Monday, April 04, 2016

Peet's Coffee & Tea

In celebration of Peet's 50 Anniversary, I'm updating my past reviews with a bunch of newer reviews.  Since these is a collection of a slew of visits, I've just added the new ones in the proper sections, and updated a bit of my intro.

To start, let's first make sure you know about Peet's.  Peet's is a nationwide coffee chain, but it started in the bay area, in Berkeley.  Locations aren't as prevalent as Starbucks of course, particularly on the East Coast where I grew up, but, it is a sizable chain.  They offer coffee, espresso drinks, blended drinks, and baked goods.

One unique aspect is that they partner with local wholesale bakeries to provide the baked goods, so the scones in Northern California are entirely different from those in Boston.  They also have a firm rule that no brewed coffee will ever be more than 30 minutes old, and they have timers they watch and actually pay attention to.  On more occasions than not, I'm given a freshly brewed cup!  In general, I've found Peet's to be higher quality than Starbucks or other large chains.

When I was forced to switch to decaf for health reasons, I declared Peet's Decaf Major Dickason's to be the most reliable decaf I could find.  I still feel that way now, even since I've switched back to regular.  Below is a culmination of a bunch of my tasting notes from the past few years, spanning their hot drinks, cold drinks, baked goods, and candies!

Much like Starbucks acquired Teavana, Peet's owns Mightly Leaf Tea, and have more recently also acquired Intelligentsia and Stumptown, two smaller "luxury" brands of coffee.  I haven't seen those brands rolled out into the shops in any way though.

Summary: Still consistently the best drip decaf I have found (besides cup at a time local stuff - Four Barrel does some great decaf actually), excellent foaming skills from the baristas, surprisingly good chocolate, mediocre baked goods, and a mixed bag on their other drinks.

Drip Coffee

This is why I usually go to Peet's.  I've been very impressed with Peet's decaf drip coffee (this REALLY surprised me to be honest, but with the policy of not serving coffee more than 30 mins old and no one else ordering decaf, this means I usually get a fresh pot brewed when I order!  I love how seriously they take this rule. )

Another thing I like is that each cafe brews a different roast every day, and have the lineup listed, so you can pick when and where to go.
  • Decaf
    • Decaf Sumatra: My least favorite, acidic aftertaste. [ I've tried this many, many times, and never like it.  Too dark of a roast, too much acid. ]
    • Decaf Major Dickason's: Milder, always my favorite.
    • Decaf Holiday Blend: Decent.  Not super complex, but not bad.
  • Regular
    • Mocca Java: chocolatey, deeper flavor, not bad.
    • Holiday Blend: nothing special.
    • JR Reserve: decent, but fairly generic.
    • Peabody: yum!
    • New Guinea Gold: sweet, nice when hot but bad after taste as it cools.
    • Blue Batak: fairly complex, nice.

Hot Drinks

The majority of the Peet's menu is hot drinks, including espresso based beverages and drip coffee, plus some teas, including matcha and chai.  They don't try to have any exotic offerings, the most unique is probably just the seasonal maple latte.
Chai Latte, Soy, Medium. $4.10 + $0.60 for soy.
"Peet’s take on a traditional Indian cup. Our own blend of teas and spices, lightly sweetened, with steamed milk."

I'm not really a big chai drinker, but every once in a while, usually when it is very cold out, and usually after I've recently spent time with my mother (who does love chai), I want a chai.  So, I tried out Peet's version.

The milk was nicely steamed, a good frothy top.  Peet's usually does a nice job with the foam.

It comes pre-sweetened, so no ability to modify sweetness (it isn’t just simple syrup like in other drinks). It was a tad bit too sweet for me, but maybe because I got soy milk, since the soy was also sweetened.

The spicing was quite nice, lots of spices, but none dominant. Very nicely balanced.

It was very comforting on a dreary day, and satisfied my random chai craving. I don't really feel the need for another though.
White Chocolate Mocha, Decaf, Soy.
"Rich espresso mixed with indulgent white chocolate, steamed milk."

Again, not something I normally order, but, I wanted something sweet, so, a white mocha was it.

There wasn't much coffee flavor to it, instead it was mostly just a sweet, warm, milky drink.

As I've come to expect from Peet's, the foam was nicely done.  I liked the sweet flavor, and it was a fairly comforting drink, but there wasn't a whole lot going.  I might not have known there was even coffee in it, easily mistaking it for just a sweet steamer.  And I couldn't have identified the sweet as white chocolate.  But well made.
White Chocolate Mocha, Decaf, Soy. $4.55.
"The traditional mocha’s blonde cousin. The sweet indulgence of white chocolate blends smoothly with espresso."

It was a cold, windy San Francisco day, and I wanted something creamy, sweet, and comforting, so I opted to try a white mocha again.  This quite fit the bill.

I'm always impressed with how well the Peet's baristas foam the milk, it doesn't seem to matter which cafe I visit, they all produce quality microfoam, and this was no exception, even though I opted for soy, which sometimes trips baristas up a bit.

It was about what I remembered, and about what I wanted.  Quite sweet, although nothing particularly tasted like "white chocolate", just, sweet, but not cloying.  The coffee taste was pretty much lost, but you could tell it was there making the whole drink not just sweet.

Overall, nicely made, decent white mocha, nothing earth shattering, but it warmed me up and satisfied my sweet tooth quite nicely.
Sea Salt Caramel Macchiato, Decaf, Soy, Large.
"Real, buttery caramel, a bit of vanilla, and a hint of French grey sea salt provides a salty-sweet balance to intense, yet sweet ristretto shots of fresh espresso."

I really have no idea why I ordered this one.  It was a cold day, and I wanted something to warm me up, and I felt like something more decadent that my standard black coffee.  But it was afternoon, so I didn't want caffeine, otherwise a matcha or chai would definitely have been in order.  So, decaf coffee, but ... in what form?  I was being really indecisive, and saw a sign with the lovely seasonal offerings on it, including the Sea Salt Carmamel Macchiato.  It looked so inviting in the photo.  Indecision won, so I randomly ordered it.

Since I love the flavor of soy milk, I splurged ($0.60) to use soy milk.  I took my first sip.  The caramel was very forward, and sweet.  And then, wow, there was the salt.  The flavor was really lovely.  The top of this was just ridiculously delicious, with the extra caramel and the sprinkle of salt too.
Plus whipped cream!
But ... the photo that inspired my order had whipped cream, and mine did not.  It was part of the decadent appeal.  So I went back, and asked for whipped cream.  I didn't realize it wasn't standard with the drink.

Overall, this was exactly what I wanted.  Did I get to taste and appreciate coffee?  Not at all.  The coffee was pretty much entirely masked by the rest of the drink.  But, I did really like the combo of salty and sweet, and it really was a perfect treat!

[ No photo ]
Cappuccino

"Our rich espresso poured with steamed milk and marbled to absolute perfection."

This was pretty bad. The milk was not properly steamed (but that is individual barista issue, not judging the entire chain on this ...), the bean taste wasn't great and was totally lost in the milk anyway. Very meh.

[ No photo ]
Pumpkin spice latte, whip. 

"Our rich espresso topped with steamed milk and a layer of foam, with pumpkin spice syrup."

Gross.  Not very well made latte, super sweet, not even nice flavor.

[ No photo ]
Godiva Caramel Pecan Mocha, skim.


This sounded amazing but, just tasted kinda burnt.  I didn’t get a real chocolate sense, nor caramel, nor pecan.  It was just kinda nasty, not sweet, nor bitter.  On a later encounter, I had sample size of the regular version of it, with whipped cream.  It was super sweet and really pretty tasty.  Not sure why it was so bad when I got the full size one.

[ No photo ]
Peppermint mocha, skim, whip.

Another one that sounded like it would be great, but was quite horrible.  Strong, bitter taste, not chocolatey, not pepperminty, just bitter and gross.  Really fake tasting.  But the whipped cream was really, really tasty and melted into the drink well.

[ No photo ]
Peppermint hot chocolate, whip.

Very sweet, but the peppermint flavor is nice.  Much better than the peppermint mocha.  Same great whipped cream.

Iced Drinks

The iced drink lineup is again about what you'd expect, with espresso based beverages and some teas.  The aspect that sets Peet's apart here is that they actually use foam even in their iced drinks.
Iced Cappuccino, Decaf, Skim, SF Vanilla.
 "Our freshly-pulled espresso and foam poured with cold milk and vanilla syrup over ice."

I really loved this.

Most places make iced lattes by combining ice, cold milk, and an espresso shot.  Peet's instead starts with cold foam, then adds the standard ingredients.  And they also offer a iced cappuccino, which is the same thing, but with additional cold foam on top.

I liked this more than any of the blended iced drinks.  It was sweet, but not too sweet.  The vanilla flavor here was stronger than in the vanilla caffe freddo.  The coffee flavor was also stronger.  The foam top is my favorite part of a standard cappuccino, and it was really fun to have that in a more refreshing, seasonally appropriate, iced drink as well.  I'd never seen it done before!

Would definitely order again, particularly instead of an iced coffee, which is what I normally go for when I want a cold coffee drink.
Iced Matcha Green Tea Latte, Soy, Naturally Sweetened, Small.  $2.95.
"Pure Matcha Green Tea and milk poured over ice. Available unsweetened or sweetened with simple syrup."

I heard many great things about Peet's matcha green tea lattes, and everyone in front of me seemed to be getting them. Plus, they were a crazy fun green color.  I joined the crowds, and went for one too.

The Matcha Green Tea Latte comes in 3 varieties: unsweetened, "naturally sweetened", or vanilla.  It is also available hot or iced, with all the usual milk choices.

I told the very friendly person taking my order that I'd never had one before, but was eager to try it.  I asked how she liked hers.  Without hesitation, she said "iced, soy milk, naturally sweetened".  I was actually thinking that it was a shame that I'd picked a hot sunny afternoon to go in, so making it iced was a perfect suggestion, I hadn't even thought of that.  And I love soy flavor, and was already thinking I'd go that way.  As for the sweetness, I really couldn't pick, so I went with her suggestion.

I loved it.  The matcha flavor was just great, and it went really well with soy.  It was refreshing yet creamy, just absolutely what I was in the mood for.  It was also frothy, which I loved (they threw it in the blender to froth it up).  I'd gladly get another!
 Iced Soy Matcha, No simple syrup, 2 pumps SF Vanilla.  $5.10.
A few years later, I had another.


It was still good.  I thought I remembered Peet's making their iced drinks slightly more frothy than this, but perhaps it was just because I used soy that made it less frothy?  Anyway, the matcha flavor was strong, the soy flavor was good, and I sucked this down in, oh, approximately 3 minutes.  I’m not joking.

I went for a large, which seemed huge at first, but given the amount of ice it really wasn’t too much at all.  I originally asked for 1 pump of syrup, since I knew that the soy milk itself was sweetened, and assumed the matcha base was too.  But 1 pump for such a large drink wasn’t quite sufficient, so I upped it to 2 pumps, which was absolutely perfect.  I was told that the drink normally has 5 pumps of simple syrup!  Woah.

Anyway, this was pretty much exactly what I wanted on a hot day.  Refreshing, a bit creamy, perfect jolt of caffeine.  That said, $5.10 is kinda pricey for what is basically a large cup of ice, some soy milk, a few squirts of syrup, and a bit of matcha powder ($0.60 was just to upgrade to soy milk).  If I was feeling splurgy, I’d certainly get another, although I’m curious to try the blended version (Javiva).
Hibiscus Breeze Tea Cooler.
"Our Hibiscus C Blend (a caffeine-free blend of hibiscus flowers, chamomile, and cinnamon) brewed with lemonade over ice."

I wanted to try something other than coffee, so I went for the only ice tea offering without caffeine.  It was really sweet.  The flavor was fairly complex, almost interesting, with some tartness from the lemonade.  But ... just too sweet overall, and really not refreshing at all.  I likely would not order again.

Freddos

Freddos no longer exist, but they were Peet's version of an icy, creamy, blended beverage, like a frappucino from Starbucks, a coolatta from Dunkin' Donuts, etc.  These have been replaced with Javivas, and honestly, I'm not sure what is different.
Dark Chocolate Mocha Freddo, Decaf, Skim, Whip.
"A delicious chocolatey beverage. Luxurious Scharffen Berger cocoa and coffee, topped with whipped cream and Scharffen Berger chocolate shavings."

I actually ordered a chocolate and caramel swirl freddo, but received this instead.  Given how crazy the lines were, I decided to just try it out.  I didn't like it at all.  It did have a rich dark chocolate flavor, but it wasn't a particularly good one, and it had a strange mouthfeel.  Blended decently, not too icy.  It was very bitter overall.  Mine did not having chocolate shavings.

The whipped cream was pretty good.  They make fresh whipped cream in house, not just generic canned stuff.

Least favorite freddo I tried, would not get again.
Matcha Green Tea Freddo, Soy, Whip.
 "A distinctively refreshing beverage handcrafted with the highest quality Japanese matcha green tea and milk, topped with whipped cream."

I really liked this at first and thought it had really great flavors.  Good matcha flavor, just enough to give it flavor, but not overpower the soy.  Great combination.  It was really nicely blended.  But ... after a few sips I got really sick of it, and the flavor seemed to just disappear.  The whipped cream was again tasty, and went well with it.  Tasting notes from an earlier encounter seem to agree: flavor pretty subtle, in fact, just not much flavor.

Second to least favorite of the freddos, probably wouldn't get again.
Matcha Green Tea Freddo, Vanilla, Soy, Whip.
The next time, I had vanilla syrup added, because I've been drinking matcha lattes with a little vanilla syrup in them lately, and I decided I like the flavor combination.  I again got soy because I love how soy and matcha taste together.

I liked this more, and really appreciate how strong the matcha is in the Peet's drinks.  I like that it tastes a bit bitter, and really like matcha, rather than ridiculously sweet like Starbuck's Matcha Frappucinos.  And it was again expertly blended.

I still got fairly sick of it halfway through, and was going to throw it out, but decided to just give it a few minutes and then resume.  It was half-hearted enjoyment at best for the second half though.  Medium is the smallest size they come in, I wish they were offered in small, or maybe I just need to find someone to split one with me ...
Chocolate Freddo, Soy, Whip.
This was one of their coffee-free freddos.  It had a good chocolate flavor (much better than the dark chocolate freddo), but it also let the soy flavor come through.  This was a nice combination of chocolate and soy.  It was nicely blended, almost like a chocolate milk shake, although more icy.  The whipped cream was definitely necessary on this one.

Third favorite of the freddos I tried, and if I wanted something chocolately and cold and I was there, I'd order it, but otherwise, I'd just go for a real milkshake.

I really want to try the vanilla coffee-free freddo next!
Caramel Caffè Freddo, Decaf, Skim, Whip.
"Smooth coffee taste with Pure Caramel for a subtly sweet treat, topped with whipped cream."

I'm not really sure where they got "subtle sweet" from, this thing was super sweet!  It had a great caramel flavor, was not bitter at all, and the coffee flavor was fairly subtle.  It was very tasty, well blended, and quite a treat, but very, very sweet and not really much of a coffee drink.

By far my favorite of the freddos, would order again if I wanted something just sweet and delicious.
Vanilla Caffè Freddo, Light, Decaf.
"Madagascar Vanilla combined with coffee, blended with ice for a deliciously sweet treat. "

After all those crazy sweet drinks loaded with whipped cream, I wanted to at least give the "light" product line a try.  The light drinks are made with skim milk, do not have whipped cream, and use syrups and powders with less sugar than the standard versions.

This was the best blended freddo I had, very, very frothy.  It had a really nice coffee flavor, with a subtle vanilla flavor, not too sweet.

Second pick of the freddos, and I'd order again if I wanted something that highlighted coffee flavors a little more.
Vanilla Freddo, Soy, Whip.  $4.30.
I finally got a chance to try the last freddo I had wanted, the plain vanilla, san coffee, version.  I was hoping it would be like a delicious milkshake.  I love the flavor of soy and vanilla together, so I picked soy milk.

This did have a nice soy flavor, but there wasn't much vanilla to it.  It was kinda just sweet soy milk, blended with ice.  It was really nicely blended.  It also came with the most generous serving of whipped cream that I've ever received.  I couldn't get a lid on it.  The whipped cream was the same standard, but good, whipped cream.

I wouldn't get one of these again, as it really offered nothing.  It also seemed really expensive: $4.90 with tax ... for basically some soy milk and ice?  Meh.

Javiva

As I said, Freddos were discontinued.  And replaced by Javivas.  They seem to be the same thing, ice blended drinks topped with whipped cream.  I'm going to guess this was a marketing move?



Matcha Javiva, Soy, Small $4.10 + $0.60 for soy.
"Pure Japanese Matcha green tea finds a creamy complement in cold milk and ice. Topped off with a cloud of whipped cream."

Unlike the old freddos, this came pre-sweetened, so, like the chai, no ability to modify sweetness. I could pick my dairy, unlike Starbucks frappuccinos though.  Into it went sScoops of matcha powder, and scoops of some other powder, which I'm guessing is some kind of Javiva base?

It was nicely blended, with tiny tiny tiny bits of ice.  Great matcha flavor, probably the best matcha flavor I’ve had in a drink.

Baked Goods

One of the Peet's locations that I most often visit regularly has samples of their baked goods out.  I'm a bit of a baked goods snob, and wouldn't normally ever order these, but I'm incapable of resisting a sample, so I've gotten to try a bunch of things!  As always, subsequent tastings noted in brackets.
  • Cookies
    • Chocolate Chip: kinda greasy, hard, nothing worth repeating.
    • Peanut Butter: hard, flavorless, not good.
    • Sugar: buttery, classic sugar cookie taste, huge sugar crystals on top are nice crunch, cookie itself is moist, basically a good classic sugar cookie. [ Nice and buttery, topped with large sugar crystals, yummy. ]
    • Vegan Oatmeal Raisin: nice buttery flavor, plentiful raisins, fairly chewy, nice! [ Meh, not great flavor, too crispy. ] [ Soft, plentiful raisins, really great flavor, buttery, maple flavor in there too. ]
    • Spicy Ginger: nice chunks of candied ginger inside, great ginger flavor.
  • Cakes
    • Gingerbread Loaf Cake with cream cheese frosting: pretty good! flavors are very strong -  gingerbread flavor is very strong in the cake, cream cheese frosting is very creamy cheesy, although I could do without the frosting. [ Cake was fairly moist but nothing special.  Cream cheese frosting had candied ginger pieces, the candied ginger gave a nice zing.  But overall, generic and forgettable. ]
    • Lemon Pound Cake: just sweet, boring, dry, meh.
    • Classic Coffee Cake: cake pretty boring, heavy brown sugar topping, not very flavorful, meh.
  • Other
    • Pumpkin Pie Bar: Pumpkin pie layer on top of shortbread crust.  Crust really has no flavor or anything.  Pumpkin pie layer is lacking in spices.  Generic and forgettable. [ Flavorless pumpkin layer, flavorless shortbread crust layer, really quite gross. ]
    • Peppermint Cute Cake by Donsuemor: “marriage of cupcakes and petits fours”.  "A chocolate cake with peppermint infused white chocolate topping and sprinkles".  The cake is kinda dry and forgettable, but the peppermint topping was nice.  [ Agreed on second try, cake is kinda dry, peppermint topping is good. ]
    • Red Velvet Whoopie Pie: dry flavorless cake, cream cheese filling ok.

Chocolates

During the Christmas holidays, Peet's was often sampling some of their chocolates.  Again, not somewhere I'd normally purchase such things, but theirs were surprisingly good!
  • Jo’s Almond Bark: Milk chocolate base, dark chocolate swirl, pieces and whole chunks of almond.  Surprisingly good.  Milk chocolate is nice and creamy, dark chocolate adds nice component, almonds have good flavor. [ Agreed, milk chocolate is really surprisingly nice and creamy. ] [ Agreed, not amazing milk chocolate, but pretty creamy.] [ Agreed again, nice flavor in almond, chocolate so creamy.]
  • Jo’s Chocolate Covered Pretzel: milk chocolate covered pretzel stick. Generic, meh, neither component interesting.
  • Chocolate Covered Cherries: milk chocolate covered bing cherry with cherry flavored layer.  Very flavorful, cherry itself has good flavor, milk chocolate kinda standard, cherry layer fairly thin, doesn’t add a lot. [ Milk chocolate layer very thin, cherry chocolate layer is very thick, 2x thicker than cherry itself.  Overall really flavorful. ] [  Layer of cherry flavored chocolate, layer of milk chocolate, dried cherry in center.  Pretty tasty.  Cherry chocolate layer is super flavorful, and chocolate and cherry are great flavor combo. ]
  • Jo’s Peppermint Bark: Dark chocolate thin base layer, lots of white chocolate, candycane topping.  Candycane nice, dark chocolate layer is totally lost in the white chocolate, white chocolate just kinda a lot of sweet but if you are in the mood for it it isn’t bad [ Not very minty, dark chocolate you don’t taste at all, white chocolate isn’t too sweet, but overall, this is pretty lackluster. ]
  • Chocolate Toffee Almond: Almond coated with butter toffee, chocolate, and powdered sugar. Very nice, better than most other versions I've had of this.  Butter toffee layer is subtle and adds just a nice salty/sweet layer, perfect amount of chocolate (not too much so you lose taste of almond, which happens with many).
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