The Truth About Olive Garden Mints

Anyone that has been to Olive Garden likely knows about those complimentary little mints that come at the end of the meal along with the check. For many people, myself included, these wafers are small chocolate-mint slices of heaven.

While many people know that they are made by Andes (the Andes logo is stamped right on top of the mint), most erroneously assume these are the same Andes mints you can buy at the local supermarket. The top result in a Google search for “Olive Garden mints” is this page; everyone answering the question of where to find them suggests Walmart or a grocery store. Unfortunately, all of these people are incorrect. As a true after-dinner mint connoisseur, I am here to set the record straight: Olive Garden mints are not for sale.

Andes makes several varieties of their after-dinner mints; the ones commonly available at retail outlets are the Crème de Menthe type. If you look closely at these, you’ll see they have two layers of chocolate with a mint layer sandwiched in the middle. The Olive Garden mints have a single layer of chocolate at the bottom, and a layer of mint on the top. (The top mint layer accounts for about 2/3 of the candy’s height, making them the same size as the Crème de Menthe variety).

The two types of mints are obviously different in appearance, and because of the varying chocolate-to-mint ratio, different in taste. To my palate the Crème de Menthe variety have more of a “bite” to them. I’m not sure what kind of chocolate Andes uses in their mints, but I tend to think it’s more on the bitter side, like dark chocolate. The Olive Garden mints have a smoother taste, which I prefer—slightly sweeter and more minty.

For those that prefer the Olive Garden mints there is good news: Andes makes a variety called Mint Parfait, which has two layers of mint and a layer of chocolate in the middle. The chocolate-to-mint ratio is the same as the Olive Garden mints, and the taste is almost identical. (Because the Olive Garden mints’ chocolate layer is fully exposed, the chocolate taste may be more prominent as it can directly contact your taste buds when you put the mint in your mouth.) The only problem is that the Mint Parfait variety is difficult to find. My local grocery store had them for a short time around Christmas. They sold out quickly. You can buy them online;  however, they tend to be expensive, you can usually only find them in bulk quantities, and if you buy them in summer they could melt during shipment.

The image below illustrates the difference between the various types of mints:

On the left is Crème de Menthe, in the middle is Mint Parfait, and the Olive Garden mint is on the far right.

I wrote to Olive Garden asking them if their mints were available for purchase. Here is the answer I received:

We are honored by the compliment you have given us in asking if our mints are available for purchase.  Unfortunately, our Olive Garden mints are not for sale.  Often we have agreements with our vendors for exclusivity. It is our way of keeping Olive Garden unique and exciting for our guests each time they visit. We trust that you will understand.

Based on my Web research, most people either can’t tell the difference between the various types of Andes mints, or simply don’t care. The rest of us can be seen at Olive Garden, courteously asking the waitress for extra mints with the check.

Haagen-Dazs Green Tea: Take Two

In a previous post I talked about my excitement to discover that Haazen-Dazs had released a green tea ice cream in the USA, and my subsequent disillusionment when I discovered the contents were not the same as the Japanese version.

I have continued to eat—and enjoy—my stash of green tea ice cream. I am disappointed it’s not the same as the Japanese version, but I still maintain that it’s the best mainstream green tea ice cream you can buy in the USA. Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks that way, because Haagen-Dazs has decided to make it a permanent addition to their lineup—no more “Limited Edition” on the package.

BETRAYED!

I love ice cream. My favorite ice cream is Haagen-Dazs Green Tea.

You may have tried green tea ice cream at a Japanese restaurant and found it a curiosity but not something you’d want to keep in your freezer. Haagen-Dazs takes green tea ice cream it to a completely different level. It is luxuriously creamy with the perfect balance of sweetness and the bite of green tea. The only problem is that they don’t sell it in North America.

A few weeks ago I was browsing the ice cream case at my local Albertson’s and I spotted it: Haagen-Dazs Green Tea! I was elated—I swear I started to become emotional. But wait—emblazoned on the rim of the lid were the words, “Limited Edition.” I had to buy every carton in the freezer, 11 total. I abandoned the rest of my shopping to get home as quickly as possible; I could not wait another minute to taste my beloved ice cream.

As soon as I opened the lid and pulled back the protective plastic I knew something was wrong. The color was not as it should be; the Japanese version was a rich green color, like the color of tea leaves. This was a light green color, like the color of supermarket brand mint chocolate chip. One taste confirmed my fears: this was not the same ice cream sold in Japan. The taste was sweeter, the green tea flavor much less pronounced. It had been dumbed down for the American audience. I had been betrayed by Haagen-Dazs.

I thought about returning the plethora of pints, but after I ate a little more it grew on me. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. When it came down to it, it was still better than any of the other green tea ice creams you can buy in the USA. I decided to keep it. When they restocked the shelves at Albertson’s however, I didn’t buy any more.

Although I can’t enjoy my favorite ice cream in the USA, unique tastes are one of the nice things about travel. There are so many foods that you can get in Japan that you either can’t get in the USA or when you can they just don’t taste the same. I’ve never found rice crackers or takoyaki that tastes like it does in Japan. The same with green tea ice cream; you can buy it here, it’s just not the same and probably never will be.

Marie Callender’s Feast Review

Thanksgiving was yesterday, which I celebrated with my parents and sister. My mom is getting to the point in her life where she doesn’t want to cook a huge meal, so we decided to go the Marie Callender’s Take-Home Feast route. We opted for the aptly-named Ultimate Whole Turkey Feast. Below is my assessment of dinner, with each element graded (in parenthesis) on a scale of 1 to 10.

  • Ordering: (10) You order over the phone and pay with a credit card when you order. The fellow I talked to was competent and polite.
  • Pickup: (10) They have a tent set up in the parking lot for you to claim your pre-paid bounty. Everything was exactly as ordered, and it came in a nice cardboard storage box that you can use for other things when you’re done. I remembered from when we had done this a couple of years ago that we ran out of stuffing, so I asked if I could purchase an extra side order of it. The guy gave me one for no charge. I tipped him the amount the extra side would have cost, and everybody was happy.
  • Turkey: (7) One thing you need to be aware of if you’re considering the Marie Callender’s Feast is that even though the food comes prepared you still need to heat it up; 2 1/2 hours was the recommended heating time for the turkey. It was reasonably tasty, not dry but not particularly juicy either. We were four big eaters and there was plenty left over.
  • Stuffing: (8) It was tasty, had a good selection of ingredients, and most importantly was not dry. It turns out the extra side of stuffing I asked for was not necessary, as the one included side was more than enough for the four of us.
  • Mashed Potatoes: (5) I was not crazy about the mashed potatoes. They were not very creamy and didn’t have a lot of taste.
  • Gravy: (5) It had a lot of flavor, but that flavor did not appeal to my palate. It was probably a personal-preference issue.
  • Yams: (2) The big disappointment. The yams were cut in squares and baked. They reminded me of those cubed “breakfast potatoes” but with harder skins. Sorry, I like my yams mushy and sweet. The only thing that saved them from me rating them a 1 was that they came with a sprinkle-on topping of brown sugar and dried cranberries, which gave this lame side dish its only taste.
  • Cornbread: (9) I love Marie Callender’s cornbread, which came deliciously complete with a side of honey butter.
  • Vegetables: (2) The other big disappointment. The vegetables were a mix of carrots and string beans that were tough and tasteless. I would have liked a better mix of vegetables and more pronounced seasoning.
  • Pumpkin Pie: (9) Marie Callender’s claim to fame is their pies. No disappointment here, other than the fact that I had to provide my own whipped cream.
  • Coffee: (10) This was the big surprise of the evening for me. The coffee was GREAT, a blended medium roast that was smooth and full of flavor. It came in a silver foil package with no marking, so I have no idea how to get more since Marie Callender’s apparently doesn’t sell their coffee packaged.

That’s it. I’m off to buy a new belt!

The Coffeemaker Of My Dreams

CV1 One-Cup Coffee SystemI went to Sacramento a couple of months ago for the Jazz Jubilee, and stayed at the Hyatt (a very nice hotel if you don’t count the expensively lame parking). In my hotel room I discovered an unusual single-cup coffeemaker. The ground coffee and filter were pre-packaged, and the coffee emptied right into your cup—no carafe. What did all this mean? It meant there was absolutely nothing to wash. I had truly found the coffeemaker of my dreams, and I had to have one.

I didn’t write down the model or manufacturer, but no matter. After a little Googling I learned my discovery was the CV1 One-Cup Coffee System from Courtesy Products. I ordered one, plus a 40-count box of their Colombian Supremo single-serving coffee packs. Everything arrived in short order and worked perfectly right out of the box.

It’s been a month since I first received my CV1 coffeemaker, and I could not be happier. Although the individual coffee packs are a little expensive, I discovered you could buy “coffee pods” at the supermarket. These work just as well (provided you save the used plastic brew baskets to use with the coffee pods), are less expensive, and provide a wide variety of flavors and choices. My favorite thus far is the Black Mountain Gold Costa Rican.

There are other single-cup coffee “systems” on the market like the Senseo and Tassimo, but these are expensive, take up a lot of counter space, and have parts that require cleaning. The CV1 was only about $30, is compact with a small footprint, and requires no cleaning. It is truly coffee convenience heaven.