way more exciting back in 2014 when sriracha was still making its way onto almost every product imaginable.

But now that it has ended up onto almost every product imaginable, I look at this new Signature Crafted Recipe and go, “Hey! Glad you finally made it to the party. Um, almost everyone went home and we’re cleaning up. But you’re welcomed to stay. There’s not much food or drinks left. I think there’s some warm salad and maybe a slice of pizza somewhere and, um, some bottled water sitting in melted ice.”

But after tasting the sauce, I got excited. Because McDonald’s didn’t use some ordinary sriracha, it created a sriracha-Big Mac Special Sauce hybrid, and it tastes wonderful. It’s creamy, spicy, sweet, and tangy. I want to dip McNuggets in it (sorry, my beloved Hot Mustard). Heck, I want to dip everything in it. And I can because it’s also available in a dipping container.

The Sriracha Mac Sauce is not, using a McDonald’s reference, Hot Habanero-spicy, but it might be the second or third spiciest sauce to ever be available on the McDonald’s menu in the U.S. It’s also not Huy Fong Foods Sriracha-spicy, if you want another heat reference.

McDonald s Signature Sriracha Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich

I experienced this new sauce with the Signature Sriracha Burger and Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich. Both also feature baby spinach and kale, tomato, crispy onions, white cheddar, and your choice of an artisan roll or sesame seed bun. I went with the artisan roll for both.

McDonald s Signature Sriracha Burger 2  1

McDonald s Signature Sriracha Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich 2

There was a decent amount of the bright orange goop in both sandwiches. Smeared inside the top bun, it’s used as glue to help prevent the crispy onions and greens from falling out (some still did).

The crispy onions remained crunchy even though they sat on the sandwich for several minutes while I took photos, but had no meaningful flavor. White cheddar has been McDonald’s go-to cheese for these premium sandwiches, and while it provides a creaminess, it doesn’t do anything for the overall taste since the sauce overpowers it. As for the baby spinach and kale, it was nice having a different set of greens than the usual green leaf lettuce or shredded iceberg lettuce.

McDonald s Signature Sriracha Burger 2

McDonald s Signature Sriracha Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich 3

But as I ate the burger and chicken sandwich, both of which I enjoyed, I couldn’t help but think the three toppings are there more for aesthetics than anything else. They don’t enhance the flavor of the sandwiches. They’re just there to justify the “premium” price.

It’s not like the Big Mac where the pickles and onions add to the flavor of the Special Sauce. But then again, their blandness allows the Sriracha Mac Sauce to shine. Ugh, maybe I’m analyzing this deeper than any normal human should, after all, it’s just fricken’ fast food. Who cares? As long as it’s tasty.

With that said, I do think the Sriracha Signature Crafted Recipe is tasty. As a matter of fact, it’s the best tasting one so far. I thought the original varieties — Pico Guacamole, Maple Bacon Dijon, and Sweet BBQ Bacon — lacked strong flavors (Pico Guacamole and Maple Bacon Dijon) or were boring (ANOTHER BBQ bacon cheeseburger).

This latest recipe has none of those issues.

Welcome to McDonald’s, sriracha!

(Nutrition Facts – Burger with artisan roll – 670 calories, 320 calories from fat, 35 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 1.5 grams of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 1010 milligrams of sodium, 56 grams of carbohydrates, 13 g 4 grams of fiber, 32 grams of protein. Buttermilk Crispy Chicken with artisan roll – 730 calories, 300 calories from fat, 33 grams of fat, 7 grams of fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 80 milligrams of cholesterol, 1430 milligrams of sodium, 75 grams of carbohydrates, 13 grams of sugar, 5 grams of fiber, and 32 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price:
Size: N/A
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Sriracha Mac Sauce tastes wonderful and is available as a dipping sauce (HELLO, McNuggets and Fries!) Toppings give it the appearance of premium. The best tasting of the Signature Crafted Recipes.
Cons: Other toppings don’t enhance the flavor of the sandwiches. McDonald’s coming late to the sriracha party.