Friday, August 20, 2010
This is What I Drink: 62
Canned Coffee Competition!
Ahh, the energy drink business. I've never really been able to get behind the standard energy drink. The style and flavor of something like Red Bull or Monster has never been very appealing to me. But if you mask that with a coffee-base? I'm right there with you. You put all those vitamins and guarana in there as much as you want as long as there's a decent coffee flavor there.
Touring is a great time to indulge in these beverages as well. If I'm at home I will make my own coffee or go to the coffee shop to get some iced coffee. But on tour you find yourself at a convenience store where your choices are usually shitty gas station coffee or one of these drinks in the cooler. I'm more likely to go for the cooler, especially during a hot summer tour. I'm going to take a stab at pointing out the positives and negatives of a few of these RTD (ready to drink) coffee lines that I've tried and which I enjoyed the most.
Java Monster (Mean Bean, Russian, and Xpresso varieties)
As far as I can remember, Java Monster was the first of these coffee+energy drinks that I ever tried. Looking at the ingredients before hand, you kind of know what you're getting into. It's way sweeter and creamier than I would ever want my coffee. I never sweeten my coffee with sugar anymore and I go pretty light on the cream, so it's certainly different in that regard. You then accept that for some reason there's 200% of vitamin B6 and B12 and all sorts of other vitamins and the BUZZ word of an entire generation of energy drinks "guarana". With all that other garbage in there, there's actually a lot less caffeine in these things than coffee, but that other stuff is supposed to balance it out.
Flavor wise, it's pretty clear what you are getting. The "Mean Bean" has a vanilla taste, the "Loca Mocha" has a chocolate taste, there's an "Original" flavor that's supposed to be more of a black coffee taste and so on. The "Russian flavor is where things get kinda weird. The packaging basically explains that they are going for the flavor of a White Russian without the alcohol. Okay, so a White Russian is cream + coffee liquor, and vodka. Does that mean that Monster puts some kind of artificial flavor that's supposed to taste like vodka in this? It's confusing because otherwise coffee and cream would be the only flavors which would be normal. After tasting it, I'm still not exactly sure what they're going for. Either way, I bought it because I think it's funny. Taste wise, the Xpresso variety is the true champion of the lineup. In terms of volume, you are getting less (9 ounces vs. 15), but in terms of concentrated coffee flavor, the Xpresso actually tastes pretty good and not as loaded with sweetener. Java Monsters usually run anywhere from $2-$3, so they can be kind of pricey. It's not a great drink, but I find it provides the function and enough good taste that I keep buying them while on tour.
Starbuck's + Seattle's Best
Starbuck's is really why this whole category exists. I can't remember exactly when they first launched the RTD Frappuccino, but that's really when we first started seeing coffee in the coolers. They were a bit later to the game on the whole coffee+energy thing, but of course they have their own line now. It's actually my least favorite of the bunch though. The Starbuck's brand does the worst job of hiding the gross guarany/vitaminy taste which clearly makes it the worse. You'd think their focus would be on providing the best coffee flavor, but I think they got carried away with the whole energy thing and lost sight of the coffee.
Seattle's Best doesn't quite fit here because it doesn't have the same kind of "energy" ingredients as the others, but I included it here because Starbuck's recently started distributing it. Because it doesn't cater to the same ideas of Java Monster/Doubleshot, the flavor is more concentrated and there is less volume, similar to the Xpresso variety I mentioned earlier. For that reason, it is a bit tastier. The pure coffee focus is good, but I'm not really sure what differentiates this from a Starbuck's Frappuccino. I suppose people don't know they're technically the same brand, so it doesn't really matter. Anyway, these also run around the prices of $2-3, but you always feel slightly ripped off when getting less than 10 ounces, or at least I do.
Rockstar (distributed by Coke) is the last to enter here. Somehow I don't have a picture of the one I drank on tour, so I had to steal one from the greats at Bevnet.com. By now you probably get the gist of the basic flavor profile of these drinks. Cream, coffee, vitamin, guarana. There's not a whole lot different here, but I think Rockstar Roasted happens to taste the best of them all. Before this tour I thought I was a Java Monster man, but I've changed my mine. Rockstar Roasted definitely does the best job of disguising any of that "energy drink" taste and just letting the coffee do it's work. It's still too sweet and creamy for my taste, but it's my favorite of the full volume drinks I've talked about there.
Well, as you see I've got a lot to say about this category and I have a lot of fun drinking these RTD coffees. In the land of the highway rest stop, the coffee lover is usually not the king. If you're lucky there will be a Starbuck's and you can just buy a regular black iced coffee for the same price as these drinks, but that's rarely the case. In these cases, I wouldn't reach for Starbuck's in the cooler though (at least in the energy category). Stick with Rockstar or Java Monster Xpresso. They may gross you out a bit, as they usually do to me, but I keep coming back on tour. I don't think I'd ever buy these at home though.