Thinking Tech

How fast can Starbucks VIA replace real coffee?

How fast can Starbucks VIA replace real coffee?

Posting in Science

Not too terribly terrible, actually. I'd use less water for a stronger blend, and I'd make sure it was boiling before a pour, but it tasted like Starbuck's. Especially with the half n' half.

There was a crowd at my local Costco today, despite it being Week 4 of the NFL season.

The crowd was packed into a small corner between the butter and the yogurt. After a long detour to fill out my list I discovered it was a free taste of Starbucks' new VIA instant coffee.

Members of the Larry Dignan Marching & Chowder Society know all about VIA. They also know the market's instant reaction was "feh."

In the name of science, and Smartplanet readers, I decided to make the sacrifice of my taste buds in your cause, and hopped in line.

The sampler was making full pours into Starbucks' tall paper cups, and happy campers were walking off like happy morning latte sippers everywhere.

The reason our sampler was where she was soon became clear. She was conveniently located next to the Half n Half, which Mr. Costco offers only in those convenient quart bottles. They were flowing like Monday morning.  Everyone knows Starbuck's is just an excuse to drink cream.

I watched her process closely. Each VIA comes in a foil pouch, long and thin like a fancy sugar. She cut the pouch, poured in every last grain, then filled each cup with hot water nearly to the rim. The crowd was pressing her hard, like a downtown barista at 7:45 AM. The bottleneck was the time it took to heat the water. We weren't all waiting for it to boil.

And what was my verdict? Not too terribly terrible, actually. I'd use less water for a stronger blend, and I'd make sure it was boiling before a pour, but it tasted like Starbuck's. Especially with the half n' half. (And sugar -- gotta have sugar.)

I can easily see a law firm partner treating the staff to a box of this stuff after a tough case. At 65 cents a cup this would have to be a member of the plaintiff's bar.

It's true this isn't your father's instant. And while it's not like what comes from your local barista it's not so far off, If you're hundreds of miles from a real Starbuck's you can fool yourself (if the half n' half holds out.)

I can easily see this being served at Montana dude ranches on a cold summer morning, or placed on the tray in a room at the Ritz Carlton, moving down-market from there. Salesmen may see a box under the tree on Christmas morning. A 65 cent cup of instant takes an awful lot of rationalization. This won't take the market by storm.

But it's not half bad...

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure