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.

8 thoughts to “REVIEW: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Vanilla Flavored Coffee”

  1. I am not usually a fan of Starbucks coffee at all but I did get to try the Iced Coffee VIA and that was great, not so much a fan of hot coffee. Hopefully they make a iced coffee flavored cause that would be worth it to me.

  2. I bought the regular VIA on sale a few weeks ago and used it for baking instead of espresso powder. I made triple chocolate espresso cookies and they rocked the planet (that’s what caused all those snowstorms).

    So yeah, I think that’s the only other valid reason for instant coffee. Baking.

    I have a few of the little packages left. I might make the cookies again (it makes the cookies very expensive). I might also use it, as you said, to make an emergency cup of coffee on the road or at the office (but we have awesome coffee at our office – so the machine would have to be broken).

  3. Worrying about small businesses being edged out by big chains is not necessarily a bad thing, but what is bad is how few people do what needs to be done to keep those stores around. That is, they don’t patronize them often because they are also expensive. People need to talk with their wallets, but they’d rather just whine about Wal-mart and Starbucks while not shopping at the small places they want to see continue to exist.

    In Japan, that sort of knee-jerk rejection of something because it is popular and omnipresent doesn’t happen. They don’t hate Starbucks because it displaces other businesses and is popular. They hate it because Starbucks doesn’t allow smoking. 😉

  4. I work at Starbucks, and Via isn’t that bad..but not something I would choose to drink over a cup of fresh brewed Cafe’ Verona. The thing i like about Via is the mobility factor. I took it on a cruise and it def beat their coffee. Also, a lot of customers bring it camping, hunting or fishing.
    I don’t think Starbucks has killed small espresso stands.. It gave them the ability to sell a mocha for 4.00.
    I’ve worked at Starbucks for 3 years and it’s def not something I want to do forever..but they do work hard to make there employees (partners) happy.
    You only have to work 20hrs a week to receive full medical/dental/eye insurance.
    I got a 500.00 check as a college reimbursement.
    You get a free lb. of coffee a week.
    Free coffee before,after, and on your breaks.
    150.00 holiday bonus.
    And many other programs to assist you in tough or difficult times..

    As in every company, profit is a guiding principal..and Starbucks just happens to be really good at it.

  5. I was never an instant coffee fan, but I swear by VIA (Italian Roast) at work. As you mentioned, office coffee is the worst, and mine is no exception. I also like really strong coffee and ours is basically brown water. The VIA packets aren’t perfect, but compared to the alternative, it’s amazing. I could get a french press and brew coffee at my desk like some coworkers, but that just seems overly complicated. The iced version is also really good – I make it with water and milk, and it’s pretty damn awesome.

  6. I stayed with my Grandmother for a week many years ago in between jobs and all she had in the house was instant decaf *shudder* what’s the point? And no wine of any sort.

    I was sooooo happy to get down to my Aunt’s place where they were throwing a big barbecue and had a real pot of coffee brewed in the morning.

    I may have to look into these for camping, since the campstove percolator thingy is a bit hit and miss.

  7. I am a small specialty coffee roaster in Colorado and not a huge fan of Starbucks. We specialize in Flavored Coffee and support the independent coffee house across America. Starbucks has obviously dominated the coffee culture and put a lot of mom & pops under with their big product launches and cutting edge marketing. Especially with the inclusion of instant coffee I must admit it is actually pretty good. But this does not compare to the quality that we micro small batch roasters are able to provide a far more superior product than Starbucks. But what do suburbia housewifes know about real gourmet roasted coffee. Anyway here’s one for the small operator !!

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