Several years ago, I was in Humboldt, Tennessee to attend a funeral. At the same time, I was at the end of a big editing project and needed to stay up late working in the hotel. The problem? This tiny hotel had no coffee in the room, and at 11 p.m. or so there was none to be had elsewhere. My wife an I embarked on a trip to find some, and because Humboldt isn’t large, the best we could come up with was a large styrofoam cup of extremely old and burned java at a 7-11.
Yes, I was that desperate.
I’m reminded of that night not because of the quality of the coffee, but of its scarcity. I’m sitting in my office drinking what at the time was even lower on the list of acceptable caffeinated beverages: instant coffee. Only now, the coffee isn’t bad at all. It’s a packet of the new Starbucks VIA.
I’m drinking the “extra bold” Italian Roast, which is indeed bold but still smooth. It doesn’t have that sharp, slightly chemical twang that I remember from the instant coffee my father would make as I was growing up. (He’s since reformed.) In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the VIA’s taste does come close to the cup of Starbucks drip coffee I started with this morning. Not as fresh-brewed, but not stale either, which is important.
That’s also a downside: VIA shares the same over-roasted, slightly burned (but nothing like that pot in the 7-11) flavor that is characteristic of Starbucks. If you’re not a fan of Starbucks in general, you won’t be swayed by VIA. I find Starbucks to be tolerable, and that’s largely because I can walk the same distance from my office in Fremont and get vastly better coffee and espresso at e.t.g.; a few more blocks of zombie shuffling in the morning offers a little bit of exercise and the delights of the Fremont Coffee Company and its across-the-street neighbor Caffe Ladro.
But I’d have no qualms about buying several packs of VIA to carry with me while traveling, or even to have while camping. Compared to most hotel-supplied coffee (even the packets you brew, which aren’t instant but often taste like it), VIA is an improvement. It’s decent enough that I’m now curious to try the medium-body Colombia blend.
VIA is currently available in Seattle and Chicago.