I met a friend on Wednesday night for coffee. There happens to be a Starbucks very near where we live, and not too far from his house.
We set our things between a couple of plush chairs near the front window and then approached the counter to order. A bubbly barista greeted us and took our orders. Yes, she could brew decaf for us, she said.
As we paid, she handed each of us a packet of Via, the new Starbucks instant coffee. About the size of my pinky finger, and with plenty of air inside, it didn’t seem like enough to make a satisfying cup of joe.
I turned to my friend. “Oh, yeah, it’s their new instant coffee. R got a free sample at the 5k we did on Saturday,” I said.
“Sir, it isn’t instant coffee,” the barista quickly and somewhat gruffly corrected me. Then she smiled to soften it.
“So, just put it in hot water?” my friend asked.
“Hot or cold,” the barista said.
“Some college kids put it in hot chocolate to make an instant mocha,” chimed in her co-worker.
The next morning I skipped brewing my own coffee at home and took the packet to work with me. Going into the hot water, the finely-ground coffee instantly turned to deep brown, almost black clouds billowing into the depths.
I stirred it and added my usual to make it more tan and a little bit sweet.
Now, I had tried instant coffee before this, and did not like it. The Starbucks employee had been right: this was not instant coffee. This was something entirely better.
At three single-serving packets for $2.95 or 12 for $9.95, Via isn’t something I’ll use at home every day. On a work trip, however, I will gladly substitute these for hotel coffee or the customer’s office coffee. Plus, it saves me from trying to find a decent coffee shop or settling for something less when I can’t find one. Camping trips could benefit, too.
I found an interesting Business Week article, published on the product’s launch date just last Tuesday, that tells how long Starbucks worked to develop an instant coffee, dropped the idea, and then finally brought it to market. Precursors to Via allowed the company to develop its line of bottled Frappucino and other products.
Based on flavor alone, Starbucks’ new Via instant coffee gets two thumbs up. Considering the price, however, I have to knock it down to one.