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It stalked its caffeine-addicted prey when it first made its low-key appearance in 2015, studying their behaviors and movements, understanding exactly what coffee fanatics wanted in a caffeinated beverage. Two years later, it’d quickly make its way up the ranks, becoming virtually everyone’s go-to early-morning (and midafternoon slump) sip: cold brew.
They’re everywhere: coffee shops, grocery stores — even McDonald’s has them. And for good reason. They’re steeped for an extended period of time (typically anywhere from 12 to 24 hours), they’re richer in flavor but go down much smoother than iced coffee.
Starbucks caught onto the craze quickly too. Since adding cold brew to its menu a few years ago, they have been perfecting its offerings, releasing new and elevated versions of the caffeinated drink any chance they got. And clearly, it’s paying off. Not only did sales increase 20 percent after they introduced cold-brew coffee in their stores, but they also added cold brew on tap to upward of 1,400 stores in 2017 according to Bloomberg.
So it’s no wonder the cold brew options these days are seemingly endless. And one of the grocery stores noticeably increasing its number of cold brew products? Trader Joe’s.
Just for you, our dear readers, I set out on a very important mission to purchase every item and try them all in a matter of five days. And let me tell you, it’s been a week. Full disclosure: Before taking my first cold brew sip, I had cut my caffeine intake in half, down to just one cup per day (sometimes less) and no coffee on the weekends. So I can safely say I’m jacked typing these words at this very moment. Also important to note before we get into the list: I always drink my coffee black — no cream, no sugar, nada.
That said, here they are, ranked from “meh, you can keep it” to “if you don’t try this cold brew, you’re a damn fool.”
A version of this article was originally published July 2018.
French Vanilla Cold Brew Coffee
I tried this canned cold brew after drinking its black counterpart (we’ll get to the review for that one a little later), and while it does have a great balance of that bitter black cold brew taste we’ve all come to know and love and a French vanilla finish, the fact this had milk had me running to the bathroom almost immediately after I took a few swigs. (Hey, I’m half-Asian. Milk doesn’t agree with me.)
Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
This concentrate requires you to combine 1 part concentrate with 2 parts water, milk or whatever you choose to mix it with. Of course, I went with water, gave it a little stir and threw a couple of ice cubes in it.
I was underwhelmed.
Compared to the rest of the concentrates, this was bland in flavor. I drank it first thing in the morning, waited and waited, and frankly, I still felt groggy an hour after drinking it.
Organic French Roast Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
While it’s advertised as a smooth, organic, darker roast, I had similar notes about it compared to its flavorless counterpart (see the previous slide). It’s placed above it on this list solely because it has a very subtle hint of French roast flavor.
Organic Cold Brew Coffee
I’ll be upfront with you: I didn’t drink this single-serve cold brew correctly initially: I drank it straight from the bottle. Thank goodness I read the label shortly after, though, because following its directions made a world of difference.
To drink this correctly, you need to “pour hard” to activate the nitrogen effect. Basically, pour it straight down into a glass, and you’ll be left with a nice, thin layer of foam atop the cold brew.
This has a bit of bite at first but it goes down smooth, leaving you with this rich, delicious chocolate-espresso aftertaste. (Which makes sense considering the beans for this cold brew are steeped for 20 hours, then chilled with espresso.) It didn’t give me as much of an energy boost as the other cold brews, but I’d drink it again (and again and again…).
Black Cold Brew Coffee
I downed this bad boy around 6 a.m. and immediately felt the caffeine within 15 minutes — it almost crept up on me how alert I felt. No, it doesn’t make you wired, but it does make you feel much more focused, giving you that desired boost of mental power to tackle the day.
This cold brew is smooth, has no bite and no real lingering aftertaste. There’s almost a sweetness to it that makes you want to chug it — it’s that good.
Cold Brew Coffee Bags
Ah, finally, the cold brew coffee bags. I saved testing this one for the end because I was most excited for it and wanted to be able to compare it to the others (well, that and I had to go buy another pitcher — long story).
Following the directions, I tossed one cold brew bag into seven cups of water and let it steep for nine hours (the minimum was eight hours, max 12). By the time I reached in to pull it out of the fridge, it looked pretty concentrated (read: dark) — and it tasted much, much stronger than I anticipated. It tasted almost exactly like the Organic Cold Brew Coffee bottle I had earlier, which was also very concentrated.
I would absolutely buy this bag again, especially knowing that by doing so, you’re saving money versus a trip to Starbucks: When you do the math, these cost about $0.43 per cup.
This isn’t the winner, though…
Coconut Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate
Next up: the Coconut Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate. Really, I could rave about this one all day.
Just like the other concentrates, this requires you to mix 1 part concentrate with 2 parts water, milk, etc. I mixed a half-cup of concentrate with one cup of water, threw in a couple of ice cubes and took the most glorious sip of my life. Truly, this cold brew has just the right amount of sweet, and the caffeine is absolutely present but doesn’t punch you in the taste buds.
To boot, this cold brew really perks you right up: Within 30 minutes, I already felt ready to conquer the day. (And then I drank one more cup.)
For $4.99, this is a great deal too. You can get at least four 12-ounce cups of coffee. Not bad.
Instant Cold Brew Coffee
We’ve reached the final — and best — cold brew at Trader Joe’s: Instant Cold Brew Coffee. OK, we never expected to love an instant coffee this much but this one truly surprised us. It’s bold, smooth and not as acidic as some of the others on this list. Pair it with Trader Joe’s Maple Oat Milk Beverage and you’ve got yourself a drink that tastes just like it came from a coffee shop.
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