A Better Bottled Coffee Drink

Firenze Chef Inspired Entrees

By: Menza Foods Inc.

I Paid: $4.79 to $5.69 for a 10-ounce package (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 5stars

Firenze frozen pastas are damned good-looking. The packaging is a cardboard frame that’s cut away to display the plastic-wrapped meal, which looks like a stylishly simple Italian dinner that’s been hit by a freeze ray. The Cheese Ravioli variety is a generous pile of stuffed pasta splashed dramatically with a crimson ribbon of sauce. Farfalle with Shrimp & Vegetables features vibrant broccoli and healthy-sized shrimp. And Cavatappi with Chicken & Spinach looks rich and comforting.

The cooking gimmick for these pasta meals is as innovative as their appearance: Four minutes in the microwave, and the tightly wrapped plastic that hugs the food balloons out and vents itself—no peeling or scoring required. And the flavor happily lived up to the promise of the packaging. The cheese ravioli were simple but beautifully executed: The red sauce had good tomato acid and not too much sweetness, and the Parmesan/ricotta filling rang true and clear with the taste of cheese. The cavatappi was buttery and rich, with real chicken flavor and tender spinach offset by black pepper and a mildly cheesy and not overwhelmingly thick white sauce. The farfalle was the weakest, with its slightly soggy veggies, but the firmness of the shrimp salvaged the situation and made for a decent, if unremarkable, overall experience.

One caveat: A box of the cheese ravioli is 300 calories; the farfalle 400; but the cavatappi is a comparatively insane 870 calories. The pooled oil at the bottom of the cavatappi tray went a long way toward explaining that particular mystery.

Adina Organic Coffee Drinks

By: Adina for Life Inc.

I Paid: $2.49 for a 9-ounce bottle (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 4stars

Sweetened coffee drinks go wrong much more often than they go right—they can be too bitter, sour, or, more likely, syrupy sweet. Lurking in the background: the possibility of a nasty chemical-inflected aftertaste. Adina promises a more ambitious and ethical approach to the genre, using organic, fair trade, single-origin beans. These are all noble virtues, but they are relatively useless if they accompany a product that’s not worth drinking.

Fortunately, they do. The Guatemalan Mocha Cappuccino tastes a bit like cinnamon-spiced milk: refreshingly light with a restrained coffee aftertaste and a mild sweetness. The coffee could certainly play a more dominant role, but this is no one-dimensional beverage. In the Sumatran Iced Vanilla Latte, the coffee shines through with more clarity, but the vanilla taste is too heavy-handed. The Ethiopian Double Espresso is the best of the bunch, with a great balance of sweetness and deep coffee flavor.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.