April 6, 2009

Starbucks Via Instant and Microground Coffee Review


Starbucks launched the Via instant coffee about a month ago to great fanfare a semi interested public but left a lot of people scratching their heads asking Why? Starbucks kept pushing insisting it was different than other instants in that it is finally the first instant that is good. Well by most accounts they were half eight - it is unlike other instants.

The idea behind Starbucks Via is that you can mix soluble instant coffee (just like most other instants) with micro ground coffee beans that will provide extra boat and flavor. Technically this is no small feat and according to Starbucks they were working on this for a decade. When grinding that much heat build up can be a concern which can cause all kinds of unwanted changes essentially ruining what you just created in the roaster.

I ordered up a couple of packs of each of the Colombian and the Italian Roast for this review. They arrived weeks ahead of my free sample that I ordered at the same time (which just arrived last week) so I think that people are just getting around to trying Via now.

To make Via just dump it in the cup and add 8 ounces of hot water. Simple enough. The result is really unimpressive when compared to other "at home" options. The up front flavor is clean and reasonable but there is a watery and unimpressive finish that tastes like a thin cup of brewed coffee cut 50/50 with water. Its almost like taking that last swig of iced tea in the summertime when all of the ice cubes melted - some flavor there just not enough. I like the Italian Roast over the Colombian but that's my flavor preference for a stronger cup.

Making A Reasonable Cup with Via

Not deterred by my disappointment I tried a lot of combinations, with sugar, then milk, then both and finally cutting the water down. The combination that I landed on was one that I could live with and gave me a reasonable cup of coffee. I used one Italian Roast and one Colombian and added about 10 ounces of water then a full complement of milk and sugar. The milk and sugar added enough body to help make the cup reasonable while the combination of the two coffee types added a bit of complexity to make it interesting and more multifaceted. Starbucks pitches this as an additional coffee occasion, like on a "Road Trip", "After Lunch", on a "Soccer Sideline" that clearly screams - "Don't Cannibalize the Latte Business!" For this stuff, it works; it is not a replacement for a latte or espresso. It's suitable as a replacement for mediocre brewed coffee when concentrated.

This served me well and offered a way to go through the pack while enjoying the coffee on a daily basis at work.

You say "Micro Ground" I say "Grit"

The one byproduct of the micro-ground coffee bean technology is the grit that is left at the bottom of the cup. I use a black mug at work, so the residual grounds don't show up, but in this picture of the grounds left over in a white mug, you get the idea. It's almost like drinking drip coffee when someone uses the gold metal filters that let the silt through; yea, like that. You can't detect the grit when drinking, but the leftovers will reveal the magic of the micro ground coffee if left hanging around.


Review Summary

Overall, I was skeptical of the ability of Via to provide a good cup of coffee; I mean come on, instant? In the end Via can make a decent cup of coffee, not awesome, but decent, and that's better than the alternative sometimes. The issue is that I need two of the packets and only about 10-ounces of water to get that decent cup. Without shipping charges on the stuff, that's $1.60 a cup to me, using two packets. To me the value equation is off, and compared to the other coffee alternatives, I would rather stick with those around me. So, if you want Via, I'll say that one can get a decent cup of coffee; but not by following the directions as it will be just too weak. I'll run through my final packets, and say goodbye to Via.

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Posted by Scott Martin at April 6, 2009 7:43 AM
Recent Comments

After not being able to drink coffee for almost 50 years, I am thrilled to find that I can drink VIA. Have not used it daily, but for a special treat. Can make 2 cups with one pack. Use cream and either maple syrup or raw sugar like they serve at Starbucks.

The girls at Starbucks said because of the way it is processed, the acid content is different.

Don't know how long I can continue, but will enjoy it as long as possible.

Posted by: Jo at February 25, 2010 12:18 PM

The VIA is wonderful for Quick Ice Coffee (add two packs to full water bottle or 1 pack to 2/3 water bottle along with sugar and milk) and perfect for flights and hotel stays.

VIA is not meant to replace the standard Starbucks Coffee but as for an alternative when your on the go and not near a Starbucks.

Posted by: Mike at October 20, 2009 2:40 AM

Perfect for camping / backpacking!

Posted by: anonymous at October 19, 2009 1:02 AM

Starbucks is very much a brand in deep trouble. I too was extremely disappointed with this instant coffee and would rather drink tea. It is weak, gritty and just a horrible coffee that is not worthy of Starbucks.

Posted by: Rich Meyer at April 6, 2009 11:01 AM
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