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.

REVIEW: Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee

Update: Click here to read our review of the caramel version

There’s only one problem with the Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee — I can’t watch a cute barista make it for me.

Unless I steal a Starbucks employee apron and make one for myself in front of a mirror; or I kidnap a cute Starbucks employee and have her brew one for me.

If I do decide to abduct a hot barista, I won’t have her captive for long because making a Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee is quick and extremely simple. All the barista would have to do is rub the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again. Oh wait, I meant to write, it pours the packet into 16 ounces of cold water, stirs and then adds in ice cubes, up to four, or else it gets the hose once more.

When I made one myself, I had to vigorously stir for about 45 seconds to completely dissolve the coffee. You can also pour the packet into a bottle of water and shake it like you’re trying to get rid of your flabby underarms with a Shake Weight.

Each packet contains instant and microground arabica coffee and cane sugar, and it’s bigger than the original Starbucks VIA instant hot coffee packet. I didn’t know anything about arabica coffee, so I decided to do a quick Wikipedia search.

I discovered the coffee gets its name because it’s indigenous to the mountains of Yemen in the Arabian Peninsula, and not from one of the places the Beach Boys sang of in their song “Kokomo.” However, while it originates from Yemen, the arabica coffee is from Colombia.

The flavor of the iced coffee tastes almost like the Colombia Starbucks VIA Ready Brew, which is also made with arabica coffee. However, unlike the hot version, the iced version is lightly sweetened with cane sugar, which made it easier for me to drink. Of course, you can add any amount of your favorite sweetener to it or perhaps pour milk from your favorite animal teat. So far, I prefer mine with an ounce of vanilla milk from a soy teat.

I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee, because I’m not much of a coffee drinker. It doesn’t have a bold flavor, which if it did, would probably turn me off, instead it’s quite smooth and refreshing. And it also gave me a nice energy boost. Go coffee!

I see myself buying the Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee on a regular basis because I’m getting Starbucks iced coffee without the Starbucks iced coffee price. Sure, it would be nice if a cute barista also came inside the box and if I didn’t have to wait for water to freeze before I can put ice cubes in it, but I really love its combination of flavor, price, the fact it’s easy to make and its versatility. Since I’m able to add whatever I want, I could mix the instant iced coffee with chocolate sauce, milk and ice in a blender and make myself a mocha Frappuccino.

Or kidnap a cute Starbucks barista to make it for me.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/2 packet (13.3 grams) – 50 calories, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 0 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 11 grams of sugar and 0 grams of protein)

Read other Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee reviews:
Drink What
Orange County Register
Pulpconnection
Possessed by Caffeine
Coffee Cup News (YouTube)
Wandering Foodie (YouTube)

Item: Starbucks VIA Iced Coffee
Price: $5.95
Size: 5-pack
Purchased at: A Starbucks inside of a Safeway that’s inside of a shopping center
Rating: 10 out of 10
Pros: Very good. Inexpensive when compared with regular Starbucks. Easy to drink. Lightly sweetened. Easy to make. Versatile. Gave me a boost of energy. Shake Weight commercials.
Cons: Takes a lot of vigorous stirring to make the coffee dissolve completely. Doesn’t come with a cute barista. Coffee purists may not like it. Waiting for water to freeze. Kidnapping people.

REVIEW: Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe

Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe

It seems like the holiday season came and went faster than an unsuspecting family who hoped to pick up a pet rabbit at the infamous Nevada establishment known as the Moonlite BunnyRanch. After trying to find a proper place to dispose of your Christmas tree or Hanukkah bush, it’s time to go through your loot and decide what you’re going to keep, what you’re going to regift and what is heading back to store.

When I received the Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe, I was happy. However, I wasn’t as excited as I was Christmas 1993 when I received an amazing 16-bit gaming console known as the Sega Genesis. But needless to say, over the years I’ve become jaded, bitter and a crotchety woman. That is, of course, if I don’t have my coffee. Once I have at least one cup in my system I’m ready for the day.

The Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe seemed like it was the perfect countertop machine for me because I love the icy treats from Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, but I’m cheaper than an elderly man who insists on getting senior citizen discounts at the Moonlite BunnyRanch. In fact, I’m so cheap that when I found out Dunkin’ Donuts gives senior discounts, I was tempted to buy a Wilfred Brimley mask and go to the nearest location so that I could get my coffee fix for 50 cents cheaper. But I didn’t because I’m too cheap to buy the mask.

The Cafe Frappe is pretty easy to operate; after the coffee brews, you add two cups of ice, milk and whatever else your caffeine-powered heart desires. The pitcher makes one large serving or two smaller servings, but that is if the unit works. After making my first frappe (a coffee and mint concoction with chocolate soy milk) and cleaning the pitcher, the machine would not turn on again.

Nothing that a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond couldn’t fix, right?

Wrong.

Apparently this smoothie coffee maker hybrid was the hot item this year for people who buy random kitchen appliances and use them once. So a gift turned into a hunt to find a Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe within a 50-mile radius. After finally finding one, I was able to make unique and sinful frappes like The Lady Godiva, which is tiramisu flavored coffee and a few shots of Godiva chocolate liqueur. The Cafe Frappe is a great machine to impress party guests, but it would take a lot of time to make enough for a group of people, like all of the women one can choose from at the Moonlite BunnyRanch.

Just like that Snoopy Sno-Cone Machine I had when I was just a wee little girl, I’m sure the novelty of the Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe will wear off and become the coffee lover’s version of the Margaritaville Margarita Maker, Power Juicer and every As Seen on TV appliance.

Item: Mr. Coffee Cafe Frappe
Price: Received as gift but retails for $79.95
Purchased at: Bed Bath & Beyond
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Easy to set up. Easy to make. Coming up with your own recipes that Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts can’t make due to legal reasons. Wilfred Brimley Masks. Sega Genesis.
Cons: Quality of the machine isn’t the best. Doesn’t make a large quantity of frozen delicious beverages. No College Student Discount at Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. Driving around to return gifts.

NEWS: Cold Stone Creamery Jumps on the Iced Coffee Bandwagon With a Sweet Litter of Beverages

Last week, Cold Stone Creamery began selling iced and blended coffees made with its proprietary ice cream mixes in five flavors that sound like members of an all-girl pop group: Sweet Cream Latte (the cute one), Vanilla Creme Latte (the shy one), Milk Caramel Latte (the sporty one), Rich Mocha Latte (the spoiled one) and Raspberry Truffle Mocha Latte (the bad one). Each beverage is also topped with whipped cream and decorative sweets, from raspberry to caramel.

These caffeinated coffee drinks sound decadent and they probably are. So if you don’t want to feel guilty after consuming one of these, you can either not drink them or order the “light” versions of them, which use skim milk and have a third less calories.

They will be available at all Cold Stone locations nationwide starting at $1.99 for a limited time. Also, don’t forget, if you leave something in the tip jar they will probably sing to you while making it. And if you take something from the tip jar you will have a little more money to spend.

REVIEW: Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee Cinnamon Dulce Energy Drink

As I type this, my heart is beating faster than usual.

It could be the 146 milligrams of caffeine I just consumed with the Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee Cinnamon Dulce Energy Drink. Or it could be the alluring eyes and flowing hair of the twin-tailed siren in the Starbucks logo that is making my heart flutter and drawing me towards her to, perhaps, lead me to my watery grave or to wait in line at one of her stores to spend five dollars on a coffee made lovingly by a cute barista named Jennifer.

No! I must not give into her come-hither looks or else I will either end up in Davy Jones’s Locker or waste ten minutes of my life waiting in line listening to compilations of musicians that I have never heard of for a cup of coffee or a bottle Ethos Water.

Why, twin-tailed siren, must the company you represent make delicious, pricey coffee beverages? Why couldn’t you have represented a company that I wouldn’t have any contact with, like an inferior fish company on the East Coast or Circuit City?

I consumed an entire can of the Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee Cinnamon Dulce Energy Drink. Does my ingestion of a creamy Starbucks product not satisfy you, she-fish? I even enjoyed it and it gave me such a good boost of energy that if there was a rickshaw nearby, I would be pulling it to wherever the caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and B Vitamins desired.

The red cinnamon and white vanilla made it feel like someone was celebrating Christmas in my mouth. It had a nice balance of cinnamon and vanilla, but together they did not make the coffee flavor their bitch, unlike what you’re doing to me with your cleavage between your flowing locks. I think they’re natural, but I must not look to find out if they’re real or else you will lure me into the underwater world of Snorkland or convince me purchase a Starbucks Rewards Card so that I can get two free consecutive hours of Wi-Fi every day.

What will it take for you to leave me alone and not convince me to drink more of your caffeinated beverages today, Starbucks logo? Tell me, fair maiden, so that I may bid you adieu.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 can – 200 calories, 3 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 170 milligrams of sodium, 770 milligrams of potassium, 33 grams of carbs, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 28 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein, 8% Vitamin A, 50% Vitamin C, 40% Calcium, 20% Vitamin D, 200% Riboflavin, 200% Niacin, 200% Vitamin B6, 100% Vitamin B12, 2000 milligrams of maltodextrin, 1800 milligrams of taurine, 450 milligrams of L-carnitine, 180 milligrams of inositol, 325 milligrams of panax ginseng, and 90 milligrams of guarana.)

(Editor’s Note: Look for this flavor in stores sometime in February. Thanks to the nice PR folks who sent this to us. Also, we reviewed the original Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee Energy Drinks last year.)

Item: Starbucks Doubleshot Energy + Coffee Cinnamon Dulce Energy Drink
Price: FREE (Retails for $2.59)
Size: 15 ounces
Purchased at: From nice PR people
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: It’s like Christmas in my mouth. Nice balance of cinnamon and vanilla, which doesn’t overpower the coffee. 146 milligrams of sweet, sweet caffeine gave me a good boost. No high fructose corn syrup. The Snorks.
Cons: Pricey (but isn’t everything from Starbucks). It’s 15 ounces and not 16 ounces. The alluring eyes, flowing hair, and cleavage of the twin-tailed siren in the Starbucks logo. Ending up in Davy Jones’s Locker.

Jack in the Box Caramel Iced Coffee

Coffee superpower Starbucks has made a significant impact in the world. For some, it’s hard to imagine a world without Starbucks, so for those people I’ll use my imagination to give them an idea of it would be like. Without Starbucks, people wouldn’t spend days of their lives waiting in line for something called a Frappuccino; the term “Starbucks Run” wouldn’t exist, except in Battlestar Galactica; Borders and Barnes & Noble book stores would have more room for books; and we wouldn’t have mediocre iced coffee drinks from fast food restaurants that want to hitch onto the Starbucks coffee train, like the Jack in the Box Caramel Iced Coffee.

Flavored iced coffee was created for people who say they love coffee, but put so much cream and/or sugar in it that it turns the coffee into something that’s culinarily considered a dessert. I expected Jack in the Box to eventually come out with their own take on iced coffee, since both McDonald’s and Burger King each introduced an iced coffee within the past year.

It’s like these three fast food establishments are playing a game with consumers called Fat Fuck that involves one of them introducing a product and the others coming up with a variation of it, hoping that patrons will try all of them and choose the better one, which in turn causes the consumer to eat fast food more than they should, turning them into a fat fuck. It’s like the opposite of The Biggest Loser.

The Jack in the Box Caramel Iced Coffee, made from a blend of French roast coffee, had probably the least amount of caramel flavor legally possible before you can’t call it “caramel,” because I could hardly taste it. That lack of flavor made the beverage significantly more bitter than sweet, so it tasted pretty much like a normal iced coffee, which is another flavor Jack in the Box offers, along with vanilla. I tried the caramel one at two different Jack in the Box locations and both of them had an extremely light caramel flavor. Perhaps the only item that stands out about the Jack in the Box Caramel Iced Coffee is its inexpensive price, which makes Starbucks look like Neiman Marcus.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 ounces – 90 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 1 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 55 milligrams of sodium, 250 milligrams of potassium, 17 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 16 grams of sugar, 4 grams of protein, and one more fast food chain trying to hitch onto the Starbucks train.)

(Editor’s Note: Thanks to TIB reader Molly for suggesting to subject my taste buds to this mediocre iced coffee.)

Item: Jack in the Box Caramel Iced Coffee
Price: $2.19 ($1.69 at most other JITB)
Size: 16 ounces
Purchased at: Jack in the Box
Rating: 4 out of 10
Pros: Inexpensive. Low fat. It’s cold. Ice cubes. 90 calories for 16 ounces. It comes in a cup. Putting it on my nipples will give me a wonderful sensation.
Cons: Extremely light caramel flavor. Not for those who like their iced coffee to be more sweet than bitter. The efforts of fast food companies to hitch a ride on the Starbucks train. Playing Fat Fuck. The word Frappuccino.