I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Starbucks VIA “Ready Brew” instant coffee

I actually bought something at Starbucks.

I actually bought instant coffee.

I actually bought instant coffee at Starbucks.

And it wasn’t awful.

All of these should come as a surprise to anyone who knows me, but was in exactly the situation that I hoped it would be good for: air travel.

Airplane coffee is awful. Even JetBlue’s, despite the claim to have “fresh” Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, is awful. (Not that Dunkin’ Donuts is an ambitious goal.) You can count on airplane coffee being abysmal. But you can also count on any plane with beverage service to be able to give you a cup of hot water instead.

I didn’t like Starbucks VIA as much as Dan Benjamin did, but I can honestly say that it’s not bad.

VIA comes in two flavors: Italian Roast (“Extra Bold”) and Columbia (“Medium”). The Italian Roast tastes burnt and flat — definitely not recommended. But the Columbia provided a much more full-bodied, complex flavor than I ever expected from a packet of powder with a Starbucks logo on the front. The rest of this review is only referring to the Columbia.

It tastes much better than any coffee I’ve ever been served at Starbucks.

There’s a small amount of fine sediment left at the bottom of the cup, but it’s very minor — much less than you’d get from a typical French press.

While I disagree with Dan Benjamin on how it stacks up against well-made drip coffee, I agree with his statement on the quality relative to typically bad-coffee settings:

It’s as good or better than the coffee you’d find in a decent restaurant. It’s much better than any coffee I’ve made in a hotel room, while camping, or while on a road-trip. And of course, it’s far superior to any instant coffee I’ve ever tasted.

The tiny 4-ounce cups that Delta gave me provided a very good water ratio for a single VIA packet. Starbucks recommends one packet to 8 ounces of water, but that would be far too weak.

I can’t imagine ever wanting to make this at home or work, since I already have better coffee regularly available. But at a tenth of an ounce and just under $1 per packet, it’s not ridiculous to carry a few around while traveling.

I’m impressed.