This year's updated advice on what to buy—and what to skip—on the Trader Joe's coffee bean shelves.
'Trader Joe's' on Serious Eats
Trader Joe's currently carries two different bottles of Scotch: a 10-year old single malt Highland priced at $20 and a blended Scotch priced at $9. We gave them a try in a blind taste test.
Today we're in the market for value rosés (under $13) that you can find in your nearby Trader Joe's. While some TJ's stores have specific selections of rosé from local vineyards, we focused on tasting wines that can be found across the country. After opening 8 bottles, we were left with 4 that we'd definitely seek out again.
Trader Joe's Jail House Gin is 88 proof, and the label proudly announces that it's 'five times distilled in the former Navy brig on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay.' The result: a gin that smells a little bit like cleaning fluid and quite a bit like vodka.
As with all Trader Joe's products, there's a bit of smoke and mirrors about where this stuff comes from, but I did a little poking around. The label mentions Bourbon Square Distilling Co., but according to my contact at Buffalo Trace, this bourbon is distilled at the Barton 1792 Distillery, which is owned by the Sazerac Company. It sells for $14.99 for a 750ml bottle, which is darn cheap. But what does it taste like?
The Serious Eats office houses a few Trader Joe's detractors, but we're not ashamed to admit that we're huge TJ's fans. And as with many of their products, the design of these "Vintage" sodas is pretty attractive. Classic flavors, throwback looks, cane sugar to sweeten? It all sounded promising—but then we tasted them.
We sampled a selection of the most festively packaged, theoretically premium, non-decaf, non super-maximum-dark-French-roast beans on Joe's shelf. Here are your best bets and a few to avoid.
Bottom Shelf research director Emily grew up along the Boston Marathon route, which means she's one of those odd people who think it's fun to watch tens of thousands of strangers jog until their nipples bleed. I certainly respect the dedication and athleticism of anyone who can run 26.2 miles in the same calendar month let alone one hot morning, but just because a thing is impressive does not mean the thing is entertaining. I don't want to watch people marathon any more than I want to watch people perform surgery or conduct themselves with dignity and restraint around Swedish meatballs.
I was intrigued to see some of the lesser known grape varieties among the mix (although the options might change from year to year and shop to shop). We picked them all up and gave them the Serious Eats Amateur Wine Tasting treatment. And while a few of the wines were forgettable, we were pleasantly surprised by a couple of bottles that, for $6 each, we'd be happy to pick up again.
Domination of the bottom shelf is no guarantor of success in the big leagues, but all Trader Joe's beers are contract brewed, so they could conceivably arrange to slap their name on anything. Why not a bottled-on-lees Belgian-style strong ale that goes for a mere $4.99 per 750mL? For the seventh straight year, TJ has teamed up with Quebec's outstanding Unibroue to produce Trader Joe's Vintage Ale.
Having recently visited a Trader Joe's in San Francisco as well as the TJ's wine shop in New York City, I was surprised to discover how many different private label wines this chain has to offer. I had to wonder: how much do these wines really improve as you climb the price ladder? Could any of these wines be worth buying in bulk for Thanksgiving?
Two of the other least disappointing things in my life are beer and Trader Joe's. I wish I didn't like TJ's so much, because I'd rather be the sort of guy who mocks people for having favorite grocery stores, but facts is facts.
Did you realize there are seven varieties of Two (or Three) Buck Chuck on the shelf at Trader Joe's? Here at Serious Eats, we take that kind of thing as a challenge. Which is the best Two Buck Chuck? What should you do with the bad stuff, besides pouring it down the drain? The answers may surprise you.
Is "spiced" coffee the same as "flavored" coffee? We want to know how coffee purists feel about getting a little shake of somethin' in their morning brews.