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Talenti Chocolate Coffee Chocolate Chip – company response on caffeine content and natural flavors query

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I had previously reviewed Talenti’s Chocolate Coffee Chocolate Chip ice cream, which maintains first place for my most loved ice cream. In that post I discussed sending an email to the company requesting more information about this product, and since I received a response from them I decided to write it up as a new post.  The original blog post is here for those interested.

I had requested two things from them: caffeine amount and detailed explanation of “natural flavors”. The former was because I had felt quite a ‘kick’ from eating this and wanted to determine whether that was from sugar, caffeine, or something else. I asked the latter from my uneasiness as to what I am actually eating. It’s apparently ‘natural’ but what is it really? Consumers who want to research more about the possible side effects and nutrition of this catch-all ingredient are at a loss.

First I’ll give an excerpt of the polite email I received from Talenti, followed by my comments on it.

===

Thank you for the inquiry.  We do understand your concerns regarding “natural flavors’ in our ingredients.

Unfortunately, the natural flavor(s) in our ingredients are considered a trade secret and is proprietary information. I can tell you the consist of juice, juice concentrates, essences, essential oils, and extractives.
 
Also, the amount of caffeine in our product is less that 2 one hundredths of one percent.  Our Coffee Chocolate Chip gelato has 5 – 8% per serving.
 
I hope this helps and apologize for not being at liberty to share more information with you.
 
Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions or concerns. We wish you all the best,
 
===
According to the response, caffeine is only 5-8% per serving, which means only 5 to 8 milligrams per 102 gram serving. I typically eat half a pint (two servings) which translates to at most 16 mg of caffeine, far from enough to feel anything for anyone with a moderate caffeine tolerance. This leaves the cause of the buzz I was feeling to come from sugar or something else in the product.
Because of competitive reasons Talenti gave me practically no information on what is contained within “Natural Flavors”, only that it consists of “juice, juice concentrates” (which I am generally OK with), as well as “essences, essential oils, and extractives”. This latter group is still quite vague and could be practically anything. The only consolation we have is that since this ingredient is listed 10th on the label, we know there is no more than 10% of it present in the product (see here for a post on where I got this number from).
I don’t think it will do much good to push Talenti for more information at this stage, but I haven’t given up on exposing what is really in our foods.
Part of me wonders how much more can be discovered by doing a lab analysis of the product, but surely there is a high cost there so I’ll put that off until another time.
I really enjoy learning more about sweet treats directly from the producer, and hope to continue to provide this type of information in this blog.
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Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino Blended Beverage – a true love/hate relationship

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Intro

There is almost no sweets from my college days that I still enjoy now in my 30s. Our subject this time, a sugary chilled drink, is one of the few that has passed the test of time and taste. It’s also very high on my list of guilty, unhealthy pleasures to quit. In that way I have a true love/hate relationship with this drink.

For those easily-addicted types with a sweet tooth, I highly recommend stopping here and moving on to my next report. It will save you innumerable calories and pounds.

Flavor

Chocolate chips, coffee, and milk, blended smoothly with ice, topped off with a very generous spray of whip cream, further layered with a criss cross of chocolate syrup. This is a good objective summary of the basic ingredients and flavor of this decadent dessert-lovers dessert.

Being a long time Java Chip junkie, I perceive things more as  succession of sensations and stimuli. First, the welcome chill as near-freezing liquid passes through a wide straw, into my mouth, through my esophagus into into my stomach. In passing, the sugar gives my taste buds a jolt and I start to feel the high coming on. Not long after the caffeine kicks in, sending me to a state of near-enlightenment – a true altered state of consciousness (*). Occasionally I use my straw as a spoon, scooping up swaths of fluffy whipped cream for a mild dairy intermission, or snipe up gobs of rich dark syrup for a burst of extra sweetness.

Alas, things aren’t always this blissful. A combination of badly trained employees and differing recipes makes this drink more like a roulette wheel of chance. The amount of caffeine, chocolate, ice, and mostly importantly how well blended the beverage is, varies considerably even within a single store. Around 20% of time it’s a perfect ten, and in rare cases the drink will get totally botched.

This reminds me of the time I glanced at the cafe counter and caught sight of a snowy white drink which had just been placed there. A moment later the barista said my Java Chip was ready. My eyes blinked in disbelief. When I asked the barista if he put coffee the drink, his returned answer put me in a state of shock.

“There is no coffee in Java Chip Frappuccino”.

Nutrition

A “grande” (medium) size is 16 ounces and, with whipped cream added, has the following key nutrition facts: 460 calories, 66 grams of sugar, and 110 mg of caffeine. The calorie count is comparable to two servings of ice cream, if not less, but the sugar concentration is a bit extreme. The caffeine is roughly equivalent to two shots of espresso.

Sometimes the problem nutritionally with foods is not with what they do contain, but rather than what they lack. It’s true that chocolate, coffee, and milk all have benefits according to nutritionists, but there isn’t much here to supply the body with needed vitamins and minerals. My gut confirms this when I down these 16 sugary ounces on an empty stomach. Hunger is suppressed for a short time but then renews with even greater vigor, leaving me starving with a stomach full of junk my body doesn’t need.

Sugar and caffeine are both strong stimulants in the right dose, and while this drink is good for a quick pick-me-up, I can’t help but feel that frequent usage has the chance for adverse long-term effects. Another problem with this drink is that the full ingredient list isn’t published, which means there is bound to be all sorts of scary things like artificial flavor in the syrup used.

Which is why I do plan to kick the Java Chip habit. Eventually.

Price and Availability

The “grande” size goes for $4.25, which isn’t too bad for a dessert of this type. Those of you watching calories can go for the “tall” 12 ounce size, but with a price of only 50 cents less its a hard sell. There is also a “light” version for the same price with roughly half the number of calories, but I haven’t tried it.

These are available at Starbucks Cafe, or at Barnes & Noble Bookstores Cafe. I tend to use the latter, which may be why I have had such an inconsistent experience.

Ratings

Flavor: 8.0 (varies between 4.0 – 10.0 depending on the person making it)

Nutrition/Ingredients: 4.0

Price: 7.0

Overall: 6.3

Summary

A serious drink loaded with enough sugar and caffeine to keep you up for hours. Not recommended for anyone too concerned about nutrition.

References

http://www.starbucks.com/menu/drinks/frappuccino-blended-beverages/java-chip-frappuccino-blended-coffee#size=11002666&milk=67&whip=125

(*) This sort of sensation is a good (though slightly exaggerated) account of what I felt when drinking this product until recently. Since I started drinking coffee on a daily basis several weeks ago, my caffeine tolerance has increased so my body responds less readily to the stimulation.