REVIEW: Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee

Starbucks VIA Caramel Flavored Iced Coffee

I feel sorry for the Starbucks baristas out there who have to deal with complex drink orders from insane customers. They say the customer is always right, but those who order an iced ristretto 5-shot grande with 5/8 decaf, six ice cubes, 2-pumps sugar free caramel, 4-pumps caramel, soy, whole milk, extra whip, 12 Splenda, double cupped, and hand stirred to a temperature of 43 degrees have got to be wrong.

Do they feel like their complex order somehow makes them some kind of Starbucks alchemist?

Or are they trying to impress the people behind them in line with the fact that they know how to order something at Starbucks?

Or do they enjoy being a barista puppeteer, making Starbucks employees do their bidding with their purse strings?

You know what, Starbucks baristas? I’m your break from the batty bastards and bitches who order elaborate beverages, because from now on, when I roll into a Starbucks, I’m only there to either use the restroom, steal napkins, be creepy, or to pick up a pack of your new Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee, all of which don’t involve you lifting any of your well-worked fingers. I’m your coffee break, your latte lull, your ristretto recess, your half-caf hiatus, your Venti vacation, and your Asian persuasion.

Each packet of Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee is made up of microgrounded 100 percent natural roasted arabica beans, a little bit of caramel flavor, and cane sugar. This powdery partnership produces a Grande of iced coffee goodness, if you’re willing to do all of the following: measure 16 ounces of water, rip off the packet top, pour the contents of the packet into the 16 ounces of water, and then stir it until the powder dissolves.

Or if you have children, you can dress them up in a green Starbucks apron, tell them you’re “playing Starbucks,” and make them do all the work.

After tearing open a packet of Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee, it farts out a strong caramel aroma. That caramel aroma is also present after the powder is mixed with water. When I drink it, it starts off with a nice caramel flavor, which quickly gives way to the bitterness of the coffee. However, thanks to the caramel flavoring, I’m finding it much easier to drink than regular Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee, which I usually sweeten with either a little more sugar or chocolate syrup.

I really enjoyed the regular Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee, but I have to say I prefer this caramel version more. Adding a little vanilla soy milk makes it even better, although the caramel iced coffee already has 24 grams of sugar, so adding soy milk gives it a little more. While that may sound sweet, it’s not as sweet as I am for giving Starbucks baristas a quick breve breather from impossible drink orders by not ordering anything and just picking up a 5-pack of Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 packet – 50 calories, 0 grams of fat, 20 milligrams of sodium, 13 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee
Price: $5.95
Size: 5 pack
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Better tasting and easier to drink than regular Starbuck VIA Iced Coffee. Easy to make. Great with a little vanilla soy milk. Makes a Grande of iced coffee. Cheaper than ordering the same drink from Starbucks. Giving baristas a break from making complex drink orders from douchebags. Nice energy pick-me-up.
Cons: Might have too much sugar for those who care about consuming too much sugar. You have to stir or shake it yourself, unless you have children who can do it for you. Waiting in line behind someone who orders complex Starbucks drinks. At home, you have no access to the Starbucks bar.

NEWS: Take Work Away From Starbucks Baristas By Purchasing Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee

Bucko in the Snow

Update: Click here to read our Starbucks VIA Caramel Iced Coffee review

Last year, Starbucks added an iced coffee version to their VIA instant coffee line and I wrote a review so positive that it makes me sound like ABC TV Minneapolis movie critic Rusty Gatenby who the said the following about Transformers: Dark of the Moon, “Biggest action movie of the summer? How about biggest action movie EVER!”

Sounds like someone wants to be quoted in a Transformers: Dark of the Moon commercial. Oh wait, he was.

Anyhoo, my positive review of Starbucks’ VIA Iced Coffee had me hoping for a sequel from them, and they delivered.

This week, the Giant Green Coffee Machine released a new iced coffee flavor — caramel. Just like the regular VIA Iced Coffee, Starbucks VIA Caramel Flavored Ice Coffee is made using “a special blend of medium roast coffee made from 100 percent high-quality arabica beans.”

Each VIA packet makes 16 fluid ounces of iced coffee.

Oh, wait. It’s Starbucks.

Each VIA packet makes a Grande of iced coffee.

Starbucks VIA Caramel Flavored Iced Coffee is available for a limited time in 5-packs at a suggested retail price of $5.95.

REVIEW: Starbucks Artisan Bacon, Egg & Gouda Breakfast Sandwich

Starbucks Artisan Bacon, Egg & Gouda Breakfast Sandwich

As a non-coffee drinker, I’ve never had a particularly close relationship with Starbucks.  I know many of you reading this have connected with them in a deep, meaningful way I’ll never truly understand, like the bond between a man and his dog, or occasionally his wife.  I admire that, but there’s no reason for me to pay three dollars for a small hot chocolate when Swiss Miss is free at work.  (With OR without marshmallows!)  That being said, I don’t have anything against Starbucks, beyond the vaguely sinister-looking logo.  Their willingness to keep charging high prices in the midst of a massive recession was ballsy to the point of being almost endearing, and they really know how to tie a Barnes & Noble together.

So when they recently began offering Artisan breakfast sandwiches, I seized on it as a way to join the java junkies and really get the full Starbucks experience.  There are currently two varieties of sandwiches — I chose Bacon, Egg & Gouda because the soul is what makes it taste good, but those who claim dominion over plants but not yummy, yummy animals have their own option with Veggie, Egg, & Monterey Jack.  Vegans, sorry to say, are S.O.L.; apparently that’s a demographic Starbucks feels they can do without, at least until they roll out their Lentils, Gravel & Soy sandwich next quarter.  What makes it “Artisan” is the use of fresh ciabatta bread, which has the dual quality of being fun to say and automatically adding a dollar to the price.

All kidding aside, the bread IS good.  I would’ve been fine with just a biscuit because that’s the kind of low-brow guy I am, but it smells delicious and manages to be crispy but not hard on the outside and soft on the inside.  You may rest assured your barista isn’t just slapping some stale wonder bread left over from her kid’s lunch on your plate.  (Well, maybe yours is.  Perhaps you should consider tipping more than a buck every third visit, hmm?)  It’s also offset well by the bacon, which isn’t spilling out every side but still manages to seem pretty plentiful.  That’s key, because a common lament of food that aspires toward being more gourmet (even just a little) is that they tend to bolster the quality of the ingredients at the expense of quantity, with meat often being the first casualty.  You’re not going to feel like you’re eating a whole pig, but he’ll know you were there, by God.

Starbucks Artisan Bacon, Egg & Gouda Breakfast Sandwich Half

The cheese also comes through in a big way, partnering with the bacon to make your mouth salivate even as somewhere the Grim Reaper knocks another three pegs off your “Days ’till first heart attack” tally.  If any element is underrepresented, it would have to be the egg.  There’s nothing wrong with it, it just doesn’t pack nearly the smell or the taste of its more aggressive sandwich-mates.  And you can’t really blame this on Starbucks (okay, maybe the barista), but when I broke it in half, all of the bacon and most of the egg ended up on one side, which is kind of like having a rollicking threesome with Scarlett Johansson and Cloris Leachman — yes, technically it’s still a threesome, but you’re really better off just splitting the difference.

A final word of caution — the pictures make it hard to judge scale, but these are not massive sandwiches.  The bread is roughly five by five inches, so think of it more as a tasty mini-meal to help you power through a morning of inane coworker babble, rather than something that’s going to enable you to skip lunch.  (That’s what the schnapps in your lower left desk drawer is for.  Don’t worry, your boss doesn’t know.  Yet.)  If it were a little larger and a little cheaper I’d be able to recommend it even more highly, but as is, it’s still delicious.  Anyone used to paying Starbucks prices already probably won’t mind, but if you’re strictly a Dunkin’ Donuts kind of person, this is not the largest quantity of food you could get for your money.  Though from what I understand, pairing it with a 12-ounce coffee will net you a pretty good discount on both, so… yep, hosed again.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 sandwich – 350 calories, 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 170 milligrams of cholesterol, 840 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar and 17 grams of protein.)

Item: Starbucks Artisan Bacon, Egg & Gouda Breakfast Sandwich
Price: $3.45 ($3.95 w/ 12 oz. coffee)
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Starbucks
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Non-coffee drinkers have a reason to visit Starbucks.  Enhancing Barnes & Nobles.  Sandwich options for both conscienceless murderers and hippie wimps.  Smells as good as it tastes.  Does not skimp on bacon.  Hiding booze at work.
Cons: Illuminati logo.  Vegans shafted again.  Damn well better be gourmet for what you’re paying.  Gross threesomes.  Only a full breakfast if you weigh 110 pounds.

NEWS: Starbucks New Trenta Size To Make Long Company Meeting Attendees Regret Ordering It

Starbucks Coffee

You won’t be able to get hot Starbucks coffee in the new 31-ounce Trenta size, just iced coffee, iced tea and iced tea lemonade drinks. Yes, that’s a lot of iced coffee, iced tea or iced tea lemonade to drink. So if you’re planning to tackle a Trenta when it comes to your town, might I suggest training your bladder until then with 32-ounce Big Gulps.

The Trenta is seven ounces larger than Starbucks’ previous largest size — the Venti. Moving up in size and expanding your bladder a bit more will cost about 50 cents more than the Venti.

The Trenta size will debut today in 14 states, including this rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and in California on February 1. (Updated: It appears the Trenta cups haven’t arrived to this rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Stupid ships!) Starbucks will roll out the bladder-busting size in all of its coffee shops by May 3.

REVIEW: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Vanilla Flavored Coffee

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Vanilla Flavored Coffee

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.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Vanilla Flavored Coffee Powder

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 – 1 packet (16g) – 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
Price: $6.95
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.