Monday, September 22, 2014

Beverages from Panera

I'm sure you know Panera, so I'll skip all the general details.  Panera is a "bakery cafe", a casual place, where you order at a register.  While waiting to order, you can drool over the big displays of pastries, admire the bagels, and decide if you want a sandwich or salad made to order.  If you get anything requiring prep time, you'll be given a pager, that will buzz when your order is ready.  Most (all?) locations have wifi.

Panera is a chain, seemingly everywhere, even in my hometown in New Hampshire now.  I don't have much to say about the place in general, as I've reviewed them before.  Certainly never my top pick for baked goods, even if they claim to be a bakery, although I admit it, the bagels that aren't awful.  But this time, I am here to tell you about something different: the drinks.
Frozen Caramel, decaf.  $3.99.
Although this was described as "creamy caramel & icy espresso, topped with whipped cream & caramel syrup", the frozen drinks are actually produced from a pre-made frozen mix, which already contains the espresso and the cream-based components.  The pre-made mix is only available caffeinated.  Since I ordered decaf, this was all explained to me, and I was told that instead, she'd make it from scratch.  This did not bother me, as it is what I expected originally.

The result is much more like a Frappuccino from Starbucks or Freddo from Peet's, as they pull a fresh shot of espresso, add the dairy and the caramel sauce, and blend it with ice.  Except, that unlike Peet's or Starbucks where they would default to using whole milk, and offer non-fat, soy, etc as options, at Panera they make it with half and half instead.  My eyes went a little wide as I watched her pour at least a cup of half and half into the blender.  And a very generous amount of caramel sauce, not just flavored corn syrup, definitely cream based as well.  When she asked if I wanted it topped with whipped cream I almost laughed ... that seemed like the least offensive part of this ordeal.  (I of course said yes!)

Anyway, it was a lot tastier than the Peet's or Starbucks versions.  The coffee flavor was rather mediocre, but the whole thing was far more creamy, more like a milkshake.   Which I guess you'd expect, given all the cream.  I wonder if you asked for a Frappuccino made with cream if it would be delicious?

It also wasn't very icy, which is something I always dislike about Freddos or Frappucinos, but it seemed a little under-iced in this case.  I wanted it a bit more frozen.

The cup was swirled with decorative additional caramel as well, a nice touch in making it look pretty. The whipped cream on top was pretty standard, but good.  The drink was overall quite sweet from the caramel of course, but it was balanced out by being so creamy.

I'd get one again if I was craving a coffee-caramel milkshake, er, frozen drink.  The price was right in line with similar drinks at other establishments.
Iced Chai Tea Latte: after!
It was a hot summer day when I wound up at Panera.  Of course, this means I wasn't in San Francisco, as "hot" and "summer" do not belong in the same sentence there, unless being used ironically.  I was visiting my family in New Hampshire, and wanted something refreshing while I was out running errands.

Last summer when I was in town, I discovered that Panera makes a decent decaf iced coffee, so I went in expecting to get that, but alas, they only had regular iced.  Since I didn't want too much caffeine, I had to settle for plan B.  I was about to get an iced tea or lemonade, when I learned that my MyPanera account had a surprise reward waiting for me, about to expire in a few days: a free espresso drink or smoothie!  Since it was so hot out, I didn't want a hot drink.  And, after my months of forced liquid diet, I kinda despise smoothies.  My choices were easily narrowed down.  But I also didn't really just want an iced latte, and while the whipped cream covered frozen caramel drink was pretty good before, I wasn't looking for something so heavy.  So I went for an Iced Chai Latte.

I can probably count the number of iced chais I've had on one hand.  They just aren't usually something I go for, but my Mom loves them.  Since I was in NH visiting, I was surrounded by iced chai daily.  I think she inspired me to try it!

Described as "brewed black tea, honey, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger & steamed milk, served over ice."

I was also given the option to add cinnamon and nutmeg, both of which I said yes to.  More spicing?  Sounds good to me!

I'm not sure why their description says they use steamed milk, as she clearly just poured chai concentrate and regular cold milk right out of the jug into a cup, over ice.

It was a good chai, although, like I said, I don't have a lot of comparisons.  Nice spicing, sweet but not too sweet, refreshing.  The extra cinnamon and nutmeg on top definitely added additional flavor, but particularly additional aroma, which enhanced my drinking experience.

Was it earth shattering?  No.  But certainly good if I was craving that sort of thing.

Iced drinks are available in only one size, 16 ounces, which looked big at first, but given how much ice was in it, turned out to be just the right size.
Decaf Coffee.
The coffee is pre-brewed, available self-service in carafes labelled with the brew time.  They have a light roast, a dark roast, and hazelnut, plus decaf.

I had the decaf, with a little hazelnut on top for some extra flavor.  It wasn't bad at all.

[ Not pictured ]
Decaf Iced Coffee

Their iced decaf is surprisingly good.  Unlike hot coffee, iced coffee is something I enjoy with added milk, which probably goes a long way in masking the decaf taste.  Their decaf iced has always been refreshing and enjoyable.
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