Once upon a time, I was a tea drinker. The level of tea consumption in our house is and always has been off the charts; I still drink a lot of tea today, especially in the evening when my occasional insomnia doesn’t need any help from a mug of caffeine. It was tea I was drinking when I first spent a summer season working in Holland, but not for long: hot tea was on tap all day long but it tasted like muddy rainwater. Right next to it was a giant vat of slightly better tasting coffee, so I switched to that, and the rest is highly caffeinated history.
When I got home, I started drinking instant coffee and I stayed drinking it until I moved to Florida and got a coffee machine. Now, I only drink instant in case of emergency and even then I try to hold out, or opt instead for tea. The problem is not that all instant coffee is bad, but that the kinds people to tend to have in their homes are the popular and bland big brand blends.
(Try saying that ten times fast.)
Enter Starbucks VIA, a new kind of instant coffee mixed with the regular kind of instant coffee that comes in fancy sachets from the world’s biggest coffee brand. The idea: coffee as good as your local Starbucks brews and serves but for only a fraction of the price and in the comfort of your own home.
VIA was released in the US last year but I only found it in my local Tescos (here in Cork, Ireland) last week. There was much squealing: I’d wanted to try VIA so bad that I sent Starbucks a letter I hoped would mildly amuse them enough to send me some samples. (It did.) I snapped up a box of each of the caffeinated flavors, Columbia and Italian Roast, bristling at the price: just over €4 for seven sachets, or about €0.60 per cup. If we say the average teaspoon of coffee weighs about 1.7 grammes, then you’d get at least 58 cups of coffee out of a jar of Kenco, which costs less and is, not coincidentally, the only instant I drink of my own free will.
I really like VIA’s Columbia blend, and the Italian Roast is nice too although strong enough to wake the dead. But I drink 2-4 cups of coffee a day and at that price my habit could get expensive, so I can’t see myself drinking VIA on a regular basis.
What it is good for – and what I plan on doing with it – is saving me from the bad cups of coffee traveling invariably brings my way. Although I resent the excessive packaging and the fact that Starbucks seemingly can’t trust me to measure out a teaspoon of coffee, the sachets are very handy for sticking in your handbag. Ask the air stewardess or waiter or guy-operating-that-cart-that-goes-up-and-the-train for a cup of boiling water or swap them out for the crappy sticks in your hotel room and enjoy a cup of coffee that’s actually met a coffee bean.