Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

This was an unexpected early morning for me since my younger daughter woke up hungry at 3:45am and was yelling "cracker, cracker, cracker". I blew through my 2 monster mugs of French Press coffee, but I was still walking around like a zombie. Last week my wife came home with a few samples of the new Starbucks VIA instant coffee, so I figured it would give me some additional caffeine.

VIA instant coffee is a result of years of R&D to come up with a way of grinding their beans in a way to supposedly preserve the oils and flavor of their coffee. In a nutshell, it is their coffee beans ground to a superfine powder that dissolves to make a cup of coffee.

To be fair, I made the VIA in exactly the same manner as I use to make French press coffee to now skew the results. First I boil the water for the coffee and once the electric kettle shuts off, I let it rest for 50 seconds to allow the water to cool enough to avoid scalding the coffee, but hot enough to get the full taste.

I made a cup using the Italian Roast coffee packet. The taste is very similar to what you'd get from the Starbucks store. It tastes burnt just like the real thing. Why can't they roast their beans in a way so that they won't get burnt? I don't know if they buy crappy beans and have to roast the crap out of them to cover up the bad beans, but all I taste is burnt coffee. They do make a Columbia medium roast as well, so I'll report back after I have a chance to try that.

The interesting thing is that the instant coffee tastes so similar to the store made coffee. The grinding process for the instant coffee seems to be a success, but they are still using an inferior coffee. To use the old computer nerd analogy: garbage in / garbage out. If they were able to produce good coffee beans, I bet that the instant version would be decent.

The only use that I'd consider purchasing this for would be backpacking. In that context, I have a few requirements: a jolt of caffeine, light weight, easy clean up, and minimal waste. This coffee meets all of the requirements. I made a trip last summer to the Goat Rocks area of the Cascade Mountain range and brought tea bags along. While the tea is a decent option, I still have to package it to bring it along and then have to pack out a soggy tea bag. The nice thing about the Starbucks instant is that it is in a self contained package that could get wet and not compromise the contents as well as having very minimal garbage to pack out. I'm not interested in pursuing a world class cup of joe when I'm out backpacking. The trip itself is enough to satisfy me and I'm not about to add extra weight to my pack to get a good cup of coffee.

If you are a backpacker, this will probably suit your needs assuming that you can live with the store made Starbucks coffee.