REVIEW: Caffe Panna ABB Coffee Break

As someone who has worked in the coffee industry on and off for over a decade and reviews sweet snacks on the side, I don’t generally prefer when their paths cross. I like a good strong cup of black coffee every morning and have a broad palette for the magic of espresso, but when it comes to cookies and cake and ice cream I like to keep it sweet and indulgent. 

That being said, a good coffee ice cream can be special, just like a beautifully balanced slice of Tiramisu can be perfection, and Caffe Panna have proven to me before that they can make one helluva coffee ice cream. It is, in fact, in the espresso-bar-meets-scoop-shop DNA of the brand to tackle coffee desserts with finesse. ABB Coffee Break is cold steeped coffee bean ice cream with coffee cake streusel, Allie’s Banana Bread chunks, and an espresso swirl.

The cold steeped coffee bean ice cream, from what I can tell, is awesome. As with most of the People Pleaser pack, this pint is teeming with mix-ins and flavor-shards are coming at me from every direction. I can see little flecks of beans throughout and they seem to carry a bit of a crunch, with a bold but creamy coffee flavor that permeates throughout the entire experience. Like I mentioned earlier I take my coffee black, but this balanced attack of bitter, sweet, and creamy is nothing short of divine.

Speaking of divine, the coffee cake streusel is insanely intense and quite honestly, transcendent. It is buttery and crunchy just like the top of a fresh coffee cake should be, and dispersed in smaller pieces throughout with a surprising bitter note on almost every bite. It has the crunchiness of shortbread and finishes with either the flavor of being espresso-soaked or doused in cocoa powder. I’m not entirely sure what I’m tasting but it definitely deviates from the standard cinnamon crumb coffee cake, and as much as I love cinnamon I welcome its darkness and complexity with open arms.

And the bitterness doesn’t end there, it only gets wilder. The espresso swirl has the density of dulce de leche, with a stick-to-your-spoon consistency that’s thicker than any caramel I’ve had from Panna in the past. The flavor is an absolute wallop of espresso intensity balanced out with just enough burnt sugar sweetness to feel like dessert. It’s without a doubt the strongest coffee component in the pint and as someone who usually eats ice cream at night I’m wondering if I’ll be able to sleep after this. I love this espresso swirl, and its distribution throughout the pint is perfect, but it’s definitely for coffee lovers only.

The lone break from the bitter in coffee break comes from the other half of the flavor’s namesake — Allie’s Banana Bread — and it is awesome. Another, albeit much newer, staple to NY’s food scene, like Lloyd’s Carrot Cake, Allie’s bread is another absolute winner of a mix-in that plays into this profile surprisingly well. The bread is dense and moist with a brilliantly bright and sweet banana flavor that somehow gets through the seemingly endless layers of coffee. It carries a hefty chew but has a softness like it was baked yesterday, with its tropical fruity notes and butteriness bringing a touch of levity to the scooping experience.

There are some pints that teeter on the edge of insanity, and this is without a doubt one of them. Being on the edge of insanity is okay though, if you can pull it off, and with ABB Coffee Break Hallie and the team at Caffe Panna somehow manage to balance a myriad of complex bitter and aggressive flavors with massive boulders of mix-ins via just enough nuance and sweet cream to create a masterpiece.

Rating: 10/10

Found at: Goldbelly ($114.95 for 6 pints)

REVIEW: Vice Cream’s Higher Grounds

We all like to get a little high. My favorite way to start the day is a nice caffeine buzz, and the best way to end that day is with a nice creamy scoop. While every day doesn’t end with ice cream, you betcha every morning breaks with a steaming cup of the blackest of the black, so it should be no surprise that fusing these two joys of life seems nearly as common as chocolate, vanilla, and caramel. Fueling all of our favorite crutches, Vice have come through with Higher Grounds, which combines a dark roast coffee ice cream with a mocha fudge swirl, chocolate cookie crumbles, and espresso pillows.

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This is a really great coffee ice cream. It’s bursting with dark and bold coffee flavor and just enough sweetness to keep it in the realm of sugary desserts. The bittersweet intensity is rounded out beautifully by a perfectly smooth and dense creamy texture that finishes with pure lush dairy notes. It’s by far the best base I’ve had from Vice and one of the better coffee flavored ones I’ve had from the grocery store in general.

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The element of this flavor I was the most curious about are the “espresso pillows” and it turns out that’s just a really cute name for chocolate covered espresso beans. The pillows are bold and crunchy with a strong coffee bean flavor that cuts through the intense coffee presence of the ice cream for a real coffee lovers treat. The bittersweet chocolate coating adds a touch of sweetness to the dark party and I really love chomping on beans intermittently during this caffeine-fueled cream dream.

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It’s hard to tell how much coffee flavor is in the mocha swirl among all the other coffee-forward elements but it’s syrupy and adds a nice different texture to the overall experience. In an ideal world it might be a little thicker to live up to the “fudge” name, but as it stands with its Hershey’s syrup swagger it’s perfectly acceptable and does its job well.

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The cookie crumbles are the least interesting part of the mix, but also the only one without coffee so they’re a pretty necessary component. They’re little crunchy balls that remind me of a chocolate topping that would come with a cookie-themed yogurt, and I don’t dislike them but don’t really love them either. I would have really enjoyed some Oreo’s or more varied pieces of cookie, but the constant presence of the crunchy bits brings a nice toothiness to the pint that holds up.

Higher Grounds isn’t reinventing the wheel by any means but it’s a damn fine coffee ice cream for those who really like their flavors big and bold. Super creamy, super potent, this pint is a winner.

Rating: 8/10

Found at: Safeway ($4.99)

REVIEW: Ben & Jerry’s Chillin’ the Roast Truffles

Caffeine is the most widely abused drug in the world, and I’ve got to imagine alcohol isn’t too far behind it. Most people start their day with a steaming cup of coffee and end it with an ice cold brewski or glass of wine; and the two beverages allow us to get our days rollin’ and then wind them down, respectively. In my funny little world, I would rather start my day off with the coffee and end it with a nice creamy scoop of some high quality ice cream. Ben & Jerry’s Truffles line has a new solution to all of my problems with Chillin’ the Roast, which combines cold brew coffee ice cream with chocolate cookie-covered coffee liqueur truffles and a fudge swirl.

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REVIEW: Baskin Robbins Caramel Macchiato

Sometime in the early 2000’s Starbucks invented the Caramel Macchiato, confusing coffee consumers and soiling the term macchiato forever.  A word that was once associated with a small espresso drink dotted by freshly steamed foam was transformed into a big cup full of milk caramel, vanilla, and less than 10% actual coffee.  This turn of events in coffee culture made caffeine aficionados angry and baristas of all levels perplexed on what the hell people were trying to order, and as such, everything has been ruined forever.  Arriving approximately 15-20 years late to the trendy party, Baskin Robbins are putting their own spin on the teeny-boppers gateway drug with their flavor of the month for April 2017.  Caramel Macchiato combines coffee ice cream with a salted caramel swirl and real espresso flakes for a flavor that will hopefully leave me sugar AND caffeine high.

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The coffee base is exactly what I look for in this kind of ice cream – smooth and sweet with vanilla undertones and a present but not too intensely bitter coffee flavor.  The taste is very similar to a heavily milked and sugared cup of coffee, which should come as no surprise considering the ingredients used to make ice cream.  It’s mellow enough that it doesn’t smack you in the face but big enough that the flavor doesn’t fade after repeated bites into creamy obscurity.

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The salted caramel swirl seems much less salted than would be ideal, but its signature sweetness stands out against the coffee backdrop and adds some silky texture that is enjoyable and true to the caramel macchiato beverage.  While I do think Baskin Robbins makes a good caramel, especially evident in flavors like Gold Medal Ribbon, I have yet to have a good salted caramel from BR and this scoop isn’t changing that perception.  I also wish there was more of the caramel, because without it in the bites the flavor is much more latte than it is “macchiato”.

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As for the third component of this flavor, the “real espresso flakes” are actually coffee studded chocolate flakes, and don’t lean too heavily on coffee or chocolate flavor with just a touch of bitter cocoa that elevates the espresso vibes without pushing it over the edge.  I was excited when the description said “espresso flakes”, and while these chocolate chips are fine, they don’t really fit the flavor profile, and may have been better replaced by caramel covered espresso beans or something more inventive to capture the caramel macchiato essence more effectively, since this isn’t a mocha flavor.  Despite the unnecessary presence of chocolate this is a pretty tasty cup, and one I might even re-scoop if I find myself near a Baskin later this month.

Rating: 7.5/10
Found at: Baskin Robbins