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Starbucks: VIA Ready Brew Instant Coffee – Review

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew

During this economic downturn Starbucks has taken a beating with people staying away from buying its higher end coffee. So, they decided some time ago to reclaim some of its footing from its devastating losses of last year by jumping into the instant coffee market. Why, you ask? Answer: companies will try anything to keep the bottom line in check.

I am not a typical coffee drinker, though when I do want a coffee I want good coffee. I do not own a coffee maker, so my need for good coffees come from coffee shops and from friends who brew great coffee (thanks, Cosette). As I do not drink coffee on a regular basis, I like to experience drinking coffee as a relaxing activity. So I thought that with spring in the air, the windows open, a nice cup of coffee would be enjoyable to have this morning.

As for instant coffee: the last time I had instant was at my mom’s house at Thanksgiving and she prefers flavor crystals. I know that instant does not have the aroma that drip coffee has and it is good for your caffeine need in a pinch. I received from Starbucks a mailed packed of “Via, Starbucks Columbian Coffee in an Instant.” Via is Italian for road, giving the consumer the idea that you can have good coffee anywhere. The cute little packets are individual servings for an 8 oz cup of joe. Starbucks have created a natural process of roasting and grinding the coffee used for instant. I opened the packets with some scissors so not to spill any of the product.

[ad#longpost]First thing I noticed is how superfine the grounds are. No, flavor crystals here. The aroma is pleasant though very light and not as heady as freshly ground. I then tasted a very small amount of the grounds. I enjoy eating coffee beans on occasion and the grounds had a very pleasant taste with a nice hint of bitterness that was not overpowering. The next step is to drink a a real cup of the instant coffee. I followed the pictorial directions and used only an 8 oz mug and hot water. If using a larger mug one might run the risk of using too much water and thus diluting the coffee.

First up, the aroma of the coffee was very light and it seemed to dissipate quickly. I drank the coffee straight to get the full taste–and this is very light… almost too light, especially for Columbian coffee that is normally a very bold taste. I then added some raw sugar to my coffee and the coffee seemed to take on the sugar well. I also noticed that there was no lingering aftertaste to the coffee. And actually I had no “coffee breath” from drinking this instant. As someone who ingests a very small amount of caffeine, I did notice the jolt. The coffee scores as a good caffeine delivery system.

Overall it is a nice cup of coffee but not a great cup, in a pinch when you want a decent cup and none is available, then yes this is a good product.

I do see a good market for this coffee if they gear it towards the well-heeled traveler. Not necessarily the kind who travel via airport, but by train or bus. In this down economy many people are indeed turning to this type of travel more often. I have traveled this way for many years and I can tell you that many depots and stations offer the worst kind of coffee. However, many most depots and stations have microwaves available and it would be easy enough to heat water and add the fine grounds. The grounds dissolve completely so there is no need to worry about dregs. In a pinch this product would be a very welcome drink on any long distance trip. I can see myself purchasing a box for me to use over the course of several trips…but probably not for everyday consumption.

The price is listing at $9.95 for twelve servings, which is much costlier than purchasing coffee for a drip machine. The upshot is that as my packet was mailed to me, the packaging is strong enough that it can withstand harsh handling and storing without breaking. I have an extra packet that I have left in my everyday travel bag and have not had a problem with spillage. It seems that the underlying real problem of this product is the price. What is the bottom line of how much to spend on a cup of coffee everyday? That would be up to the individual.

In closing, I am not sure that this venture would change the fortunes of Starbucks but it is a decent additional product to the myriad of other products they have available.

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  • Hi, I just tried the Italian Roast blend last night, and although I’m sure I could tell the difference I quite liked it. The Starbucks Columbia blend is quite mild in the store as well. Italian is quite dark, a much nicer coffee. Maybe give that one a try?

  • Um…aren’t they a Caribou product? Why would they be in a review of Starbucks’ product? Or am I missing something?

  • Better than normal instant, but it’s somewhere between drinkable and pleasant. starbucks should be ashamed to call it “great coffee”.

    Great for instant, maybe, but those two words don’t make sense together.

    I personally think the timing might not be very good for this product. The number of places serving decent coffee seems to be increasing – even mcdonald’s and 7-eleven usually have richer and more enjoyable coffee than this.

  • Via is available in decaf! I’ve just decided to cut way back on caffeine, so I was thrilled to discover the decaf version of Via. I actually found it at a grocery store.

    I actually really like this coffee, and I am most definitely not an instant coffee drinker. I haven’t had instant coffee since I was a kid, taking sips from my parents’ cups – they always made instant. I’m a regular drinker of both Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts coffee (two very different sorts of coffee) as well as independent coffee shop coffee, and have had good cups in many European countries, so I feel like I have a good handle on what “good” coffee should taste like. Via is miles ahead of any other instant coffee I have ever tried, and, to be frank, much better than a lot of fresh-brewed cups out there. It’s not the same as fresh-brewed Starbucks, but with milk, it could pass for other fresh-brewed (particularly fresh-brewed made at home.) I do wonder if the people who think it tastes weak are adding too much water. I find this to be just as strong as regular starbucks (unless taken black) but without the “cooked” taste.

    I have tried the Italian Roast, Columbian, and Decaf Italian Roast. All are very passable cups for home or in at the office – I make mine with 8 oz. of water as directed, and then add skim milk. Really quite good. The decaf is virtually indistinguishable from the regular.

    Interesting tidbit – I first had Via when they were doing a promo for it in London. I liked it and bought a box of the packets. The packets in London are smaller and to be mixed in 6 oz. of water… I guess a reflection of the fact that Americans like larger portions of everything.

  • Widge (not that you’re going to see this) – K-cups are not a Caribou product, although Caribou is available in K-cups. K-cups are for Keurig coffee makers, and quite a large variety of coffee brands are available in K-cups.

  • Ha ha. I just figured that since your post was from back in January, you probably wouldn’t see the latest post! I thought I would set the record straight for anyone else who happens upon this site. :-)

  • This coffee is GREAT for hiking backpacking kayak camping or anyplace I am on the go and have hot water. I am not a Starbucks customer but I love the cross between convenience and flavor.