People love to hate Starbucks. If you choose to believe the haters, Starbucks is Big Brother, has committed genocide on hundreds of small business coffee shops, and will single-handedly destroy the planet. Anyone who purchases coffee from Starbucks is a soulless yuppy who will rot in sheeple hell.
I have to admit, I get a little bitter (Coffee pun? You decide!) when I think about Starbucks putting mom ‘n’ pop coffee shops out of business. I also have to admit, Starbucks makes some damn delicious coffee. Fortunately, I am not a yuppy (although I may be soulless), and my bank account dictates where I purchase my coffee, which means I get it pre-ground in a bag from the grocery store.
There are other coffee options other than buying it from a coffee shop and brewing your own at home. One of those options is instant coffee. Starbucks already offers pre-ground bags of their coffee, and now they’re shoving their noses into the instant coffee market. Starbucks wants to make sure that no matter how you like your coffee, you’re going to be drinking their coffee. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.
So they launched a new line of instant coffee called VIA. It made me wonder: what are the benefits of instant coffee? To whom are instant coffee manufacturers marketing? I posited this question to a group of friends and got these answers:
1. People who like bad things
2. People without coffeemakers
3. Extremely lazy people
4. One guy’s grandma who isn’t a coffee snob who only wanted a single cup of coffee while only getting one dish dirty
5. People who are camping
6. People who are only interested in coffee for its medicinal qualities and don’t have the need or patience for a good cup of it
I will grant answer five as completely valid. Four and six, go buy one of those little one-cup or four-cup coffeemakers. I was the only coffee drinker in my household growing up. I resorted to instant for a little while, then grew tired of the lack of quality and bothered my parents until they bought me a little coffeemaker. Three minutes of effort and waiting were well worth it. Answers one through three are just unacceptable. Okay, maybe number one has some legs. If you enjoy being constantly disappointed, please, have a cup of instant coffee with your bowl of off-brand corn flakes and a side of already-cooked microwave bacon. It takes all kinds.
So has Starbucks transformed instant coffee into a valid form of caffeine consumption? We shall see.
VIA comes in several different iterations. There are different roasts, decaf, iced, and also flavored varieties. I can’t say I’ve ever known someone who drank black instant coffee, so I went with a flavored version. I chose Vanilla, but there’s also Caramel, Cinnamon Spice, and Mocha.
Making Starbucks VIA Ready Brew couldn’t be easier. It’s so easy, they don’t even need to more than two words in the instructions on the back of the package. When I tore open the flavor packet and dumped the contents into my mug, I was immediately met with the smell of vanilla flavoring. It actually filled my entire kitchen. After bringing a small amount of water to a low boil, I measured out eight ounces and poured it into my mug with the flavor powder waiting patiently at the bottom. I was surprised at how fast it dissolved; it only took a few stirs to transform it into a smooth, dark liquid that looked just like brewed coffee. I was also surprised at how dark it was, until I remembered that this is flavored coffee, not a fancy Vente latte with soy milk, two shots of espresso, extra foam and whipped cream. I can’t think Starbucks without imagining an overcomplicated coffee beverage that has more components than ordering a burger at Five Guys.
So how does Starbucks VIA stack up to a cup of brewed coffee? Well, I think my friends left one thing off the list: the office workplace. I have worked at several different office environments, and the coffee has always been notoriously awful. I don’t know what it is about office coffee, but it always blows. It’s like the office itself sucks all the soul out of the coffee, much in the same manner it sucks the soul out of all the cubicle monkeys working there. Since VIA comes in individual packets and many office water coolers have a hot water option, I could actually see VIA being a VIAble (sorry) alternative to disgusting office coffee.
That said, VIA is still instant coffee, and for some reason all instant coffee has a slightly off taste. I suppose you could say that instant coffee is to coffee what a banana Runt is to a banana. They share a similar taste, but you could tell blindfolded what’s the imitator and what’s the real deal. I enjoyed the vanilla flavoring; it was strong but not cloying, sweet without being so sugary it made me feel ill. The coffee takes a background to the vanilla, but it remains as rich as you can get out of powdered coffee.
So, has Starbucks revolutionized the instant coffee industry? In my opinion, no, but I’d put VIA a cut above other instant coffees I’ve tasted. I don’t know if you can ever really nail the flavor of a fresh pot of coffee in powdered form, but VIA manages to inject some richness into their product, and they didn’t step over the line with the sugar or the vanilla flavoring. Coming in individual packets is a big bonus; if you’ve got hot water, you’ve got coffee, and there’s something to be said for that. One real obstacle that VIA has is pricing. I bought a box of six packets for $6.95; at a little over a dollar a pouch, that certainly beats the price of a Vente mocha latte, but can’t compete with brewing your own coffee and investing in a travel mug.
(Nutrition Facts â€“ 1 packet (16g) â€“ 60 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of total fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 13 grams of sugars and 1 gram of protein.)
Item: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Vanilla Flavored Coffee
Size: 6 pack
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: A step above other instant coffees. Five Guys burgers. Easy to transport anywhere. Nice vanilla taste. Friends with questionably useful suggestions.
Cons: Way more expensive than brewing your own coffee. Soulless yuppies. Still has that instant coffee flavor. Already-cooked microwave bacon. Encourages lazy coffee drinkers.