By Tod Kavonic, Beverage columnist
Pretty much everybody likes orange juice. Especially first thing in the morning, there’s something about its bright color—often orange, yes, but sometimes actually yellow—that seems to promise sunshine in a glass. Its tart, citrus tang is mellowed and domesticated by its sugar content, which is why we prefer it, and not lemon juice, as our wake-up beverage.
Whereas, in generations past, most orange juice served in private homes originated in an icy log of frozen “concentrate,” to be restored to juicy liquidity by being mixed with tap water, advances in production and refrigeration over the decades have produced a bounteous array of “fresh” orange juices, “fresh-squeezed” and “not from concentrate,” that arrive chilled but not frozen, in cardboard cartons to your grocer’s dairy case. These, we are told, are the next best thing to squeezing your own. Simply open, pour, and enjoy.
But are all fresh o.j.’s the same? I set out to see. Unfortunately, for some reason that remains inexplicable to me to this very day, I decided to taste our local supermarket’s selection of juices in situ—i.e., rather than buying them, taking them home, and drinking them in my kitchen, I opted to taste all six in front of the refrigerator case where they were displayed, in the store. Perhaps I sought to save myself the expense of purchasing them.
The results of my experiment were edifying, to say the least. Below are my tasting notes. I’ve ranked them in ascending order of quality, from the worst to the best, along with some comments concerning the experience of sampling each one.
6. FLORIDA’S ESSENCE OF FLORIDA
It was hard to believe that this juice, advertised as “Squeezed at the moment of perfection,” was in fact in any way fresh. It had an acrid, much-processed flavor of the sort one associates with canned orange juice—about which, the less said, the better.
It offered minimal amounts of pulp, an almost radioactive tinge of sharp yellow color, and an unpleasant aftertaste. It also offered an opportunity for several of my fellow shoppers to witness my drinking it, and to register their reactions. “Ew, Mommy, look, gross!” opined one little girl, while a passing gentleman, more than several years my senior, inquired, “What the fuck is the matter with you?”
5. JUST SIMPLY PLAIN OLD STUPID ORANGE JUICE
This brand’s gimmick is one of simplicity. “We don’t do anything to it,” runs the television ad. “Nature has done it all.” That may be, but Nature apparently overdid it. This o.j. was pale and pallid in every dimension, from its oddly faint yellow hue to its consistently disappointing lack of flavor. Of course, I cannot say I might not have been distracted from my evaluation by the arrival of a store official—I later found out he was the manager–who gave voice to what were apparently the opinions of a number of shoppers who had gathered around me. “Sir, please stop and put the juice down,” he said, more than once, in various permutations. But how could I, when I had just begun?
4. CABANA NARANJA
This label boasts of using several kinds of oranges, and I would have been able to tell you which specific varieties it features, had I not had the carton rudely ripped from my grasp by some idiot customer who fancied himself some sort of supermarket vigilante. The manager commanded me to leave the premises but I declined. Although my sampling of this juice was brief, I recall a nice balance of sweetness and citrus acidity.
3. ORANGERIE MERCI SI-VOO-PLAY
Forget the weird, pseudo-French name. Forget the ultra-fancy packaging, which seems to imply that the best orange juice comes from France. Forget my being able to taste it, since shortly after I pried open the carton, one of the store’s security guards hustled onto the scene, yanked it from my grasp, and gripped me just below both shoulders in an effort to eject me by force from the establishment. Naturally, I resisted. “I have three more to taste!” I cried as I elbowed him in the ribs. “Ow! Fuck your mother!” he observed.
2. ORANGE: THE JUICE
Yes, it’s a pretentious name, and yes, I had to sneak a quick sip of it just before two police officers, summoned by God-knows-who to the scene, managed to pull my hands behind my back and slap on the “bracelets.” It was delightful. My only complaint—as regards the juice—was its somewhat lackluster level of pulp. Then again, the cuffs were too tight, which fact might have prejudiced my judgment about the pulp.
1. TROPICALIA ULTRA
I am not one to believe that all things happen for the best. But in this case, some things did conspire to assist me in my project. Having been driven to the local police station, booked on creating a public nuisance and several other charges that escape me, and escorted to a holding cell, I was nonetheless gratified to discover that some previous tenant of this jail had begun, but not finished, a carton of this premium orange juice which, regardless of where it is sold, persists in listing for at least a dollar more per quart than its rivals. I must say—and my evaluation may have been influenced by how much I was thirsty, exhausted, embarrassed, and enraged by my recent experience—that this brand of o.j. absolutely hit the spot: Neither too sweet nor too tart, of a pleasing orange-yellow color, with ample pulp and a clean, refreshing finish. I have, before writing this review on my phone, called my lawyer and asked him, when he comes to bail me out, to bring a fresh carton. Highly recommended, particularly when you’re “inside.”