Review: Jamba Juice Gives Chai a Try

Ad Age's Chicago Bureau Skips the Smoothies and Oatmeal, Samples Tea and Scones

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Jamba Juice, anxious to divert breakfast-time business from Starbucks, is launching hot chai beverages today. It asked Ad Age's Chicago bureau to give it a taste, along with a tart cherry scone. It wasn't hard to line up volunteers, just 15 months after we tried the chain's oatmeal, which drew rave reviews.

It's only fair to note that the two participating reporters, editor, and four Datacenter employees aren't regular chai drinkers. "Tastes like liquid pumpkin pie," said assistant managing editor Aris Georgiadis. "Not sure I want that in March."

But Kevin Brown, group data manager, loved his first-ever chai, describing it as "lovely for a Tuesday morning."

"It's a yummy fall treat, something you'd drink by the fireplace," he said. Research editor Maureen Morrison, along with Keri Lynch, also of Datacenter, also noted the strong pumpkin-pie spice flavor.

Jamba's chai leans to the sweeter side of the chai spectrum. Starbucks' version, for instance, is spicier, tasting more like tea. Jamba's version tastes like a treat, but falls short of cloying. The chain is also launching a chocolate chai.

The tart cherry scone was more polarizing. "Damn good," said beer and sports reporter Jeremy Mullman. But Susheela Bhati of DataCenter described it as "shockingly sweet." Indeed, the scones seemed to vary wildly, from tasty perfection, to dry and lemony, with others tasting very sweet.

The company, which has struggled during the recession, is hoping that food will be its magic bullet. Jamba has also launched oatmeal, wraps, sandwiches and salads in the past 18 months, but it has yet to pay off. The chain's same-store sales have been down double digits for four of the last five quarters. In the most recent quarter, reported in November, they were down 5%.

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