Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

Improved instant coffee

Since learning how to roast my own beans I have come to appreciate the broader art of coffee making. However, I don’t always have time to roast coffee weekly or bring along my burr-grinder and kettle to brew a fresh cup. This is especially the case while camping and travelling.

The best solution I have found for caffeinating while abroad or on the go is Starbucks VIA instant coffee. Unlike the distasteful and often saccharine Nescafe instant coffee (among other brands), VIA tastes like freshly brewed coffee. I recently compared it to fresh brewed Starbucks and found that I actually preferred VIA to the fresher, darker brew (perhaps because food scientists at Starbucks have eliminated the Barista variable).

Not only does the VIA taste better than other instant brands, but it also dissolves better. The fine powder (described in the marketing as soluble micro-grounds) dissolves equally well in cold water as hot, allowing for instant iced coffee in the summer (or when I need to run out the door and don’t have time to wait for the kettle to boil). Each packet is supposed to make a strong 8-oz cup, but I find that it tastes best when diluted in about 12-oz of water.

VIA comes in small foil packets that are very similar to the previously reviewed Smart Spice packets, and like the spices the individual foil packets keep the coffee fresh when compared to the larger containers of instant coffee. The form factor is incredibly small (4 grams per packet) and as such the folks at Backpacking Light swear by it as a replacement for camp coffee.

The only downside to VIA is its expense with each packet costing around 60 cents which when compared to Nescafe’s 12 cents a cup seems a bit costly. However, it’s still cheaper than buying a cup at the coffee shop, and probably on par with how much my beans cost from the store. Finally, I’d recommend that people stay away from the sweetened variety of VIA as they are more expensive, less compact, and not as good as the simpler stuff.

VIA represents a quantum leap in the quality of instant coffee I’ve tried, and I remain blown away that I find myself choosing instant coffee over fresh-brewed stuff. I highly recommend that people set aside any lingering instant coffee prejudice and try a cup for themselves.

-- Oliver Hulland 09/2/11

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