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Taste Test: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Instant Coffee

Taste Test: Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

When Starbucks announced it would be launching VIA, an instant coffee product, the food world collectively gasped. How could a premium coffee chain start selling instant coffee, a product with a notorious reputation for bad taste?

Today, the VIA brews were introduced in two markets, Seattle and Chicago. They've been the subject of much speculation, since, according to the VIA label, it's taken "decades to develop" the soluble, microground arabica beans. We couldn't wait to see how they matched up to the standard Starbucks drip. To see the results of our blind comparison,


Without knowing which coffee was which, several Sugar staffers sampled two VIA brews — an extra-bold Italian Roast and a medium blend from Colombia — against a same-sized cup of Pike Place Roast drip coffee purchased at a Starbucks store. Two of our tasters were able to correctly identify which cup of coffee was brewed and which two were instant; they described the instant cups as tasting "chalky" and "bitter at the end."

Two different tasters, however, not only thought the instant coffee was drip, but they believed the Starbucks drip was instant, tasting watery in comparison.

Italian Roast: Although this was PartySugar's favorite of the tasting ("I love strong, bitter black coffee"), it was my least favorite. Both another taster and I thought the coffee — described as "smooth, rich" — had a truly acrid aftertaste.

Colombia: Although this blend was slightly bitter, it was less aggressive than the Italian Roast and mellower in flavor.

When tasted next to brewed coffee, the taste of VIA was inferior in comparison, with a bitter end and little to no pleasant aroma. Still, I would drink VIA in a pinch and — at $9.95 for 12 servings — it's significantly more recession friendly than a traditional cup of Starbucks joe.

Do you plan to give VIA a chance? If you've tried it, I'd love to hear what you thought.



Join The Conversation
spaceNeedle spaceNeedle 8 years
No, no, no. Give it a chance. The flavor grows on you. I'm addicted. The packaging is crazy - but throw six of those little babies in a tumbler and you've got yourself a party. $20 bucks says everyone one jumps on board with their own instant brews in the next two years. Camping, great to have at your desk. i'm a lone - so it's perfect in the morning rather than making a pot and dumping 1/2 of it out. It's really cheap. The boxes are even 2 for one right now. i say it dang well time someone thought of this. step down from your coffee throne. give it a change. seattle rocks.
Rancher'sGirl Rancher'sGirl 8 years
I went to the Sbux Via Sample link and they are no longer offering the free samples by least you cannot access it. Something about overwhelming response and they will open it up after March 3. It's after March 3rd, so I guess I am SOL. Oh well, maybe another time. Sigh. :(
xisolationx xisolationx 8 years
Living in Seattle for the last 12 years, I am definitely sick of Starbucks. I never liked their in store brews and always favor the smaller roasters. That having been said, it's close and I make friends with the Baristas in the office buildings where I've worked so I usually get a freebie here and there. Because I am lazy, unemployed and broke, I got a few samples of this stuff. I opted for the darker roast. I really think my home coffee maker must be a dirty p.o.s. because the VIA coffee tastes way better. Not burned or over roasted. Now, this is being tested in Seattle and Chicago and someone noted the irony of the number of places in Seattle where you can get a real brew. From what I read, the guy who started developing it is dead (Via is in his name) and he wanted to have a "good instant" coffee while camping. We do tend to do a lot of those outdoorsy things here and yes, a cup of coffee is nice in the woods. All told, I'd say the dark roast is great BUT if you have a nice clean low tech coffee maker and some good beans, don't look at this for a replacement. It's not tasters choice and it's far better than the drip I've had at the Bucks. JMO.
Spectra Spectra 8 years
syako--well, actually, I did have one really great cup of coffee in Kiev at this little tearoom, but for the rest of my trip I was stuck staying in a tiny apartment in Mariupol with no coffeemaker. I needed my coffee and all they had at the store was Nescafe. To make it somewhat palatable, I bought a can of sweetened condensed milk and had a spoonful of that in it.
syako syako 8 years
spectra :jawdrop: You were in Ukraine drinking NESCAFE?!?! My husband would be appalled. They have great coffee there!! Aw man. And the coffee is DEFINITELY not instant.
Spectra Spectra 8 years
No way would I try this stuff. I had to survive on Nescafe for two whole weeks in Ukraine when I was there and I was dying for real coffee. I don't get why you can only get instant coffee in most of Europe. I would think you could get a decent cup of coffee pretty easily, but I guess not. I can't stand instant and even if Starbucks' instant is GOOD instant coffee, it's still instant coffee and in my book, even a bad cup of real coffee is better than a good instant coffee.
alligator00 alligator00 8 years
I got a sample yesterday and it wasn't as bad as I expected. But Ellenp's right, I can get a real cup on every block - why go with instant?
a_mama a_mama 8 years
I love my french press, I can't imagine drinking instant when it takes a few minutes longer to have a great cup.
ellenp1214 ellenp1214 8 years
they were giving out samples yesterday and i tasted the colombia. i wasn't a fan, though i have had worse coffee before. if it was between this and watery gas station brew, i could see my self opting for this. i don't like light roasts though so i think the italian roast may be better. i do think it's funny that they sampled in seattle, where there is essentially no time when people are NOT a block away from a coffee shop.. with real coffee.
emalove emalove 8 years
I love the flavor of Starbucks' coffee, but I am NOT a fan of instant coffee.
bellaressa bellaressa 8 years
I went into Starbucks to see the display. It's cute that they come in books but it doesn't seem like people are buying. Maybe they should have had a taste test in those cities.
syako syako 8 years
I still don't get why people equal Starbucks with quality coffee I know.
deannest deannest 8 years
"acrid" "aftertaste" "bitter" and "aggressive"? why would i want to try that? haha. no thanks:)
Manoukia Manoukia 8 years
Two reasons I would not buy it, even if it were produced by someone other than *$$ - the ridiculous price and the packaging. I still don't get why people equal Starbucks with quality coffee, especially their products that are not 100% coffee - the lattes, -cinos etc. They've got tons of additives like artificial flavors, colorants, gelling agents...
mellie_608 mellie_608 8 years
I received samples in the mail the other day. I have yet to try them and am interested in how I like them. I will try to keep an open mind when I do.
aimeeb aimeeb 8 years
I loathe Starbucks.
Rancher'sGirl Rancher'sGirl 8 years
I am not a big fan of instant coffee because I drank too much of it in college, but I might keep some in my desk for "emergencies". ;) Easier to store than a jar of Nescafe or Sanka. :)
heatherhas heatherhas 8 years
Hmm, I might buy this just to keep in my desk drawer for tough afternoons. I can't drink the office coffee.
cptnruthless cptnruthless 8 years You can request a free sample of this to try - I'm still waiting for mine. Hopefully it's better than office coffee!
Punk-Glam-Queen Punk-Glam-Queen 8 years
I just got an email from Starbucks with a note about VIA and was wondering what it would be like. When I lived in London back in the 80's you basically only got instant coffee if you wanted a cup 'o joe. Nescafe to be precise. People even said "I'll have a Nescafe." So I got used to the taste of instant. Once in a while I'll still crave a cup of Nescafe for old times sake. Don't know if I could do it now though, I'm so used to "real" coffee, grinding my own beans and brewing with a press. But I might try it once, as it could be convenient.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 8 years
There isn't a chance I'd buy this. I might try it just to see what I thought, but instant coffee is nasty, and the bitterness and chalkiness, combined with the aftertaste and lack of aroma, just confirms my bias.
Chaoticfury Chaoticfury 8 years
No thanks. Tea for me!
soapbox soapbox 8 years
I saw an Ad for this today. Can't say I'm surprised. That being said, I'm gonna stick to grinding my own beans in the morning.
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