Starbucks Reinvents Instant Coffee

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VIA%20packets.jpgIn the beginning, the Lord divided the bean from the water and created Nescafé. For generations, it was the standard of instant coffee, until Prince Howard of the Dark Brew tasted the Nescafé and said it should be made better. His flavor engineers labored mightily for many years, until they perfected a system of microgrinding beans of pure arabica (taking care to buy them only from farmers using sustainable agricultural practices and humane conditions for the workers, because the Dark Prince was highly image-conscious), so that a mere tenth of an ounce of extract would produce a full cup of coffee no less flavorful than the coffee brewed throughout his kingdom of Starbucks.

Which is how VIA Ready Brew came into being, ready for its rollout next week in Seattle and Chicago. Instant coffee has long had a poor image in the US and a paltry $700 million in sales, but it's a $17 billion market in the rest of the world, thus a tempting target for Starbucks. The initial flavors--a robust Italian Roast and a smooth Columbia--stand up surprisingly well to their fresh-brewed counterparts.

Will consumers pay a buck for a shot of instant? Hard to say, but 10 or 15 years ago the whole notion of $5 coffee was absurd. The "affordable luxury" of a latte seems less affordable today, but the desire for instant gratification remains.

UPDATE: Howard Schultz's essay on Huffington Post: "Staying Real in an Instant."

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This page contains a single entry by Cornichon published on February 19, 2009 2:58 PM.

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