Have you tried the VIA brew challenge? Apparently Starbucks spent almost 20 years developing a form of instant coffee that is supposed to taste indistinguishable from freshly brewed coffee. It differs from traditional instant coffee in a few ways.
First, they really use top quality Arabica beans to make this coffee. Arabica beans are milder, more aromatic, and contain less bitter aromas. Arabica beans are also more expensive because the beans take longer to grow and the plants are not as hardy. Cheaper coffees typically use Robusta beans, which are so named because they are "robust" and can grow readily in a variety of climates. Robusta beans have higher caffeine content and more bitter compounds.
In general, Arabica beans are considered "better" because they have more aroma and taste milder. Having said that, the Europeans do enjoy blends that contain Robusta, partly because of the high caffeine content and also because Robusta beans create better crema (the creamy foam you see on top of an espresso drink).
The second reason why this instant coffee is different is that instead freeze drying the coffee or processing it under harsh conditions, VIA is actually micro-ground coffee beans. The beans are ground so finely they can actually dissolve when you add water (at least that's what the barista told me). What's cool is that it works with either hot or cold water.
Right now, they are offering free blind taste challenges for you to determine whether you can tell the difference or not.
I was VERY curious about how this instant coffee tasted. I had actually heard that it was pretty good, and I had to see for myself. Luckily, it seems like most Starbucks cafes are offering this free taste test.
The barista handed me two small cups filled with the dark liquid. The one on the left was lighter in color, the one on the right was darker.
I tried the lighter one. Yum . . . very balanced, nutty flavor. Not a hint of burnt flavor nor sourness. Very yummy. Very good. I could definitely drink this black no problem.
I tried the slightly darker cup. Pretty good. Stronger, darker flavor. Slight burnt flavor and a hint of sourness, but over all, not too bad. It tastes similar to the Starbucks coffee that they brew at my workplace when it's been sitting out for just a bit too long. Not bad. Not bad. Pretty good . . .
Turns out, the lighter one was Pike's Place Roast and the darker one was the VIA brew, Colombia roast.
So, I guess I can still tell a difference, but I must agree that it's the best tasting instant coffee I've ever had. Honestly, there have been times when I have ordered drip coffee at Starbucks and it has tasted like that - slightly burnt and just a bit sour. I just happen to love Pike's Place Blend (I think it's my all time favorite Starbuck's flavor) so I may have been a bit biased.
It's quite possible that the VIA brew tastes the same as the fresh drip version of another roast, maybe Verona or Sumatra (ha ha, or the Colombia, if there is such a roast at Starbucks?)
In any event, this stuff is the real deal, and really tastes surprisingly good. It's not cheap. A 3-pack costs $2.95 and a 12 pack costs $9.95. I didn't buy any, since I have ready access to fresh coffee both at work and at home. I think it's a bit pricey, but I guess it's worth it if it saves you from spending $2 or more on a fresh cup of coffee from a local coffee shop.
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