Fearing Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee and My Solution

In February 2009, Starbucks launched their own instant coffee called VIA. At that time you could sign up to have a free sample mailed to you. Even though I home roast coffee, I have always suspected it might be possible to make a decent instant coffee. However, I feared Starbucks would fumble the project. But, I had to know, so I completed the form to receive my sample VIA.

My free samples sat around my kitchen for months. Each time I thought about trying them, I looked over at my outstanding coffee and couldn’t go through with it. One day I would run out of the good stuff and then I would try the Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee. That day never seemed to come, because as soon as I’d run out of the good stuff, I’d head out and acquire more outstanding coffee. Would I ever try the VIA?

Starbucks VIA
starbucks via by Debbie R

Then I finally broke through my fear and tried the Colombia. I expected something horrific, but it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either. It was OK. In other words, it exceeded my expectations. Would I ever buy (or take another free sample) while living in Seattle? Absolutely not. Would I consume a cup if I was in the middle of nowhere? Yes, I would. Although Starbucks did a commendable job with the Colombia, I still fear trying the Italian Roast VIA sample. I’ll quit coffee before subjecting myself to that burnt blend.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Instant & Microground Colombia Coffee (3 Instant Servings)
Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Instant & Microground Colombia Coffee (3 Instant Servings)

In September 2009, Starbucks had the official national roll out of the Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee. The story Starbucks pushed was that this was the economical alternative to cafe coffee. From Starbucks unveils its instant brew on CNN Money:

Via is sold in packs of three cup-sized servings for $2.95 or $9.95 for a 12 pack. That makes for a cost of $1 per cup, which is Starbucks’ cheapest option.

This works out to between 82 and 98 cents a cup for bland coffee. Now it is easy to beat this per cup price via home roasting or even simple home brewing, but instant coffee shouldn’t be compared to the more labor intensive methods of coffee preparation. People will drink instant coffee because it is portable and requires nothing more than hot water. To me this sounds more like tea.

Coffee drinkers will often give me a furled eyebrow when I mention my love for quality tea. Then I logically explain to them that tea is very much like coffee. Bad tea and bad coffee are everywhere, but quality exists with both beverages. Canned coffee and bagged tea are the evil offspring of the good stuff.

Jo Sencha Green Tea
Jo Sencha Green Tea

My Jo Sencha tea from Seattle’s Teacup. It cost $2.20 and held 3 steeps (73 cents per large mug). This is a high quality Japanese green tea. Had I brewed it at home the per mug price would have even been lower. Equipment required: a mug, a filter and hot water.

So before my fellow coffee drinkers rush off to buy the Starbucks VIA, consider trying some quality tea instead. A portable filter costs about $10 and tea will keep about 6 months. Tea, even excellent tea, is often less expensive than mediocre coffee. Most tea also holds up to multiple steeps.

My solution is to keep quality coffee at home at all times. On those occasions when you travel and need to pack light, take some quality tea and a filter. You should be able to acquire hot water on the road. If you can’t, pack a kettle too. On really long trips into hostile coffee territory, I could see bringing the Starbucks Colombia VIA. At home, never.

Finum Brewing Medium Basket, Black
Finum Brewing Basket (AMAZON.COM)


Starbucks VIA Colombia 3 pack – Product page on Amazon.

Finum Brewing Medium Basket, Black – Tea Filter product page on Amazon.

Starbucks unveils its instant brew – From CNN Money.

Michael Allen Smith

Michael Allen Smith fell in love with coffee while attending college. Shortly after graduating college, he found himself in the Tampa Bay area far away from the good coffee he had at The Ohio State University. That is when he starting home roasting coffee. Less than a year later in April 1999, he launched the coffee website INeedCoffee.com. INeedCoffee.com has been going strong ever since with hundreds of articles and tutorials submitted by over one hundred contributors.

In 2007, Michael moved to America's coffee capitol Seattle, Washington. He has visited close to three hundred different coffee places in Seattle, Portland,Vancouver and San Francisco and met many of the top roasters and baristas in the country. Since 2009, Michael has been the Organizer of the Coffee Club of Seattle, which is a Meetup group of over 800 coffee enthusiasts. Besides the social aspect of the group, the Coffee Club of Seattle partners with local coffee professionals for educational events such as coffee cuppings, brewing demonstrations and roasting tours.

Unrelated to coffee, Michael has a personal blog at CriticalMAS.com which covers several topics including fitness, cooking and economics.