Joe, Joe, Joe! Merry Christmas!
I know, I know, it’s crazy: even after a devilishly creative line like that, Trader Joe’s corporate still won’t hire me to write their Fearless Flyer. Well buckle, up, Josè, Joey, and Joseph, because your nativity-era copywriting ain’t getting any better than that!
In fact, I ‘d like to try writing a Fearless Flyer entry for the store’s newest cereal, Trader Joe’s Hot Cocoa O’s, before diving into the review. Let me just clear my keyboard—*ahem*:
It’s all fun and reindeer games until someone skips breakfast. So click-click-click on over to the cereal aisle to kick-kick-kick-off a merry day of snowball fighting and cookie dough munching in true winter style, as we turned a classic Yuletide flavor into a box of ho ho hoops and marshmallows. It narrowly beat out our second idea: Fruitcake-Frosted Coal Flakes.
Not bad, eh? Hopefully we can say the same for the cereal.
Whoops, sorry to tell you the gift before it’s opened, but Hot Cocoa O’s are a rare misstep by Trader Joe, who otherwise has a stellar record for ring-shaped seasonal cereals. Part of the problem is that this hot chocolate cereal will inevitably be compared to Hot Cocoa Cocoa Puffs, which trounces TJ’s version in flavor. Another part is that I’m still coming down from the cocoa butter high of my recent Chocolate Donut Cereal review—a cereal whose divinely devil’s food cake-y chocolate loops really throw Joe’s for a loop of their own.
But let’s first speak good of this weak link in December’s fudgy trilogy: Trader Joe’s Hot Cocoa O’s are crunchy. Compared to Sonny the Cuckoo’s wispy asteroids, Trader Joe’s saturnal rings pack a satisfying, hefty munch. And it’s not jus the rings, either: the curiously Mike and Ike-shaped marshmallows are just as curiously crunchy.
For reference, Lucky Charms marshmallows are already snappier than the average cereal marshmallow, but TJ’s Hot Cocoa O’s marshmallows out-snap Lucky Charms harder than me destroying my little cousin in Pokémon Snap for the Nintendo 64.
But someone call Guy Fieri to save Christmas, because all is not well in Flavortown. The crunchy rings (which eventually turn oddly gummy) have only a light—and frankly, nearly stale—processed cocoa powder flavor. It’s an intriguingly dark cocoa sweetness, but it fades far too fast into toasted grain nothingness—like a real mug of hot cocoa spiked with cornmeal.
And while the marshmallow’s have a pleasantly candied sugar sweetness, they can’t do much to fight back against their plasticky chocolate overlords. The two flavors don’t mesh well, and they merely leave me yearning for a bowl of cocoa-blasted Cocoa Puffs, instead.
Milk improves things noticeably, as it unites ‘mallow and ring into something that’s decidedly more milk chocolatey, and I’ll admit that it becomes closer to actual hot cocoa flavor than Cocoa Puffs ever does, but it’s a watered-down packet of Swiss Miss that lacks the rich depth of the real, homemade thing.
If trader Joe’s Hot Cocoa O’s were the only hot chocolate cereal out this year, it would likely be viewed more positively. But unfortunately, General Mills’ spherical fare beats it on all front but texture, making Hot Cocoa O’s a comparatively bland victim of circumstance, destined to soon reach the Island of Misfit (and Forgotten) Cereals.
If you’re really trying to eat merrily at Trader Joe’s for breakfast, you’re better off adding milk to their Jingle Jangle.
The Bowl: Trader Joe’s Hot Cocoa O’s Cereal
The Breakdown: So-so cocoa and under-appreciated marshmallows make for a ho-hum holiday cereal that may crackle, but ultimately fizzles.
The Bottom Line: 4.5 frosted tips and flame-patterned bowling shirts out of 10