New sodas, ‘old’-name coffee  on shelves

Coffee, cereals, popcorn, granola bars and thin-shelled almonds are among the new food products introduced to the American market in recent months.

The Advocate’s Food staff taste-tested all but the coffee or coffee-related products. Those were tested by copy editor Joël Levy, who, unlike the Food staff, is a regular coffee drinker.

Here are our thoughts on the new products we tried:

Berry Cobbler Granola

Cascadian Farm Organic’s line of granola cereals now has its first berry flavor, Berry Cobbler Granola. It’s made with whole grain oats, crisp rice, dried cranberries and blueberries. It sells for a suggested price of $3.99.

The crunchy cereal has 230 calories per 2⁄3-cup serving and 4 grams of fat. It also includes 46 grams of carbohydrate, of which 15 grams are sugar. In fact, sugar is the second ingredient on the short list of ingredients. As with other granolas, this one works best for topping yogurt or plain oatmeal.

— Cheramie Sonnier

Eight O’Clock coffee

When I was a child, my grandparents drank Eight O’Clock coffee, mainly because they couldn’t get the coffee and chicory they’d loved in New Orleans when they moved to rural Kentucky.

I didn’t drink coffee, but I always liked the imagery of Eight O’Clock.

When I recently saw that old brand for sale at Rouse’s in Metairie, it gave me a fond chuckle thinking of my grandparents.

It did not, of course, occur to me to buy the coffee. In my mind, it was associated with Nescafé, Folgers and Maxwell House. I thought they were coffees for people in Chicago. Of course, I’d never tasted those brands, but being a New Orleans snob, I couldn’t imagine they were up to the quality of my taste buds.

It might even have been true back in the day.

But even if it had been, it certainly is no longer.

Eight O’Clock’s new products can go up against any other coffee and give it a good run.

I first tried the Colombian medium roast in the Keurig packet. The brew was rich, a little nutty and creamy on my tongue. It tasted a bit like Starbucks Sumatra, which is my favorite coffee.

Other K-cup flavors include Original, Dark Italian Roast and Hazelnut.

After being so favorably impressed with the Keurig product, I tried Eight O’Clock’s Original Blend, brewed in my manual drip pot. It’s 100 percent Arabica at a medium roast. I was not impressed: I had flashbacks to drinking the coffee as a teenager in rural Kentucky with my grandparents.

In fairness, I brewed a second cup a week later — but this time I used twice the recommended amount of coffee. It was delicious, as good as the Community Coffee I routinely drink! Apparently the more you use, the more you get.

That said, I also tried the 100 perfect Columbian beans Eight O’Clock sells in its Whole Bean product. That was a real disappointment, perhaps because I expected something really special. The coffee was OK, but I expect more than OK if I’ve ground the beans.

Granted, I used the instructed amount of ground coffee, and perhaps I’d have been more impressed had I used twice the amount as I did with the Original Blend.

I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out the relationship of Arabica to Colombian coffee. Eight O’Clock’s Original Blend is labeled as 100 percent Arabica; its Whole Bean Coffee is labeled that way, too, as well as being called 100 percent Colombian.

Briefly, Arabica is the finer of the two types of coffee grown worldwide (Robusta, the second type, is coarser and stronger); Colombia means coffee grown in Colombia, which is mostly Arabica. Many coffees are blended with beans from many places and are a mix of Arabica and Robusta.

Consumer Reports rated Eight O’Clock coffee a “best buy” in 2011, but it did so against Folgers, Maxwell House and Starbucks. The first two are understandable — national tastes prefer a less “bracing” coffee than we here in Coffee Land. And against Starbucks, price was surely the major influence.

Eight O’Clock Coffee sells 11- to 42-ounce bags of coffee, both whole bean and ground, as well their new K-Cups. Their coffee is available in the following flavors: Original, Decaf Original, 100% Colombian, Decaf 100% Colombian, Bokar, French Roast, Dark Italian Roast, 50% Decaf, Hazelnut, French Vanilla and Mocha.

Eight O’Clock Coffee is also one of the oldest brands in the world, marketed since it’s introducation by the supermarket chain A&P in 1859, although it wasn’t until 1919 that the coffee gained its current name and trademark. The name supposedly resulted from a survey of what time of day people drank coffee most. The majority said they drank coffee at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., so Eight O’Clock Coffee it became.

Ownership of the brand has changed hands over the years, but those who love it apparently have never left it, even if they drink it at 5 a.m. or 11 p.m.

— Joël Levy

Zevia Zero Calorie Soda

If the artificial sweeteners found in most diet sodas have you concerned, you might try stevia-sweetened Zevia.

Stevia is a plant found in South America. Zevia says stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar but does not affect blood sugar and has no calories.

I’ve seen stevia marketed as an alternative to sweeteners that contain aspartame and was pleased with stevia’s performance in my occasional morning coffee, and have found it in many other low-calorie products as well. But Zevia’s the first stevia-sweetened soda I’ve tried.

It comes in a dazzling array of flavors, including cherry, lime, strawberry, ginger root beer, ginger ale, cream soda, grape, grapefruit citrus and others, all of which were smooth and tasty with a premium flavor.

Like most diet drinks, however, Zevia does leave a slight aftertaste that is worse with some flavors than with others.

Something this mom appreciated was that the grape flavor, which tends to be neon-colored in other soda brands, was clear. When the 3-year-old inevitably spilled her “tastes like purple” drink on her clothes, there was less of a panic than normal.

Zevia is sold in six packs of cans for $5.99 in most grocery stores.

— Beth Colvin

Blue Diamond
Thin-Shell Almonds

Blue Diamond Almonds sent the Food staff samples of its new Blue Diamond Fresh Roasted Thin-Shell Almonds, which is promoted as being “easy to open by hand.” That’s no exaggeration. The slow-roasted almonds do easily pop open.

Anyone who likes eating almonds out of hand will love the crisp flavor of both the “hint of sea salt” variety and the unsalted. When we called about the availability of the product in south Louisiana, we were assured the 10-ounce bags would soon be on store shelves wherever Blue Diamond products are sold. We’re still looking.

— Cheramie Sonnier

Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch

One of Post’s newest cereals, this version of the ever-popular Honey Bunches of Oats contains granola coated in Greek yogurt.

More popular with the adults than the children in our household, this honey-tinged, slightly sweet cereal delivered a satisfying crunch with the yogurt-coated granola. And, with 33 grams of whole grain per serving, you don’t feel quite so bad inhaling an entire bowl.

Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch comes in a 15.5-ounce box and is available in most major grocery stores on the cereal aisle.

— Beth Colvin

SiliGourmet Coffee Break

Some things are better in theory than in practice.

An ugly Melitta Coffee Cone brewer lives in my desk drawer. Mostly I drink office urn coffee, but sometimes I have a special coffee I want to try. Then out comes the brewer, and in five minutes I’m drinking a streaming cup.

William Bounds Ltd. had what it thought was a better idea, and produced the SiliGourmet Coffee Break, a collapsible silicone filter basket. It is supposed to be just like my Melitta except it collapses into a 31/4-inch-by-5⁄8-inch disk.

Very handy, unless, like me, you’re not the most graceful at pouring boiling water above waist level.

Yes, the Coffee Break sat on top of the cup. It accepted a filter, though not easily (I had to push it in due to the traction of the rubber on the paper). The interior of the cone is smaller in diameter than my Melitta, which meant the coffee piled higher. Which, in turn, meant more small pours of water. And, it turned out, it also meant the coffee dripped more slowly. And I am not only clumsy, I’m also impatient.

Lifting this brewer to check the coffee level in the cup was also tricky: There is no handle and you don’t want to collapse the tiers.

Dumping the grounds is never easy, but it wasn’t more difficult with this one. But rinsing it out WAS more difficult.

And, OK, sue me, I confess I do just rinse out and paper-towel-dry my Melitta. But I haven’t gotten coffee-salmonella yet.

But the Coffee Break isn’t easy to do that with. Errant grounds seem to stick to the sides. You can’t dry all the little groves well. So you can’t store it immediately. And after it dried, I noticed a gray film on the lip, so I had to go back and wash it with soap and let it dry again.

The base of the Coffee Break is a little less than 1/2-inch wider than my Melitta, which would make it somewhat better at fitting on the top of a wider-than-usual cup. It did make excellent coffee. And it is, like the Melitta, dishwasher safe.

The Coffee Break costs about $20 and is available at Sears as well as other stores.

I was offered one free for giving it a trial, but I declined. My Melitta suits my clumsy, impatient, put-it-up-dirty personality much better.

— Joël Levy

Jolly Time Pop Corn

Jolly Time Pop Corn and Smart Balance, the patented blend of oils, have teamed up to offer microwave popcorn with no trans fat or hydrogenated oils. The convenient snack comes in boxes with three 3-ounce bags.

It comes in two flavors, Butter and Butter Light. The company says the former has 40 calories and 75 milligrams sodium per cup popped while the latter has 25 calories and 55 milligrams sodium per cup popped.

If you like lots of butter on your popped corn, the Butter variety is for you. However, I thought it was too oily and preferred the mouth feel of the Butter Light.

— Cheramie Sonnier

Granola bars

Cascadian Farm Organic has announced three new flavors in its line of Cascadian Farm Crunchy Granola Bars — Oats & Honey, Peanut Butter and Oats & Cocoa.

The new varieties, which have only seven to nine ingredients per bar, sell nationwide for a suggested retail price of $3.99 per 7.1-ounce box. Each box includes five 1.42-ounce two-bar pouches.

The average granola bar tends to be too dry and brittle, but these are not. They are crunchy. My favorite is the peanut butter. The Oats & Cocoa could use more chocolate.

They are a good choice to keep in the desk drawer for a midmorning or afternoon snack.

— Cheramie Sonnier

New Post cereals

I didn’t think I was going to like Post’s new Grape-Nuts Fit cereal, which the company promotes as “power-packed nutrition” with 6 grams of protein. In fact, I found the Cranberry Vanilla flavored cereal provided a tasty way to start the day.

Each 2⁄3-cup serving also includes 220 calories, 3 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar. Its ingredients include whole-grain wheat flour, whole-grain puffed barley, dried cranberries, whole-grain rolled oats and brown sugar.

I also liked another new Post cereal, its cinnamon and hazelnut flavored Great Grains Protein Blend. Post is promoting the cereal as a way to “help support a healthy metabolism” and as a good source of protein. The cereal features flakes made with whole-grain wheat, barley and oats combined with hazelnuts, almonds and multigrain clusters.

Each 1-cup serving has 230 calories, 5 grams of fat and 9 grams of sugar. Both of these cereals will appeal more to adults or the older teen.

— Cheramie Sonnier