Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Product Review: Starbucks Via Ready Brew Decaf

Being both a traveler and a lover of coffee, I was intrigued by the marketing strategies employed by Starbucks to promote their latest product: Via Ready Brew Coffee. They claimed that the product was perfect for people on the go, picturing a traveler dragging a suitcase in one hand while displaying Via Ready Brew coffee in the other. At that point, I knew that this was a product that I was destined to review. One problem though: I had drastically cut back my caffeine intake a few months ago and Via didn't come in decaf...until now.

At this time, the only variety in decaf that is offered is a bold Italian roast. Since switching to decaf, I've generally found that I'm shying away from darker roasts, but I found this version pleasant and invigorating despite the lack of caffeine. I was presently surprised that I didn't find the same amount of burnt flavor that I normally associate when getting coffee at Starbucks.

The package claims to contain a combonation of instant and microground coffee. Each individual serving packet contains a fine powder, which is unlike the coarser grains of many traditional instant coffees. The fine powder allows Via to dissolve quickly in most liquids, even in cold liquids. This allows for the possibility of an impromptu iced coffee without needing to heat up water, mix the coffee and let it cool down.

While I did enjoy using this product at home, the logistics involved in brewing this coffee on the road are a little trickier. First of all, you need 8 ounces of water to mix with one packet of coffee so you'll need a way to measure 8 ounces of water. You could eyeball this, but I'm not inclined to eyeball anything when it comes to my coffee. Starbucks does sell a travel mug which has a line at the 8 ounce mark and holds 6 packs of Via, but it seems a little too gimmicky to be put to practical use.

I suppose it boils down to what you are looking for in your morning coffee. Since I have switched to decaf, my morning coffee is no longer about getting a quick caffeine fix to get me going in the morning. For me, coffee is about comfort, warmth and ritual. Let's take a look at what it would take for Via Ready Brew to fit my needs while traveling.

Once I have a way to measure the water (a measuring cup), I need a way to get the water suitably hot. Since I don't trust the hotel staff to clean and maintain the coffee pots that you find in hotel rooms, that would mean carrying around an immersion heater. This also requires the use of a mug that won't be melted by the heater so I'll need to carry around a ceramic mug as well.

In addition to this extra gear that I'll need to pack (measuring cup, coffee mug and an immersion heater), I'm used to drinking my coffee with cream. I could carry some small packs of ultra pasteurized half and half with me, but that seems like I'd be going a little too far.

For me, carrying these extra items with me is a bit further than I'm willing go for a good cup of coffee. In a real life travel situation I'd probably just try the Via with cold water and without cream. I'm not quite hard core enough about my coffee to make this sort of sacrifice in coffee drinking experience. If I really can't find a decent cup of coffee, I'll gladly do without before I use this product on the road.

Does Via Ready Brew produce a tasty cup of coffee under ideal conditions? Absolutely. It's just when conditions are less than ideal where this product fails to meet my needs.

Via Ready Brew certainly has home and office applications, and I can easily see people keeping a packet of decaf on hand for the odd guest who drinks it, but I can't visualize this as a travel staple.

The biggest problem with this product as a home product is the packaging. For $10.95, you get 12 eight ounce servings. This is a bit pricy compared to instant coffee that comes in bulk packaging. Not only does economy come into play when you change the packaging but you also reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste that is involved.

In conclusion, Via Ready Brew decaf is, at its core, a great product that misses the mark, at least for me, in usability.

Starbucks Ready Brew Decaf can be purchased at any Starbucks store for $2.95 for a 3 pack or $10.95 for a 12 pack ($1 more expensive than the regular Via).

Have you tried Via Ready Brew or Via Ready Brew decaf? Will you be using this product while traveling? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments selection below.

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  1. Hi, did you find this had a bit of caffeine in it?

  2. SuperAmanda: Decaf coffee usually has some caffeine in it. While there is certainly less caffeine than their standard version, I have no way to measure the ammount of caffeine in it. This information does not appear to be on the Starbucks website.

  3. I'm very sensitive to caffine and have not detected any caffine in the decaf VIA I've been drinking for the past few days... I'm sure there's a trace amount, but has not bothered me...

    I've not been very careful about measuring the water and it always seems to taste fine...

    Derek (

  4. I bought this for the office, since everyone else drinks regular and I need decaf. I too have been looking for the caffeine amount and can't find it on Starbucks site. Love the coffee though!

  5. I think the Via decaf is delicious -- that said, it does make me a bit hyper, so I assume there is a bit of caffeine lingering in the coffee. I'm pretty sensitive to caffeine these days, so I can detect anything above about 5-10 mg.

  6. I also love this product. It's delicious! I recently cut out caffeine and was very pleased to find the decaf via. However, I am also wondering about the caffeine content. I know decaf typically has about 1/10 of the caffeine of regular coffee, but this also made me a little more 'awake' than I was anticipating. I wish the website would provide this information.

  7. Great point re: post consumer waste. Although, I admit that the "travel" size sure is convenient - it beats carrying around a big glass jar. I found this post when searching for caffeine content in the decaf via...sure would be nice to know because I find it picks me up more than I would expect.