Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Java Enabled: Better Instant Coffee via... Via

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2009 at 4:30 PM

If you've visited a Starbucks this month, you've seen the huge displays announcing the (much anticipated?) arrival of the company's new instant coffee, Via. Starbucks claims Via is so good that it tastes just like real Starbucks coffee.

Or is it that real Starbucks is so bad that it tastes just like instant coffee?

Cheap shots aside, the intention to make instant coffee palatable is a noble one, so this weekend, I decided to try some Via for myself.

click to enlarge Starbucks Via: Simply add 8 oz. hot water to packet... - ZACH DYER
  • Zach Dyer
  • Starbucks Via: Simply add 8 oz. hot water to packet...
The first thing you notice when you empty the slim packet's contents into your cup is that Via is a powder rather than the usual instant-coffee granules. According to the Starbucks partner from whom I bought it, this "micro-ground" coffee is so fine that it dissolves instantly into hot water. Supposedly, there are no added chemicals, just very, very finely ground coffee.

If you've made instant coffee before, you know proportions are key. One thing Via has going for it is that you can't add too much: Each tiny sleeve contains a single serving. I carefully measured the recommended eight ounces of hot water and poured it over the powdered coffee. Unlike brewed coffee, the Via had almost no nose to it. There was no burst of aromatics like those you smell after breaking the layer of grounds steeping in a French press.

I tried both of the Via blends available: the "extra-bold" Italian roast and the "medium-bodied" Colombian. The Colombian was my favorite of the two -- though not for the reasons you might think. The Italian roast was pretty similar to the Pike's Place blend Starbucks serves as its house coffee. It even had the telltale Starbucks flavor of faint caramel, the result of its full-city roast. But that darker flavor was actually what turned me off. It reminded me too much of how most instant coffees taste -- they try to provide a darker flavor to make up for their inability to bring out the subtler flavors of a lighter roast. I preferred the Colombian not because it was an amazing coffee, but because it tasted so unlike the instant coffee I'd had before.

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