In a world where everyone is on the go, coffee has become a staple. Just about everyone — from commuters and college students to stay-at-home moms — needs their morning caffeine fix. Not everyone has the time to mess with coffee makers, however – hence the birth of instant coffee.
In 1938, Nescafe became the first instant coffee to gain wide popularity. Offering a longer shelf life and faster preparation times, it was an instant hit. Today, nearly every coffee brand has some sort of instant coffee on the market; tens of dozens of varieties are available.
The problem with instant coffee, however, is it is often of much lower quality than its conventionally prepared brother and has a bitter, grainy taste. Consequently, it has never caught on with the majority of consumers.
Starbucks aims to change that. In late February, they announced the launch of VIA Ready Brew, a foray into a market traditionally avoided by premium coffee companies.
VIA is for those who like a good cup of coffee now and then, but don't have time or the equipment to make one. You might drink it on the way to work, during a break at the office, or on a camping trip. Priced at $9.95 for a pack of twelve, it is recession-priced to boot. Though the product has been in planning for years, there is no doubt Starbucks is looking for a way to regain customers lost to the economic downturn.
Does VIA fit the bill? At nearly $1.00 per serving, it is expensive, but significantly cheaper than the real thing at Starbucks. It is also conveniently packed in a little pouch for easy transport. VIA comes in two varieties: a bold Italian Roast, and a medium Colombia. Starbucks sent me samples of both to review.
I tried my first cup of Italian Roast. Making the coffee was as simple as pouring the pouch of microgrounds into a mug and adding hot water; very convenient indeed. Stirring in the grounds, I was immediately hit with a strong aroma of coffee beans. The coffee itself tasted very good.
I was pleasantly surprised with the robust flavor, which was very similar to the real Italian Roast at Starbucks, albeit a bit weaker. You might be able to pass it off as the real thing to the casual coffee drinker, but true connoisseurs won't be fooled. I tested the Colombia with similar results. The flavor was very bold and reminiscent of Starbucks, but not quite the real thing. This difference in taste was very subtle with both varieties, but they were full of flavor and better than most conventionally brewed coffee.
Given the fact that VIA is competitively priced compared to traditional Starbucks brew and it is so convenient, I consider it to be a viable alternative. It won't replace brewed coffee any time soon, but it is perfect for the market the company is trying to target. VIA provides good tasting, quality coffee on the go.
Would I replace my whole bean Starbucks with VIA? Probably not. Would I drink VIA again? Definitely. The next time I take a trip, rather than rely on the coffee at the hotel, I will probably pack a few packs of VIA. Starbucks has introduced significant innovation to the instant coffee market and developed a product that rivals many traditional coffees, however, I am too picky to put my coffee maker in the closet just yet.
VIA Ready Brew is currently only obtainable at Starbucks locations in Chicago, Seattle, and London. Later on, it will become available at all locations. Those wanting to buy it now will have to go online. Packs of twelve servings are priced at $9.95, and a six-pack and tumbler combination is also available for $21.95. Both the Italian Roast and Colombia varieties are available.