Consider the topic: Trader Joe's and drinks. More often than not, for fans and deal-seekers, thoughts immediately turn to good wines and great prices. And with good reason, too. But look around the main store and you'll find a multitude of other beverages -- health drinks, coffees, teas, juices, even beers -- hoping to find their way into your shopping cart.
But which ones are the most deserving? Naturally, for the answer to such a question, we turned to the experts: the good folks behind the popular review website, What's Good at Trader Joe's? For the uninitiated, the young site is run by Nathan Rodgers, his wife Sonia, and their friend Russ Shelly, and his wife Sandy. The dedicated crew have reviewed about 200 TJ's products to date (click here and here for two previous in-depth product roundups), rating sampled items on a one to 10 scale, 10 being the best.
Recently, we asked the team to share with us which drinks have impressed them the most (disregarding wine, that is, which is its own separate topic for another day). Below they have evaluated an approximate 30 beverages, ranking the top four across five categories -- including one for those drinks better left on the store shelf.
Top 4 Healthy Beverages
All four of us on the What's Good at Trader Joe's? team are health conscious... sort of. We like to try fresh, vitamin-rich beverages, but we'll rarely stick with a "health drink" unless it tastes good, too.
1. Organic Low-Fat Probiotic Smoothies (8.5 points)
These tasty, creamy fruit smoothies meet or beat the quality of national brands. Loaded with healthful probiotics, these smoothies are not only a treat, but they're good for your digestion. Only problem is, they're gone after a couple of sips.
2. Omega Orange Carrot Juice (7.5 points)
A pleasant surprise for Russ and Sandy. Sweet, citrusy, and delicious, this good-for-you beverage tastes less like its many healthy ingredients (including omega fish oils and tilapia gelatin) and more like a smooth, complex fruit-juice blend.
3. Dynamo (6 points)
Don't be mistaken by this product's bold name and color. Its flavor is surprisingly subtle. I'm not saying this drink tastes bad by any means, but I will say that it's probably more useful as a daily multivitamin source than as the sweet, tangy taste-adventure that I thought might have been.
4. Green Plant Beverage (6 points)
Although it looks like a bottle of algae, Russ and Sandy were brave enough to try the Green Plant Beverage. They were pleasantly surprised by its taste. And as one might guess, it's chock-full of good-for-you green plant nutrients and minerals.
Top 4 Tasty Juice Blends
Although the drinks in this category are almost exclusively made with natural fruit juices and are, therefore, good choices for the health-conscious, these are our top picks based solely on flavor, texture, and chuggability.
1. Strawberry Kiwi Juice (10 points)
It's smooth and natural -- you can really taste strawberry and kiwi. The taste is complex enough for an adult to enjoy, but it's sweet enough for a Kool-Aid-craving kid. We highly recommend it.
2. Pomegranate Limeade (10 points)
The bottle proclaims that this beverage is sweet and tart. Truer words have never been spoken... or written on a juice label.
3. Blackberry Crush (9 points)
This is what I wanted Trader Joe's Blackberry Preserves to taste like: full and rich with an almost earthy flavor, but still sweet and almost dessert-like. Apple, white grape, and blackberry juices come together to make this one delicious drink.
4. Pear Cinnamon Cider (9 points)
Move over, apples! There's a new fruit dominating the world of cider. In my opinion, pears have never received their due recognition as nature's candy. This drink mixes pear juice and cinnamon with some other natural flavors, and it'll wow your taste buds whether you have it hot or cold.
Top 4 Coffees and Teas
1. Spicy Chai Latte (8.5 points)
Sonia and I are big fans of Chai tea. I like this one better than Starbucks', and my wallet does too.
2. Pomegranate Green Tea (8.5 points)
Also available in a mango flavor, this drink has been a staple in our fridge as long as we've been TJ's shoppers. It's a lightly sweet green tea with a little tangy pomegranate flavor added to the mix.
3. 100% Kauai Coffee Beans (8 points)
I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I like this stuff. It's got a strong, bold flavor that's somehow also sweet.
4. New Orleans-Style Coffee with Chicory (7 points)
It's a dark roast of Arabica goodness, but doesn't taste burnt and the bittersweet touch of chicory makes it unique. Russ raises a good point in his review: if Trader Joe's can take something so unique and tasty out of New Orleans, why not throw the good people of Louisiana a bone and build a TJ's somewhere in the state?
Top 4 Miscellaneous Drinks
Trader Joe's has so many great beverages that we decided to make a list to include any items that didn't fall into any of the previous categories.
1. Vintage Root Beer (9 points)
This "throwback" style soda has real cane sugar and a classic root beer flavor. Delicious.
2. Trader José Light Premium Lager (8 points)
When I [Nathan] lived in California, I had access to Trader Joe's Wine and Trader José beers. This one's not quite a Corona, but it's a cheap, light lager with a good flavor.
3. Sparkling Mineral Water (8 points)
It's bubbly, inexpensive, and it comes in five different flavors. Good for rehydration and refreshment.
4. Trader José Dark Premium Lager (7 points)
Currently, Russ and I both live in Pennsylvania, where Trader Joe's can't sell alcohol, but thanks to a visit from the Beer Fairy, Russ was able to procure a few brews recently. Malty, smooth, and fairly full-bodied,this dark Mexican beer is a noble effort on the part of Trader Joe's.
Top 4 Beverages to Avoid
Not everything at TJ's impresses us. These four beverages elicited responses ranging from "Nice try" to "What were they thinking?"
1. Spiced Cranberry Cider (3 points)
"Spiced" is an understatement. This stuff tastes like a bottle of naturally fragrant plant material in liquid form.
2. Organic Mango Nectar (4 points)
Great texture, but the flavor leaves a little to be desired -- and I really like mangos. If you're looking for a drink with some mango flavor,the Heart of Darkness Mango Passion Fruit Blend is a little more palatable.
3. Kettle Brewed Green & White Tea (5 points)
I'm not sure anyone could drink this without sweetener. And even then, the "hint of mint" overpowers everything else. It may be useful to drink as a breath freshener.
4. Vienna Style Lager (5 points)
The bitter finish to this beer left a not-so-great taste in Russ' mouth. He's sure there are better Vienna-style lagers out there, but in this beer's defense, he doubts many of them cost only a dollar.
- Maryse Chevriere, The Daily Meal