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Starbucks, long the bastion of gourmet, fresh-brewed coffee, took a bold new step last year when they introduced their newest product – Via Instant Coffee.
The product is the brain child of Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has long championed the cause of a water soluble Starbucks coffee. In fact, according to some reports, the push to finish development on VIA was part of his agreement to return to heading up the coffee company.
The quest for instant coffee isn’t a new one for Starbucks. The coffee giant started pursuing it back in the late 1980s. It was a Holy Grail for Starbucks research and development head Don Valencia, who was hired by Schultz to start the R&D department. Valencia never saw his dream become reality, but the new Starbucks instant coffee (though they don’t call it “instant”, thanks! It’s soluble, microground coffee) pays homage to him anyway – VIA is taken from the first and last two letters of his last name.
VIA was introduced on February 17, 2009 in three markets – London, Chicago and Seattle – where it is sold in Starbucks stores, as well as in Costco and Target stores. For a short time, Starbucks let people order free samples online, but the demand was so high that the company ran out and suspended the free sample program. For right now, if you want to try a cup of Starbucks VIA, you have to travel to London, Chicago or Seattle – or have a friend who lives there and is willing to ship some out to you.
The question is – is it worth the trouble? The videos on the Starbucks website are uniformly positive, of course – but how about independent taste testers? The taste reviews for Starbucks VIA is mixed, but trends toward the positive. Every reviewer agrees on one thing – VIA is definitely a cut above your usual cup of instant coffee. It lives up to the Starbucks VIA ad line – “not your mother’s instant coffee” – with plenty of room to spare. Most reviewers also agree that VIA isn’t quite as good as fresh-brewed Starbucks. One compared it to “slightly stale regular coffee” which doesn’t sound all that appealing until you compare it with the typical instant coffee sold on supermarket shelves.
Obviously, Starbucks’ VIA isn’t meant for in-store consumption or aimed at the gourmet market. Instead, it’s aimed at those who want a taste of Starbucks when they can’t get to a coffee shop. The lightweight little packets tuck easily into purses, pockets, desk drawers and rucksacks so that you can brew up a coffee wherever you have access to hot water. That makes it ideal for the days that you’re stuck at your desk working on a deadline, or to pack along on a camping or hiking trip.
VIA is available in 3-packs for $2.99 and 12-packs for $9.99 – or just about a dollar a cup – expensive for instant coffee, but not for a Starbucks coffee. You can buy it in Columbian or Italian Roast, and enjoy it guilt-free because all coffee used for VIA is ethically sourced.