Today it was announced that Starbucks will be producing instant coffee. Ironic, considering their business model hinges on pulling Americans out of their homes and local diners to sample their own high-end-priced version of cappuccino and espresso.
My first reaction is, why? I suppose Starbucks believes they will make instant coffee better than anyone else. However, this is a risky market to jump into. International Coffees already makes a variety that appeal to people that enjoy the convenience of instant with the flavor-shot of the day. And the cost, as well, as availability at the local grocery store, make them accessible to people that don't necessarily want to spend $5 for a coffee at Starbucks.
Not to mention Nescafe and Taster's Choice, who stormed on the market in the 1970s with their blind switch commercials and ridiculously convenient product. While the instant coffee produced by these two isn't fantastic, it's coffee when you need it in a hurry, it's portable, so you can take it on camping trips, and is not very expensive. And, for home cooks like me, you can add coffee flavor to something without adding the extra wet ingredients. So it makes it easy to duplicate recipes such as Brian Boitano's Cappuccino Panna Cotta (what do you mean I have to register to view the recipe???).
Now instant coffee is not exactly a new thing. According to Wikipedia, it was created around the turn of the century by a Japanese scientist for the Pan-Am Exhibition. The original recipe was regular brewed coffee that was heated and freeze dried. The main problem with it was that it sometimes didn't dissolve very well and left clumps behind. Additionally, while the dry stuff lasts a long time (long shelf life), if it gets wet it goes bad super-fast. In the 1960s-1970s food scientists and engineers discovered that spray drying, or pushing the coffee through an atomizer while drying it, resulted in more uniform crystals that dissolved more evenly and completely, giving us the instant coffee we all know now.
So really, the idea of Starbucks Instant, aka Via, is nothing new. It's just...strange coming from Starbucks. And the cost of about $3 for a 3-pack is also something of an oddity. Do consumers of inexpensive instant coffee really want to spend $1 a cup for coffee that costs $1.50 in the boutique? I'm not so sure. Via currently is scheduled to be available only at Starbucks stores, Target and Costco. With the increasing number of Super-Targets out there, more people are doing their grocery shopping at Target, however in most markets Target is neither the most convenient or cheapest available grocery store. And Costcos are not exactly found in all markets. I see this as a tough sell, at best.
Via is currently being test marketed in Seattle, Chicago and London. Has anyone here tried it yet? How's it taste?
Note: the picts from Google and the Houston Chronicle.