Friday, August 31, 2018

Frito-Lay Chips

You need no introduction to Frito-Lay, I know.

Frito-Lay is probably the largest manufacturer of potato chips in the US, encompassing a slew of brands: not just Lay's, but they also own Sun Chips, Tostitos, Doritos, Fristos, Cheetos, Ruffles, Ms. Vickie's, etc, etc.  And, they are owned by PepsiCo themselves.  No little mom and pop shop here, so, not a brand I'd actually seek out for any reason.

But since I've recently been addicted to salty snack foods, I figured I had to give these classic chips a try again, for old time's sake.

I can't say there are any real winners, but it was a fun walk down memory lane.  The chips really haven't changed in years!  I've consolidated my notes from a bunch of the different brands into this single post, except for Ruffles, Cracker Jacks, and Miss Vickie's, which I reviewed independently previously.  I've also included the relative newcomer, Lay's Air Pops.

Update Review (Summer 2018)

For the summer of 2018, Lay's introduced a line of ridiculous flavored potato chips (nothing new there), limited edition, dubbed the "Tastes of America" line, available only in retails in the local region (or, online), 12 varieties in all.  

In honor of the Northeast, they were inspired by ... the Lobster Roll.  (For the curious, the others were Truffle Fries, Bacon Wrapped Jalapeno Popper, Thai Sweet Chili, Fried Pickles w/ Ranch, Chile Con Queso, Fried Green Tomatoes, Cajun Spice, Pimento Cheese, Crab Spice, Lobster Roll, Deep Dish Pizza, & Ketchup).

Lobster Roll seemed like a reasonable thing to chip-ify, or at least, chips (or fries) on the side with a lobster roll is a traditional pairing, so, why not?  They are complimentary flavors.  So when I visited the Northeast this summer, I eagerly purchased a bag, not that I had high hopes.
New England Lobster Roll.
"A taste of fresh lobster served on a buttery grilled roll."

I did not taste lobster.  I did not taste lobster roll dressing.  I did not taste "roll".  I did not taste butter.  There was literally nothing about this that resembled a lobster roll.  If they were going for a hot lobster roll, shouldn't I just taste lots of butter?  If cold, mayo and celery?  None of these flavors were present, which makes sense, given that, besides butter, they weren't in the ingredients (I did taste them before reading the ingredients though).

What they did taste like was a slightly more zesty version Sour Cream & Onion.  Which, when I read the ingredients later, makes sense.  They do have sour cream and onion powder, and the additional ingredients found in them beyond what is in the Sour Cream & Onion are just red bell pepper and garlic powder (nearly last in the ingredient list), plus brown sugar and butter.  Bell peppers, garlic, and brown sugar doesn't exactly scream out "lobster roll" ... nor do sour cream and onion of course.

This flavor could have gone badly, imagine ... fishy tasting chips, more like asian shrimp chips?  But those would require an ingredient like anchovies or shrimp powder at least.  These chips certainly won't offend anyone on taste alone.

Overall, these were a fine chip, didn't taste bad, and were better than regular Sour Cream & Onion actually, but lobster roll they were not.

Original Reviews (Published February 1, 2013)

Crunchy Cheetos.
I wasn't ever a huge Cheetos fan as a kid, but I of course have plenty of memories of orange stained finger tips.  I preferred the Puffs version to these crunchy ones, even back then.

It turns out, that "cheese" still coats your fingers even as an adult, and I still got some joy from licking it off, long after my bag of chips had run out.  The chips themselves I still don't really care for, but there is something in that fake cheese flavor that at least makes me nostalgic.  But, I have no plans to eat these again!
Fritos.
Another one from childhood: Fritos!

They were salty, crunchy, and had a slight corn flavor, but really didn't seem to be nearly as flavorful as I recalled.  I turned them into Frito pie, which was significantly better, but still not something I want more of.

I also tried a bunch of the flavored offerings, including BBQ and Chili Cheese.  I just found the flavors ... strange.
Fritos Flavor Twists: Honey BBQ.
The Fritos product line has greatly expanded over the years, to say the least.  Mostly as new flavors of the standard Fritos shaped corn chips, but also into ... twists?

I loved the shape.  The crunch from the ridges was quite nice.  And the honey bbq flavor was also nice.  But the corn chip base?  E.g. the fritos themselves?  Not my thing!

Classic Lays

Lay's actually makes a large variety of fairly interesting sounding flavors now.  In addition to the classic Barbecue there is Honey Barbecue or Sweet Southern Heat Barbecue.  A number of flavors promise some spice, like Chile Limón, Flamin' Hot, PIco de Gallo, Tapatio.  And who can resist Dill Pickle?  But I stuck with the basics.
Barbecue.
"Each bag of LAY’S Barbecue Flavor Potato Chips are a savory reason to smile. Our trademark seasoning captures everything you love about a summer barbecue: a smoky aroma, finger-lickin’ good BBQ flavor and of course, a crispy crunch."

When I think of classic barbecue chips, these are it.  I haven't had them in years, but the moment I had one recently, I was instantly transported back in time.  They taste exactly as I remember.  Fairly tangy, sweet, crispy.  Not remarkable in any way, generic as can be, but they aren't claiming to be anything else.  I was glad to remember these, but don't really feel the desire to have any more.  I am kinda curious to try the new barbecue flavors Lay's has added though.

Update Review:  A few years pass, and, time to try these again.  I appreciated them even more this time.  Classic bbq flavor.  Seriously, these remind me of childhood.  They are so crispy, so, just, *what* BBQ chips are supposed to be.  In my mind anyway.  I'm glad to keep these on my every-few-years rotation.
Sour Cream & Onion.
"Each bag of LAY’S Sour Cream and Onion Flavor Potato Chips is a little reminder of how good the simple things are. LAY’S Sour Cream and Onion Flavor Potato Chips have been a flavor favorite for many years. The tart sour cream taste and onion flavor are blended to create the perfect seasoning that people have come to love."

A generic, classic Lay's flavor.  Not that sour creamy.  Not that oniony.  But that little fleckle of green bits on the chips brought back instant memories.  Are they good?  Not really, but, memories.

[ Others ]
  • Classic: Well, yup, aptly named.  Thin chip, no real flavor or texture, decently salted.  Nothing particularly interesting here..
  • Baked Lay's: These were sorta like untasty Pringles.  Reconstituted potato starch rather than slices of potato like the baked Kettle chips.  Not much flavor.  Not very salty.  Very thin.  Yet I tried them a few more times.  They were never that good on their own, but I enjoyed them dipped in mac and cheese or mushroom soup (I'm weird like that).

Sun Chips

I remember when I discovered Sun Chips.  I think I actually bought into the idea that they were healthy chips.  Lols.
Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips.
  • Harvest Cheddar: Classic grainy, sorta hearty Sun Chip base.  Decently cheesy.  But, not really that great.
  • Garden Salsa: "The flavor hints of summer salad mixed with the flavor of sun-ripened tomato".  Tasting notes: These were a new one for me.  They had the same kinda grainy, hearty chip base, with a bit of zesty tomato taste.  Not bad, but not particularly good.
  • French Onion: These were always my favorites.  Grainy, french onion flavor, but I didn't find them not particularly good the first time I tried them as an adult. Of course, the next time I thought the flavor was good, and liked the graininess.  Hmm.

Air Pops (Added May 29, 2015)

Sour Cream & Onion.
I expected these to have the same awful consistency as PopChips.  Luckily, they didn't.  Sure, they weren't the greasy, crispy creations I know as regular chips, and indeed were healthier tasting, but they at least still seemed to be potato, rather than styrofoam.

The sour cream and onion flavoring was quite good, strong.  But I still prefer regular chips.
Barbeque.
Just like the Sour cream & onion, I was impressed with the flavor of these.  Very mesquite flavored, deep barbeque.  And just like the sour cream and onion, I thought the texture wasn't awful.

But ... I still didn't want many of these.  The flavor of the sour cream and onion was slightly better.
Read More...

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Mac's Maple, New Hampshire

Update Review, Farm Visit, August 2018

I discovered the existence of Mac's Maple soft serve creamees last summer when I visited my family in New Hampshire.  I adored it, but was only able to get in one visit, as I was in town a short time, and the available hours are quite limited.  The farm has a little shop open only on weekends that sells the creamees, or you can find the creamee trailer around town at events (like fairs, and ball games, which is where I sought it out last time, yes, actually going to a ball game not to see the game at all).

When I returned to visit this year, I was determined to get it again, but it was late August, the sports season had ended, leaving weekends only, at the farm, as the only place to get creamees.  I was there for one weekend.  My mom had a big family bbq planned for one day.  Yes, I had exactly one day when they were open, and, even though it was not ice cream weather (cool and stormy), I sought it out.
Charming Sugar Shack!
I'm glad I did.

My visit was to the farm, where I was able to check out the cute shop with assorted other maple inspired and local items for sale, plus, well, get my creamee.

And this time I went prepared, with my own toppings, since I knew they only offered sprinkles.  It was a great success.
The Farm Store.
Located right on the farm, they have a small storefront, mostly a retail location for their maple syrup (as Mac's Maple is a syrup business after all!).

It is quite cute, farm style obviously, a few small tables outside at which to eat your goodies.
Goodies for Sale.
They sell much more than just syrup inside, although, of course, you can get that.
Maple Sugar.
The maple sugar had this before (Santa clearly shopped here when doing stocking stuffers one year).  Basically just maple-y sugar, a bit more fun to use than brown sugar as a topping on oatmeal and the like.  You can also buy larger quantities for use in baking.
Bourbon Maple Syrup.
"100% pure wood fired maple syrup aged in a Bourbon Barrel."

In addition to regular maple syrup, they also make a bourbon maple syrup (aged in a bourbon barrel, it isn't actually made with bourbon).  The packaging, displays, everything about this was adorable. 
Bourbon Maple Syrup Samples.
They also had samples of the bourbon maple syrup, and I tried it.  I didn't really taste anything particularly special, but it was sweet and tasty, and my mom enjoyed pouring it over her creamee for even more maple flavor.
Gift Basket.
They also had a large selection of gift baskets, filled with syrups, sugars, t-shirts, and even house made maple cotton candy (which is also for sale separately).
Maple Kettle Corn.
And of course, bags of their maple kettle corn in assorted sizes, which I had picked up from the trailer at the ballgame last time too.  And of course I grabbed a bag of that to take back to my parent's house, vacuum seal, and bring back West with me.
Local Dairy Items.
If you don't recall, Mac's Maple is the sugarhouse associated with the McNamara Dairy, a local dairy farm, so of course they had the milk, chocolate milk, butter, maple butter, and cream available to purchase, along with farm fresh eggs and bottles of water.

I know their milk well, as we sometimes got it as a splurge when I was growing up, particularly the chocolate milk, or, seasonal eggnog.  It is sold at most of the grocery stores in town.
Frozen Products.
The freezer cooler had other cow products ... yup, ground beef, steaks, and kabobs, plus their own smoked applewood maple bacon.

And ... ice cream.  Quarts of vanilla and chocolate hard serve from the McNamara Dairy, but also, packaged creamee pints, although of course the texture would change considerably for soft serve that is packaged and frozen.  Still, better than nothing!

And their incredible sounding Maple Creamee Pie, with waffle cone crust, and optional maple candy topping.  I was a bit sad that they had them, actually, because I had wanted to surprise my mom with one of these some day for Mother's Day (I thought they were a Mother's Day only thing, and had tried to get one to her last year, but couldn't find someone to pick it up for me, as the location isn't exactly convenient, way out on the farm).
Creamee Station.
But we were there for one main reason: creamees!

The creamee machine is located behind the register, with a chalkboard sign listing the offerings.

The options are extremely limited.  

Creamees come in one size only, no option for a kiddie size.  It is a generous serve, so I'm not sure what you'd really do for a child.

You can get it in a cup, a regular cake cone (Joy brand, gluten-free available), or waffle cone ($2 extra).  With maple candy or rainbow sprinkles ($0.50).  And that's it.

I'm surprised Mac's Maple doesn't offer the maple syrup drizzle as a topping option, who wouldn't want more maple flavor?

I came prepared with my own toppings, but was glad to see they had rainbow sprinkles here (the trailer had only the maple candies when I visited before, which were good, but just too sweet for me on the ice cream).
Maple Creamee Dish. $3.
My mother went simple.  A creamee, in a dish.

Of course, she knew I brought toppings to add, and opted for some of the crushed walnuts I brought along, and drizzled hers with her bourbon maple syrup sample, creating quite a nice little sundae for herself.  She enjoyed it very much, saying it really just was the best maple soft serve she's ever had, the best soft serve in general in town, but not somewhere she can easily stop by, so, Dairy Twirl remains her regular place.

The $3 price is entirely reasonable for a large serve, of ice cream made with quality dairy from their own creamery, and real maple syrup, when everywhere else in town carries "maple" flavored soft serve, made with fake syrups and powders, not the real thing, and generic dairy base.
Maple Creamee Cone, with Rainbow Sprinkles. $3.50.
I opted for cone (soft serve is all about the licking experience for me!), with rainbow sprinkles, even though I had more toppings to add.  I love my rainbow sprinkles for color and texture.

The soft serve was very good, a tiny bit softer than you'd necessarily want, but given that it wasn't hot, this was fine, and it did not melt too quickly.  Very creamy, clearly quality rich base, and more maple flavored than any other soft serve maple I've ever had, because, well, it uses real syrup rather than sugar and artificial flavors.  The difference is very obvious.  This is very good soft serve.

The sprinkle application left something to be desired, I thought because it was a bit soft they were worried to roll it in the sprinkles, and just spooned it on, kinda sorta covering some of the cone.  I was pleased with the sprinkle quality, they weren't waxy as I've been finding Dairy Twirl's lately, but they weren't particularly special.

But I had more toppings to add.
Maple Creamee with chopped walnuts, fake bacon bits, rainbow sprinkles.
When I had Mac's Maple the first time, I wrote in my notes that I'd love to try it with crushed walnuts as a coating rather than the maple candies, and so I came prepared, with my own crushed toasted walnuts and candied walnuts.  Oh, and fake bacon bits.  Maple pecan, maple bacon, these are things others go for right?

The walnuts were a nice touch, adding the texture I wanted, and even better on my mom's sundae with her drizzle of syrup.  I suggested to Mac's Maple that they add walnuts to the topping lineup, but they didn't really want to go near nut allergies, which I can understand.  If you like maple walnut, bring your own nuts!

I also added bacon bits.  Fake bacon bits.  Because, well, I'm silly?  Maple bacon, sure, that is a thing, but I didn't think real bacon bits would work well, as they are soft.  I wanted the crunch of those fake bacon bits.  They too were a fun topping, and I appreciated the salt level they added, and definitely the crunch.  The texture, and salt level, were perfect.  The flavor was ... fine, but not really something I'd do again, although I more blame the brand of "bacon" bits I had than the concept.

So altogether, I had fun adding my toppings, appreciated the crunchy things, but the rainbow sprinkles really would have been fine.  I'm glad they carry those now.

Original Review, Creamee Truck, 2017

Bear with me for some story time.

I grew up in New Hampshire, in a fairly rural area.  There was a dairy in town, that still sold milk in glass bottles at the supermarkets.  But it was far more expensive than the regular milk, so it was something we only splurged on from time to time.  Like when my mom REALLY wanted the chocolate milk, or eggnog, both which are amazing.  And then we had to deal with bottle returns, which always seemed complicated.  Those are my memories from childhood of the dairy.

Anyway, that dairy, McNamara Dairy, is a place I've been aware of most of my life, really.  It is located on the outskirts of town, down the street from the farm where we always went strawberry picking.  I've mentioned it before, like when I had eggnog whipped cream on my bread pudding at Lou's one time and it was made with McNamara Dairy eggnog, or when I reviewed my amazing experience at Home Hill Inn, which was located right down the street as well, and sourced all their dairy there as well.  But it wasn't a staple of my life.

Associated with the dairy is a sugarhouse, Mac's Maple.  My godfather makes his own syrup, so, we never got maple syrup from elsewhere, although I tried the syrup from Mac's Maple when I went to brunch at Home Hill Inn as well.  They also make maple sugar candy, so I'm pretty sure some of that must have shown up in my Christmas stocking at some point, I just don't recall.

So where is this all going?  To a great discovery I made in July 2017.  The maple creamee.

I'll back up a bit to admit that I did not know what a creamee was.  Urban Dictionary tells me this is what Vermonters call their soft serve ice cream.  I grew up in New Hampshire, not Vermont, but we are *right* on the state line.  I spent a lot of time in Vermont.  I've eaten an insane amount of soft serve ice cream.  I had never heard this term until about a year or so ago.

A maple creamee, then, is a soft serve ice cream, made with maple syrup instead of sugar.  And during the summer, McNamara Dairy and Mac's Maple combine forces to make it.  Yes, soft serve, made with local premium dairy and maple syrup.
Maple Creamee Experience!
As a soft serve lover, this sounded, well, amazing.  I honestly do not understand how it had not crossed my radar before.

The soft serve is sold at the dairy farm on weekends only, at a little stand they run, from 10am-5pm on Saturday, 12pm-5pm on Sunday.  My mother, who loves ice cream perhaps even more than me, did not know this.  She says they really have not publicized it at all.  I have no idea how long they have been offering it.  The stand also offers many other maple products, including the syrup of course.

Once I discovered the existence of this amazing creation, I had to seek it out.  The only problem?  I couldn't go during those limited hours on weekends.  I reached out to Mac's Maple on Facebook (not *really* expecting a response), to find out that they also have a mobile ice cream trailer that they bring to local baseball games.  And there was one that night.  Bingo.

I immediately told my mom we needed to go.  To White River Junction Vermont, to, uh, go see our local baseball team play.  It would cost $5 to get in, but, maybe we could tell them we were just there for ice cream?

We ate a rushed dinner, hoped in the car, and headed to the game.  We didn't regret a thing.
Side of the Ice Cream Trailer.
I spotted the ice cream trailer the moment we pulled into the parking lot.  It was adorable.  It looked like a mini maple sugar shack!  It had signs for both Mac's Maple and McNamara Dairy painted on, and beautiful artwork on the back side.

They even had little trees set up around the trailer hitch.
Ice Cream Trailer!
The front side featured the ordering window and pick-up window.

Seriously, how cute is this thing?  Look at the roof!  It has a smokestack!

The menu is pretty simple: all the maple products!  The only variety of soft serve ice cream, er, creamee, that they sell is maple.  They also sell maple candy, maple kettle corn (!), and maple cotton candy, plus that aforementioned amazing chocolate milk.
Maple Creamee + Maple Candy "Sprinkles".  $3.00 + $0.50.
Soft serve is available in a cup, cone, or sugar cone.  I went for regular cone, as I have a very strong belief that soft serve should basically only be eaten from a cone.  My mom choose a dish.

The ice cream comes in one size only.  It was ... really quite generous.  It was more than I wanted actually, I would have loved a half-size, kiddie cone, whatever you want to call it, but, alas, no choices.  It was large, but very well twirled.  There was absolutely no hollow part in the center.

The soft serve was great.  Very creamy, very smooth.  It melted perfectly in the setting sun.  The maple flavor was intense, certainly sweet, but not too overpowering.  Far better than any other maple flavor ice cream I've ever had, which makes sense, as this was real syrup, and normally they use flavored stuff.

You can add what they dub "maple sugar sprinkles" to your creamee, which I did, mostly out of curiosity.  I love sprinkles, so, why not maple sugar ones?  I didn't quite know what to expect.

The answer was little bits of maple sugar candy.  Now, these were good.  Intensely sweet maple candy.  And this is a fun idea.  But ... it was way too sweet for me with the maple ice cream.  I sadly ended up knocking them off my cone.  I think these would be incredible with vanilla ice cream.

Overall, this was wonderful.  High quality soft serve, perfectly creamy and melty, great flavor, generous size.  It was fine without the maple candy sprinkles, but I think it would have been awesome with bits of walnuts instead (hello, Maple Walnut is a popular flavor for a reason!)

I'd gladly get it again, although I'd like to split with someone, and, uh, bring my own nuts?

(Suggestions to business owner: offer walnuts as a topping! And maybe vanilla, I really think it would be amazing with the maple candy sprinkles, or for those who want something a bit less sweet and want a swirl ...)
Maple Kettle Corn (small).
"Beautiful maple kettle corn, made fresh for you!"

It is no secret that I'm obsessed with popcorn.  There is a reason, just like ice cream, I have a whole label on my blog devoted to it.  I eat more of this than ice cream, probably.  Some kind of popcorn, sweet or savory, is part of my daily snack line up.  I have opinions on popcorn.

I couldn't resist grabbing a bag of the maple kettle corn alongside my ice cream.  I *did* manage to make it all the way home before opening the (sealed) bag, which is probably a good thing, because I would have turned right back around and grabbed the family size bag too.

This was very good popcorn.

The popcorn itself was light, airy, well popped.  No duds in the bag (although, to be honest, I do like the duds too!).  The kernels were well coated.  There was some variation in the coating levels, just enough to make it impossible to stop eating, in the "oh, i just want one more perfectly coated one" sense, but all had plenty of coating.

That coating was maple flavored, sweet, beautiful flavor.  Such an extra dimension over regular kettle corn made with white sugar.  I imagine they make this with their maple sugar.  There was a slight saltiness to offset it.  Personally, I prefer a bit more salt, but, still, this was great.

Overall, wonderful, and one of very few popcorns I enjoyed just eating out of the bag at room temperature ... normally I freeze my popcorn to make it extra crunchy, and that was not needed here at all.

I'll clearly gladly consume more of this!
Read More...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Dunkin' Donuts - The Drinks

Update Review December 2018

Cold Brew, No Ice, Large.
"An ultra-smooth, full-bodied coffee like no other. We’ve steeped 100% Arabica beans in cold water for 12 hours to slowly extract all the flavor into this velvety brew."

Yes, Dunkin' jumped on board the cold brew wagon.  And ... they did a decent job.

Smooth, full bodied, not harsh nor acidic ... actually a decent cold brew.  Better than the brewed coffee, and actually enjoyable black (even though that order was met with surprise, "just black? No cream or sugar?").

So it was a rewards drink, I got the biggest size, no ice, and used it for my morning coffee for a few days (kept in the fridge of course).  #proMove.

Update Review August 2018

Yeah ... I'm pretty much over Dunkin' Donuts.  It is expensive for what it is, the coffee just isn't anything special, and the baked goods lost their appeal long ago.  It is reliable, particularly for a simple coffee (hot or iced), but beyond that, meh.

Update Review December 2016

A crazy thing happened to me on my holiday visit to the east coast in December.  I decided, perhaps long overdue, that I don't really like Dunkin Donuts.  At least, not the coffee.  It just isn't very good.  I'm sorry, I know I'm upsetting a lot of people right now.  And really, for what it is, it is expensive.  I had my years of loving the place, but I think I was into it in my younger years because of all the cream and sugar, and, well, I didn't really appreciate coffee itself.

During that visit, I still went a few times, got coffee, and didn't really care for it.  On my last day, I realized that I had a birthday freebie reward about to expire.  I didn't want another mediocre coffee.  I knew that way back in the day I loved Coolattas, except, I didn't want caffeine (although, it turns out, Coffee Coolattas have *very* little caffeine content, barely more than decaf!)  I thought I could perhaps try a fruity Coolatta for the first time, assuming it was basically just a slushie drink, but then I saw just how much sugar was in it (88 grams!), and thought better of it.  Instead I opted to go totally off menu, and make up my own icy beverage, somewhat inspired by exploring off-menu Frappuccinos at Starbucks.  Did you know you can do that at Dunkin' Donuts?  I didn't, until I tried.

Original Reviews, 2013 - 2015

I've shared my thoughts on the west coast coffee chain darling, Peet's, and the nationwide Starbucks, so it seems only appropriate to post about the place I grew up with: Dunkin' Donuts.  Or Dunks, as I knew it.

Dunks is where I learned to drink coffee.  Now, granted, what I thought was coffee then and what I think is coffee now are two very different things.  But it still holds a very special place in my heart.

As a kid, no birthday party was complete without a giant box of munchkins.  Once I could drive, no road trip was complete without several stops at Dunks to get a hot coffee and a muffin.  And no summer day was complete without a refreshing Coolatta or an iced coffee.  They seemed to have a product to fit whatever stage of life I was in.

But then I moved to the west coast, where there are no Dunkin' Donuts.  And I started drinking my coffee black, and then even just drinking espressos, and started caring which single origin coffee I was drinking, and what extraction method was used to prepare it. My days of Dunks were behind me.

On my last few visits to the east coast however, I've tried it out again.  While still satisfying in the nostalgic sense, it actually isn't very good.  I claim it has changed.  For example, my coffee of choice, the french vanilla, used to be actual french vanilla coffee, and now it is just the regular coffee, with a squirt of flavored syrup in it.  They only brew basic regular and decaf now, and just use syrups for the rest.  The donuts and muffins are no longer baked fresh daily on site, but rather in big distribution centers and shipped in.  And ... they sell bagels?  And breakfast burritos?  And ... tuna salad sandwiches?  And my precious Coffee Coolatta is now called "Frozen Coffee Drink".  Whaaat?

Anyway.  I've tried out a bunch of their products again, and my notes on the drinks are below (to read about the baked goods, and donuts, visit that review).  The only thing that I used to love that I haven't tried recently is the muffins, particularly, the corn muffins.  They had a big sign on them boasting "new recipe!" so I shied away.  I'll let them stay in my memory as the amazing thing they once were.

Notes below include both standard, and seasonal special, offerings, compiled over the course of 2013 - 2015.

Hot Coffee

I found a lot of variety in the hot coffee.  I think the biggest difference was likely how fresh the coffee is, particularly the decaf.  Unlike Peet's, they don't have any policies regarding freshness.  Several times I asked how fresh the decaf was, and the worker told me it was from that morning (when it was late in the afternoon).  Yikes!

Back in the day, when you ordered a coffee at Dunks, it came with cream and sugar, by default.  If you didn't specify anything, that is what you got.  And not just a little bit of each, they'd load it up with a giant scoop of sugar and a generous glug of cream.  Not half and half, cream.  It was sweet, it was creamy, and I guess there was coffee in there somewhere.

Times have changed a little.  Now, if you just order a coffee, they ask, "cream and sugar?"  And if you say yes, you still get the massive amounts of it.  I tried some black a few times, and must say, it wasn't very good at all.  But load it up with cream and sugar, and it is still pretty much what I remember.

Standard Flavors

Other things that have changed?  How the flavor is added.  I used to always love the french vanilla and hazelnut coffees.  Back in the good old days, these were actually flavored coffees.  Now all flavors are added as syrups.  Most are just sweetened syrup with some flavors, although the "flavor swirls" also include sweetened condensed milk, so you have to be careful if you get one of those and also ask for cream and sugar ... it gets crazy sweet and creamy fast!

For the shots that are just flavor, options are blueberry, raspberry, coconut, mocha, and toasted almond, plus  caramel, hazelnut, french vanilla.  The later options are also available as the aforementioned "swirls", with sweetend condensed milk already added in.
Small Hot Coffee, Hazelnut.
Hazelnut is my current favorite.  I used to love the old brewed French Vanilla flavor, but the new syrup I do not like as much.  Hazelnut adds a nice aroma and flavor, although the standard number of pumps of syrup tends to be too sweet for me.  I prefer one fewer pump than standard.

Other Flavors:
  • Blueberry: I tried this really just out of curiosity.  Blueberry coffee?  Wat? Well, it was exactly what it said it was.  Blueberry flavored coffee.  No reason to get this again, but it was decent blueberry flavor.  
  • Caramel: The aroma on this was lovely, but the taste ... awful.  I'm not sure if it was the caramel, or the stale, rancid old coffee it was added to, but, it was undrinkable, and I haven't been brave enough to try it again since!
  • Cinnamon: Not bad, but obviously just cinnamon flavor syrup.
  • French Vanilla: A tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit vanilla-y, and a bit "fake" tasting.  I still like having the flavor, but its not what it used to be.
  • Toasted Almond: A bit burnt tasting perhaps, not good.

Seasonal Specials

Throughout the year, Dunkin' Donuts introduces seasonal specials, usually inspired by holidays, or recent partnerships (like when they merged with Baskin' Robbins, and started offering all sorts of ice cream inspired flavors).  These flavors come for a few months, and then go, although sometimes they repeat again the next year.

  • Peppermint Mocha (Seasonal, Winter 2014): Slightly pepperminty, but not very strong.  Didn't taste any chocolate or "mocha"ness.  Least sweet of all the flavor swirls.
  • Pumpkin Swirl: Very pumpkiny, spiced, and insanely sweet.  This is one of the "swirl" flavors, so it has sweetened condensed milk, very sweet, very creamy. 
  • Red Velvet Swirl: Another "swirl" flavor, very sweet and creamy, actually kinda tasty!  [ Very sweet, very creamy, enjoyable. ] [ A single pump isn't enough for a medium to really give it the richer red velvet flavor.  But standard order (2 pumps?) is a bit too much for me, the cream left a nasty mouthfeel and coated my throat. ]
  • Sugar Cookie (Seasonal, Winter 2014): This was a flavor swirl, so, again loaded with sweetened condensed milk and sugar.  I got a small, and I think the amount of syrup added would have been sufficient for a large.  Way, way too sweet. I'm not sure what I was expecting from "sugar cookie" flavor, but all this tasted like was sweetness.  Would not get again.

Other Hot Drinks

Dunkin' Donuts sells a number of other hot drinks, including tea, chai, hot chocolate, lattes, cappuccinos, and the "Dunkaccino®".  I can't imagine ordering these beverages, but, some people must.


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Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.



"Now you can enjoy the doubly tasty sensation of sweet and salted caramel in your cup of hot chocolate."


My sister ordered a hot chocolate since she doesn't like coffee.  And ... I stole a sip.  It was crazy sweet.  Like way, way too sweet.  And not very chocolately at all.  It did have a nice froth on top, but I think it came from a machine, not a skilled barista.  Certainly not my thing.

Iced Coffee

My old standard summer drink was always iced coffee.  Like the hot coffee, the flavors now come as a flavor syrup, rather than brewed flavored coffee.  And like the hot coffee, once loaded up with Dunk's signature amounts of cream and sugar, it was pretty much exactly as I remembered.  Sweet, creamy, refreshing, exactly what I wanted on a hot summer day.

Standard Flavors

The standard flavors available for iced coffee are the same as for hot coffee.
Medium Hazelnut Decaf Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk. $2.59.

This is my classic summer drink.  Warm weather and iced coffee just go hand in hand.  My favorite flavor for iced coffee at Dunks is hazelnut.



I never like my iced coffee black, so I always sweeten it, and add milk rather than cream.  I'm not cream-adverse, but for some reason in iced coffee it always tastes cloying to me, and coats my mouth in an uncomfortable way.  So, milk it is.



I loved this, on a hot day, it was oh-so-satisfying.
Dark Roast Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk, Hazelnut (3 pumps).

For National Coffee Day, Dunkin' Donuts gave out free medium sized coffee (hot or iced) of their relatively new Dark Roast only.  I'm usually a decaf drinker, and don't actually like dark roasts, but, I can't resist a freebee.



I added milk and hazelnut as I always do.  And ... it tasted exactly like the decaf I had the day before.  It certainly didn't seem particularly dark.  And I guess that means that the decaf doesn't taste particularly funky?  I really enjoyed it, and the associated caffeine high that came from sucking it down in all of 3 minutes flat.  Whoops.
Decaf Iced Coffee, Coconut, Large (July 2017).
I had a free beverage on my account, and it was valid for anything, any size.  While iced coffee is certainly not the way to maximize free $$ (Coolattas, etc are more expensive), it is what I wanted.  I did opt for large, which I'm pretty sure I've never done before.  I felt ridiculous holding it, but, some fraction of it was ice, right?

It was fine, standard iced coffee.


I decided to be crazy and try a new flavor: coconut.  I ... kinda liked it.  Very refreshing, and a bit fun.  I'd love to combine it with another flavor, but I'm not really sure what would work best.
Decaf Iced Coffee, 2 Pumps Hazelnut, Large (August 2018).
Another year, another birthday freebie.  And like last year, I decided to just get the thing I wanted, and not bother optimize the $$$ amount.

I went back to my classic order, decaf iced coffee, hazelnut.  A large normally has 4 pumps, I opted for 2, which gave it just a slight hazelnut flavor, but didn't overwhelm with sweetness.  Next time, I'd try 3.

It was fine.  Standard, good iced coffee.  Perfect for the weather.  But not remarkable in any way.

Other Flavors:
  • French Vanilla: Not much flavor, meh. Somehow "fake" tasting.
  • Coconut Caramel Swirl: Crazy sweet since it is a "swirl" flavor with sweetened condensed milk already in it, so don't get sweetener with this flavor.  Coconuty, caramely, and quite tasty!
  • French Vanilla + Coconut + 1 Cream, small: Decent, but still too much cream for me, and I wanted to add sweetener anyway.

Seasonal Specials

Just like with hot coffee, Dunkin' Donuts offers seasonal and special flavors that can be mixed into iced coffee (or really, any drink you want, if you go for lattes, cappuccinos, or even hot chocolate).
Medium Decaf Cookie Dough Iced Coffee.  $2.39.

It turns out, that in the years since I've left the east coast, the classic Dunkin' Donuts order of cream and sugar is no longer sufficient: the new flavor "swirls" available already have dairy and sweetener mixed in!  The flavor shot includes sweetened condensed milk, cream, light cream, and milk, plus high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and brown sugar.  Seriously?  ALL THE CREAMS AND SUGARS!  Were people starting to get healthy and order skim milk and splenda instead of cream and sugar, so they had to up the ante and hide the crazy?  Anyway, this was crazy sweet.  It did taste kinda like cookie dough though, and I liked it more than I expected too.



Other flavors:
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Not nearly as creamy, nor as sweet, as the cookie dough, although it still obviously had both dairy and sweetener in it.  I wish I'd taken a photo, because it looked so different, and it makes no sense to me, given that the Dunkin' Donuts website has the same nutritional and ingredient information for the two varieties.  Given that the first one seemed way too creamy sweet, perhaps they added the correct amount to this one?  (Although, I'd expect the number of squirts they do must be standard, so I'm not sure why there is so much variance).  Like the cookie dough flavor, it did taste remarkably like mint chocolate chip.  Which, it turns out ... is not what I want from my coffee.  I wouldn't get this again.
  • Butter Pecan: Again sweet and creamy, but I didn't care for the flavor.  It tasted a bit burnt.

Frozen Beverages

Ah, Coolattas.  For the times where you want to splurge.  Or for when you are younger, and have no clue how horrible these things are.

Coolattas are frozen, slushy, iced concoctions, sorta like Starbucks Frappuccinos, except made from a mix, not freshly brewed coffee to order.  Back in the day, I'm pretty sure they were all coffee based, but now there are fruity options as well.  All are loaded up with tons of sugar and random chemicals.  They are not available with decaf coffee, since the base is "Frozen Coffee Base", which already includes "Frozen Coffee Concentrate", made with coffee extract, not even real espresso.  The Vanilla Bean flavor uses "Frozen Neutral Base", a terrifying mix of chemicals, sugars, and cream, yielding a 850 calorie treat, complete with a whopping 174 grams of sugar.  The fruit flavors are marketed more at kids, and, as you can imagine, are just sugar bombs.

They also generally come topped with whipped cream.

I did used to love these, perfect for a hot summer day, for an indulgent treat.  I've tried them again as an adult, but, alas, the magic has been lost.
Oreo Vanilla Bean Coolatta, Child Size, Whip.
Oreo was a featured flavor of the month, not one that I had before.  It looked delicious in the picture displayed all over the store.  I couldn't resist, but I opted for the off-menu child size, to keep my sugar intake in check.

It was very sweet, like a liquid Oreo.  It had tons of Oreo crumbles in it.  It was nicely icy, well blended,  and actually, quite enjoyable.  Basically a milkshake.  The whipped cream on top really helped balance it out.  This size was perfect though, anything more would have been way, way too much.

Previous notes: The first time I tried it, I just had a small sample, and it was too sweet and not well blended.  The whipped cream on top was necessary to help balance it out.
Coffee Coolatta, Coconut, Medium, Whip.
I decided to try a new flavor.  I've been on a bit of a coconut kick lately, so I went for coconut.  It was ... ok.  I did like having some coconuty goodness in it.

The base had some slight coffee flavor, but not much.  It was blended decently, although it quickly separated, leaving a watery layer at the bottom and a icy layer on top.  Overall, it was also very sweet.

Standard whipped cream on top, Garelick Farms brand, from a can.

I didn't love this; the flavor just wasn't intense, it was kinda icy and separated ... meh.
Vanilla Bean Coolatta + Blueberry + Whip (Large).
"Rich and creamy, our Vanilla Bean Coolatta® is a refreshingly divine treat at any time of day."

I don't think Dunkin' Donuts is known for custom, off-menu drinks.  But I wanted an icy beverage, that wasn't caffeinated, and wasn't just sugar.  This left me with exactly one option: a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  But I've had it before, and remembered that it was basically just sweet, and I didn't like it either.  So, I decided to try adding in a flavor shot, normally for the coffee obviously, but, I figured they could add it to a Coolatta too, and come up with a custom, sorta fruity, creamy, blended beverage.

The person taking my order clearly hadn't ever had someone order like this, but was really into it.  I think he was more excited than I was, particularly when he saw it was my birthday creation.  I think he wished me a happy birthday about 10 times.

Flavor shots are available in french vanilla, hazelnut, toasted almond, coconut, blueberry, and raspberry.  I opted for blueberry, but I think coconut or raspberry would be delicious too.

It sorta worked.  I did like the creamy blueberry flavor, and with just one shot in the large drink, it wasn't too much.  But the drink wasn't really as icy as I hoped, it was very thin and liquidy for the most part.  I wanted it to be thicker, more like a milkshake.  I think this is me just not really liking Coolattas, not a failing of my creation.

The man who prepared my beverage also went a bit crazy with the whipped cream, which I didn't mind at all, but, as you can see above, it looked rather insane.  So much whipped cream, but honestly, that *was* the best part.

This thing was perhaps the worst thing, nutritionally, that I possibly could have ordered, which is saying something given that I was surrounded by donuts.  Not counting the whipped cream, it turned out to be even worse sugar-wise than the fruity Coolattas, which I didn't realize until far too late.  174 grams of sugar (!!!).  How is that even possible?  A whopping 850 calories too, again, not including the very, very generous amount of whipped cream.  "Neutral Base", with its cream and every form of sugar imaginable, really did add up!


I can't say I'd get this again, as even I can't justify that much sugar, but, I'd consider a kid's size one, and try coconut next time ...


[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Coffee Coolatta.

This was my old standby, during the summer, when I wanted a treat.

It was very, very sweet, with a slight vanilla flavor, and a slight coffee flavor.  I remember why I liked these, but ZOMG serious sweet.

Update:  I had another, the next summer  It had that classic Dunkin' Donuts french vanilla flavor that I recalled from my youth.  It was nicely blended, with no icy chunks.  The whipped cream on top was good.  It was definitely too sweet for my general taste these days, but really was fun to try again because it really was exactly what I remember!

Update: And the next year? Way too sweet.  I didn't want more than a few sips of this.

[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Bean Coolatta.

This was an ordering mistake.  I thought I was getting my Vanilla Coffee Coolatta, but instead I seemed to have ordered a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  Oops.

This was just sweet overload.  It did not have a good vanilla flavor.  It was not very slushy.  It was just sweet, sweet, sweet.  But the whipped cream was awesome.  Did I mention it was sweet?  ZOMG.  Not including the whip, this thing had ... 130 grams of sugar in it!  The perfect thing to pair with a donut, right?

Read More...

Monday, August 27, 2018

Peet's Coffee & Tea

Update Reviews, 2018

Cold Brew

Peet's joined the cold brew trend in 2017, offering up an assortment of cold brew based beverages, all using their Baridi blend.
"Bold, smooth, and never bitter. Every batch of our Cold Brew starts with carefully selected Baridi Blend beans, roasted specifically to offer a bright, crisp cup when served cold."
The basic option is just the cold brew, served over ice.  Simple, classic.  From there, you can go for the Black Tie, with sweetened condensed milk at the base, chicory throughout, and a float of half and half on top.  It looks so fancy!  The Coconut Black Tie adds coconut syrup to the party as well. 

Some limited locations also serve a Nitro version.  And grocery stores and other retailers carry the bottled versions, either black, or with milk, almond milk, or milk and chocolate.  These require refrigeration.

But my favorite is the Cold Brew Fog.  A blended drink, just whipped with a little ice and chicory syrup, to create a fun frothy beverage.  A coconut version of this is available as well, as is a latte version.

San Francisco weather doesn't often lend itself to the cold brew, so I haven't had it that many times, but I literally head straight to Peet's now whenever the weather snaps warm for a day, just for this drink.
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Cold Brew

"Freshly ground Baridi Blend steeped with cold water for 12 hours to produce a sweet, smooth, and refreshing iced coffee without acidity or bitterness."

I really liked the regular cold brew.  Deep flavor, and, exactly as advertised, no acidity or bitterness.  Just incredibly pleasant coffee, intense but not too intense, very smooth, very drinkable, absolutely perfect for a hot day, without any sugar or cream added.

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Nitro Cold Brew

The Nitro cold brew is fairly limited, mostly only on tap in a few locations in California (you can find the details on their website).

I like nitro other places, and I liked the regular cold brew, but ... Peet's nitro I did not like.

It isn't the nitrogen effect that was the problem, it is actually the taste.  A more bitter, darker roast it seemed.  I've tried it several times, and never cared for it.  This confused me.
Cold Brew Fog. Large. $4.00.
"Our East African Baridi Blend Cold Brew with a touch of chicory, whipped until velvety smooth."

This.  Was.  Awesome.

Greatest discovery ever at Peet's.  Great invention by ... someone.

The concept is pretty simple.  Regular cold brew, chicory syrup, and ice.  But, whipped in the blender.  No dairy or base like their blended Javiva (or Starbucks Frappuccinos).

The result is a crazy fluffy, frothy topped beverage.  I loved the top froth.  Since there is no base made of chemicals mixed in, you actually just taste the pure (although sweetened with the chicory syrup) coffee.  And there isn't nearly as much ice as a blended beverage either, so it still was more like an iced coffee.  But frothy.  And awesome.

The sweetness from the chicory syrup was nice, but I was curious what it would be like without.  I imagine they could do that (stay tuned)?  The syrup addition did make it 140 calories, and 35 grams of sugar, so, watch out if the sugar matters to you.
Cold Brew Fog, 2 pumps Chicory. Large. $4.00.
Another hot day, I craved another Cold Brew Fog.

I asked the barista how many pumps of chicory go into a large, and she told me 5.  I asked if I could have it with less, and she said that was no problem.  So, yes, you can entirely modify the amount of chicory, and likely even use something like SF vanilla instead.

I tried it first with only a single pump, but, I realized I did want a touch more sweetness, a touch more chicory.  She happily added a second pump for me, and that was the right level for me (in a large at least).

But, this drink was not successful.  If you compare the two photos, you can tell the beverages came out *really* differently.  This one did have a nice foam head on it, but, it had no ice.  It wasn't chilled.  It was room temperature.

I didn't entirely realize it until I walked away, otherwise I would have asked to have it re-made.  The icy goodness was entirely missing, and room temperature coffee just isn't enjoyable.
Cold Brew Fog, 2 Pumps Chicory, Soy Foam. Large. (August 2018).
I happened to be visiting the east coast around my birthday in 2018, and thus was able to take advantage of amazing summer weather to redeem my birthday free drink.  It was nearly 80 degrees, sunny, and beautiful, and I knew exactly what I wanted.  A frothy cold brew fog, not too sweet, with just a hit of foam, not the full on latte version.

And since it was my birthday freebie, it was really easy to order what I wanted, as she didn't care how it rang up (she did it as a latte actually).

I was quite pleased with the result.

It was frothy and awesome as always.  As my barista turned away with the blender pitcher to dump the last bits of froth, I wanted to scream out, "No! I want that!", as it is my favorite part, but, I resisted the urge to be more annoying than I already was with my custom order.

The 2 pumps of chicory syrup instead of 5 (!) for a large is just right for me.  It gives the flavor and complexity, but isn't crazy sweet and allows me to really taste the coffee too.

The addition of the cold foam this time was a new twist I wanted to try out, I was intending for it to be on top, but she told me they always put the foam for iced drinks on the bottom, so, I went with that.  The foamy quality was lost, but the slight soy element was nice, I didn't want much creaminess, as I like to taste the coffee, but it was just right to add a bit of creamy.

I'd absolutely get this again in a heartbeat.  The foam isn't necessary though I think.

Original Reviews, Prior to 2018

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.

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, and don't introduce specials constantly like Starbucks.

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.

Hot Coffee

Drip

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.

Brewed to Order

If you want hot coffee, but, not just the pre-brewed drip, you can also order a french press.  

Yes, did you know that Peet's will brew any coffee as a french press?  In multiple sizes?  I didn't either, until I started doing research on how to best utilize my birthday freebie.  Sounded like a good time to try it.

French press isn't listed anywhere on the menu, but I tentatively stepped up and asked the barista if they do french press, as I had read about it online.  "Yup, of course!  Any bean you'd like!", she quipped.
French Press Decaf Mocca-Java.
"Water-process decaffeination makes this rich, ancient blend of Java and Ethiopian Mocca a discerning decaf."

I used the opportunity to try one of the decafs I have never had before: Mocca-Java.  I was warned it would take time (which, it did, for sure).  But fresh brewed coffee is worth it, particularly for decaf, which can be so finicky.

It was ... good.  Certainly no decaf funk, but nothing particularly novel about it.  Decently complex for a decaf.  Decently smooth.  Not sure what I was expecting, but, I enjoyed it?

Hot Espresso Drinks

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!

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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.

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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 Espresso Drinks

The iced espresso drink lineup is again about what you'd expect.  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.

Tea Beverages

Of course, it is Peet's Coffee & Tea, so the other main part of the menu is tea based drinks.

Hot

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.
Large Matcha Latte, Soy Milk, No Simple Syrup, 3 Pumps SF Vanilla.
"Pure Matcha Green Tea, freshly steamed milk, and sweet vanilla syrup."

At first I just ordered a matcha green tea latte, soy, since I really love the flavor combination of soy and matcha.  The person taking my order asked, "Sweetened or unsweetened?"  I was overjoyed!  In the past, I thought Peet's had only a pre-sweetened mix, and so I had no option here.  I quickly said unsweetened, and I saw "no simple syrup" flash by on the screen.  I didn't actually want it super bitter, so I asked to have sugar free vanilla syrup added instead.  Vanilla, matcha, and soy are such a good combination.  I was told it normally has 5 pumps in a large, I asked for only 3, since I did really want to taste my matcha, not just the sweetness.

The result was certainly a success. I could taste the matcha, I could taste the soy, and it was all just slightly sweet.  Comforting and satisfying, with the perfect amount of caffeine as long as I drank it slowly.

The only thing I'd change is to do it more cappuccino style rather than latte, I actually love foam, not hot milk.
Matcha Latte, Soy, No SS, 2 Pumps SF Vanilla, Coconut Whip. $5.55.
Another matcha, similar recipe as my others - soy, no simple syrup, and 2 pumps of SF vanilla.  This time I got crazy, and added coconut whipped cream at the last minute, when I saw it on the menu. 

The matcha was good, decently strong flavor, and my 2 pumps of vanilla syrup left it not too sweet (actually, I wished I had asked for 3).  I again liked my choices of both soy and vanilla mixed in.  Soy + vanilla + matcha is just a great combination.  And again, amazing foam.  They really make the best foam of anywhere I've been, very consistently.

Now, about that topping.  A matcha latte doesn't normally have whipped cream, coconut or otherwise.  I have no problem with regular dairy, and only pick soy milk in my matcha because I love the taste.  So, uh, why did I add coconut whipped cream?  I don't know.  It was an impulse.  Did I need whipped cream at 8am?  Absolutely not.  But, the fact that they have coconut whipped cream was novel, and so, I added it.  I wished I hadn't.  I thought it would taste coconuty, and that would be a nice flavor with my matcha.  It didn't really taste like coconut, and it had a strange mouth feel.  Oops.  I think regular whipped cream would have been tasty, but, again, entirely unnecessary, particularly given how great their foam is.

Iced

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.

Blended Beverages

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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