Trader Joe’s Kona Coffee Cookies Copycat Recipe: AKA Taste of Subtle in Social Media


Shortbread cookies are warm fuzzies to me. They speak of blue tins full of dress-up jewelry – the tasty companions to pretend tea parties or a deliciously buttery counterpoint to a simple cup of tea. For some unknown reason, however, I’ve never tried to duplicate the store bought version. It’s silliness, really, because the recipes are simple! While I hesitate to use the words fool-proof because I am quite good at what not to do in a recipe, they are extraordinarily easy. I’ve just never felt the urge to duplicate a recipe.

Until now.

It all started with a last minute trip to Trader Joe’s to grab desert for an impromptu get-together. We picked up the Kona Coffee shortbread cookies on a whim with a flurry of other goodies in our hands. That night, I discovered yet another snack to go on my Trader Joe’s crack list. (There are several on that list, by the way. Have you tried the dark chocolate mint creams? Absolute top of my list. Of all lists. Any list.) I became addicted to Kona cookies. But, a few months later, I moved away from the convenience of a Trader Joe’s just down the street. So what’s a girl to do?

Why, do a Pinterest search, of course!

I have a confession to make. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I must tell you that I don’t like coffee. I quite honestly think it tastes like dirt. The only way I can drink it is when I have a little coffee with my cream and hot cocoa. Oddly enough, I like the taste of coffee in things like ice cream or cookies.

While I’d like to believe this little revelation adds credence to the deliciousness of the Kona Cookie recipe, it occurred to me that I like coffee in my cookies like I like sales on social media – a little goes a long way. In looking to find just the right recipe, I realized the right proportion of coffee in the recipe was important. No one wants to bite into coffee grounds, no matter how sugary it is, least of all me.

[editor’s note: What Tammy’s not telling you is that her first attempt at making the frosting for these cookies included a misinterpretation of the word “strong coffee” in the directions. Rather than brewing coffee and using it to make the frosting, she dumped the strong coffee grounds into the frosting. As such, we most definitely learned that NO ONE wants to bite into coffee grounds, no matter how much sugar you add.]

Social media was never meant to be a platform to push your company or your products. As strange as it may seem now, it’s a social platform where you get to make yourself – your brand – more personable. This is your chance to be more than just a company or a logo. You now have a voice that has potential to reach hundreds of thousands of people because you are human and relatable. Here, the bottom line isn’t money; the bottom line is building community.

I’ve seen far too many companies treat social media like just another place to advertise, another version of a TV commercial. Now I’m not here to tell you that you shouldn’t advertise or put your product out on different platforms. What I am saying is, like my coffee cookie recipe, too much sales at the wrong time in the wrong place can quickly turn things from sweet and enjoyable to outright bitter.

Here’s another way to say it.

As marketers, we sometimes catch ourselves getting caught up in a client’s desire to constantly tout how amazing the company is that we’re promoting. As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of the customer. We can forget that it’s not simply about what our clients want; it’s about who we’re talking to and what will reach them best. On social media, where people go to be informed, catch up on things around the world or to soak in the gamut of emotions created by photos and videos, constant in-your-face sales is the last thing they want to see. Consumers have become adept at tuning it out; something you are trying to avoid as a business owner investing time and money into social media.

The general guideline to follow is the 80/20 rule. 80 percent of the time, share information or relevant pieces that will engage your customers; and 20 percent of the time is for you to focus on your brand or a call to action. Build the relationship with your audience first so you can establish credibility. You need to earn the right to sell them your product.

There is a time and a place for everything. Just because you can sell, sell, sell doesn’t mean it’s wise to do so all the time. Thank goodness Trader Joe’s gets that concept with their coffee cookies.

Recipe from Kris at Umami Holiday


  • 1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 c. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 Tbsp. coarsely ground Kona coffee
  • ½ vanilla bean, split and scraped for seeds
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 c. AP flour, sifted
  • 1 c. powdered sugar (for the glaze)
  • 2 Tbsp. strong (brewed!) coffee
  • ½ tsp. instant espresso powder (optional)


  1. Place the unsalted butter into a stand mixer and mix for 1-2 minutes on low, or until glossy and creamy.
  2. Add the powdered sugar, kosher salt, vanilla seeds and coarse coffee grounds and mix until uniform at low speed, then scrape the sides of the bowl and mix on medium for 4-5 minutes. The batter will lighten in color (the color will be similar to cookies n’creme bars).
  3. Add the sifted flour and mix until combined, then scrape the bowl and mix for another 1-2 minutes on low.
  4. Scrape the bowl to combine the dough into a ball in the center of the bowl. Place plastic wrap onto the counter, then put the dough ball onto the plastic wrap. (You won’t need to brush flour on your hands, as the dough will not stick to your fingers.)
  5. Place another sheet of plastic wrap on top of the dough ball, then flatten the dough into a 7 x 10 inch rectangle using either your hands or a rolling pin.
  6. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
  7. When you’re ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350ºF.
  8. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper.
  9. Take the dough from the fridge and remove the top layer of plastic wrap. Cut the dough into 1 x 2 inch rectangles.
  10. Place the rectangles on the parchment paper at least 2 inches apart.
  11. Bake for 14-16 minutes, turning the pan halfway through bake time (7 minutes). The cookies are done when the edges are golden-brown.
  12. Remove the cookie sheet and allow the cookies to cool on the pan for 10 minutes.
  13. Move the cookies to a cooling rack and let them cool completely.
  14. For the glaze: Mix the powdered sugar, strong coffee and espresso powder (if you have it) with a spoon until the glaze is a nice, caramel color.
  15. Spoon the glaze onto half of the cookie and spread evenly, then place on parchment paper to harden.
  16. Will keep for 4-5 days if left in an airtight container. (Good luck with that–mine disappeared before I could test the theory!)

SugarSpun Notes: The glaze was an adventure. I couldn’t get it on the cookies right without it pooling into one big glop. Hearing my cry of distress, Jen stepped in and performed her magic with glazing by drizzling in perfect lines. Some taste testers liked the cookies with the glaze, others liked it without. I recommend you experiment for yourself.

1 reply
  1. rachel
    rachel says:

    May 2017: These cookies are now discontinued at trader joe’s. i really liked their melt in the mouth icing. Is there a brand name version of [iced] coffee shortbread/these cookies available somewhere?


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