It’s not often you see a bottled tea brand cross over into potato chip territory, but that’s exactly what’s happened with Joe Tea. The company is based in New Jersey, and its bottled products can regularly be found at convenience stores across the Northeast, Appalachia, and parts of the Midwest (I picked up some bottles in Detroit). Joe Tea can even be found in 20 different countries, notably Chile, Japan, and Korea. Definitely seems more focused on tea than chips, but that’s exactly why the latter are such a surprise.
Why the name Joe, and what’s the deal with the pickup truck? As a boy, I loved Sunday drives with my father. My dad Joe and I could spend the whole day just exploring in his old pickup truck. I have many fond memories of summer afternoons together with the wind in our faces and nothing but life ahead of us. I remember one day I asked, “Hey, Dad, where are we going today?” Smiling, my father turned to me and said, “Nowhere and everywhere, son.” I guess you could say that day was our inspiration for the brand.
Kind of a bland origin story, right? You’re this guy’s dad—tell your son where you’re taking him, for Christ’s sake! But I suppose this saccharine and folksy tale (there’s more on the website) is a better story than “we really like tea and decided to monetize that!” Even the retro truck on the label begs you to buy into the notion an old fashioned, well-made product.
Regardless of branding, Joe Tea drinks really are excellent—peach, mango, raspberry, and lemon cover a wide and delicious spectrum, and the charming truck logo changes colors like a chameleon to mimic each flavor. It should be said that Joe Tea, like so many products in this beverage category, contains an assload of sugar: One 20-ounce bottle of peach tea contains 60 grams of the stuff. The tea tastes refreshing and natural, though (they use cane sugar), and there’s just something classy about a glass bottle of tea. Plucking it from the fridge feels like selecting a bottle of wine from the gas station.
Joe Tea started selling potato chips around 2010, probably in an effort to increase its presence at convenience stores. It’s interesting to see a beverage and chip being sold by the same brand under the same label. There are no Pepsi potato chips (though, sure, PepsiCo owns Cheetos, Doritos, and Lay’s) and no Faygo pretzels to be found.
So, can Joe Chips capture the greatness of Joe Tea? I picked up four flavors to try them out.
The phrase “retro potato chips” means the product consists of all natural ingredients and hand-selected potatoes that are kettle-cooked in small batches. In short, Joe uses all the right lingo that a modern chip company should be using. These are absolutely buzzwords, but more often than not, those buzzwords amount to a pretty tasty chip.
There are a ton of interesting ingredients in BBQ Joe Chips, including sea salt, molasses powder, sugar, smoke flavor, garlic, onion, tomato powder, and torula yeast. Torula yeast is a powerful flavor enhancer, also used in Tim’s Jalapeño chips, that imparts savoriness and smokiness. These Joe Chips pack a lot of flavor, but they’re actually sweeter than most BBQ chips on the market, so keep that in mind.
A classic, original sea salt flavor with a greasy-but-not-too-greasy taste and feel. These chips are everything I love about Lay’s Original, just with better potatoes that are kettle cooked. These have far less fat and salt than Lay’s Original, but the difference in taste is negligible. A great plain chip through and through.
These Sour Cream & Toasted Onion kettle cooked chips are absolutely delicious. They pack a huge onion flavor, which is often lacking among the major manufacturers of this variety. So many sour cream and onion chips on the market taste weak, but not Joe’s. The creamy, oniony taste really sits in your mouth here. This is the one flavor I’d go out of my way to buy again.
Pretty standard salt and vinegar chips, containing a simple blend of vinegar powder and malic acid. As mentioned previously here in Chip Country, there should be more experimental vinegars used for chips. If you’re craving a classic salt and vinegar taste, I’d recommend buying Herr’s, Cape Cod, and Cape Cod reduced fat chips, which are surprisingly tasty.