Instant coffee has long been the scourge of coffee aficionados worldwide. Often made from poor quality beans, it’s notorious for its subtle taste and aroma of burnt grass clippings. Now, Starbucks, the evil entity responsible for turning middle class America into a hoard of mindless coffee snobs, has tried their hand at making an instant coffee that doesn’t sacrifice quality for speed.
Let’s go with good news first on this one. For starters, Starbucks VIA manages not to taste like the underside of your lawnmower; the flavor was bitterer and less full than a traditional brew, but I just can’t bring myself to say that it was awful. Unfortunately, that is the end of the good news.
The problems here aren’t so much Starbucks’ doing; they are simply flaws inherent in all instant coffees. Despite popular belief, instant coffee isn’t just made of coffee beans ground within an inch of their lives. Rather, it’s actually brewed coffee that has been dehydrated and crystallized — a process which, to say the least, is not conducive to flavor preservation. The good people at Starbucks realize that this process basically ruins their coffee; therefore, instead of wasting their best berries, they use lower quality beans to begin with. This compounds the flavor problem and leads to uneven caffeine content, which left me feeling jittery for hours — a problem I rarely experience with conventional brew.
While VIA was certainly not as woeful as expected, it was a noticeable step down from the real deal. It isn’t really any faster to boil up some water than it is to run the coffee pot. At $1.33 a pop, it’s pretty pricey; and since each packet is only good for 8 oz, you’ll need two to fill up that travel mug. In the end, you’re much better off investing in a real coffee pot, or better yet, popping your head into Java Wally’s and avoiding the Starbucks goliath altogether.