Hands-on Gear Review

Starbucks VIA Review

By far the lightest option. Some people can tolerate the taste, others say, "nope."
Starbucks VIA Ready Brew
By: Penney Garrett and McKenzie Long  ⋅  May 30, 2018
Price:  $10 List  |  $5.78 at Amazon - 42% Off
Pros:  Virtually weightless, easy to make, tastes better than other instant coffees, works in cold water
Cons:  Limited quantity, have to continually re-purchase, more expensive per cup than using other coffee makers
Manufacturer:   Starbucks
62
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#11 of 13
  • Taste - 40% 3
  • Group Cooking - 20% 5
  • Ease of Use - 20% 10
  • Portability - 10% 10
  • Weight - 10% 10
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Our Verdict

OK, it's not a coffee maker, but most of the products we reviewed here are too bulky for backpacking. So what is ideal for a backpacker or a big wall climber? The answer may be an instant coffee like Starbucks VIA. Almost completely weightless while still packed full of coffee flavor, this instant "micro grind" coffee can easily be tossed in a pack and carried for miles without a second thought. For shorter trips where weight and space are precious, this is an ideal method. For longer trips where budget is a concern, not so much, as VIA averages to almost a dollar per cup, far greater than making your own coffee in a simple pour over cone.

For the budget-minded backpacker that can spare room for a bulkier setup and a few more ounces, the Melitta Ready Set Joe, our Best Buy winner, is a great option. Just slightly heavier but producing one of the best-tasting cups was our Editors' Choice winner, the Hario V60 Plastic Dripper.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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If you're going on an adventure that doesn't allow space or weight for luxuries but can't fathom starting the day without caffeine, packets of instant coffee might just be the ticket. Instant coffee, in general, isn't known for being particularly delicious, but Starbucks VIA is pretty darn decent.

Performance Comparison


Starbucks VIA working its magic in a water bottle on a frigid morning in the mountains.
Starbucks VIA working its magic in a water bottle on a frigid morning in the mountains.

Brew Features


This coffee is instant and tastes like it, though it's better than many other brands on the market. Individual packets carry finely ground coffee that can be dissolved in water for a sort-of fresh brew with no grinds whatsoever to clean up afterward. One huge plus is that this even works in cold water, so if you don't want to bring a stove or run out of fuel, your morning cup can still be kinda tasty and satisfying.

Taste


Starbucks says that VIA retains a smooth, quality flavor despite being instant — and we found that this isn't a total fabrication! The flavor certainly does not compare to freshly brewed coffee by literally any other means, but the taste-to-weight ratio of these tiny packets is excellent. If your only choice is no coffee or instant, this will do.

One thing we liked about VIA is how many different roast profiles and blends are available. From very dark to decently light to sweet and flavored, VIA has something for everyone. We tasted the Italian Roast, French Roast, Pike Place Roast, Veranda Blend, and the single origin Colombian. The lightest roast of that bunch was the Veranda Blend, so for the coffee connoisseurs out there that can't stand that burnt rubber-taste of very dark coffee, try the Veranda. We found it to be surprisingly pleasant, especially for an instant coffee.

Starbucks VIA comes in a plethora of different roasts and flavors  so there's bound to be something that appeals to your palate at least a little  no matter how picky.
Starbucks VIA comes in a plethora of different roasts and flavors, so there's bound to be something that appeals to your palate at least a little, no matter how picky.

Group Cooking


The rule for instant coffee is pretty much one packet for one person. In that respect, this isn't a good option for multiple people. That said, the packets weigh almost nothing, so it's easy to stockpile a bunch of them and be able to satisfy however many humans your group happens to have.

Ease of Use


It doesn't get any simpler than this: just add water. You don't even have to heat the water up if you don't want to.

Rip open packet  put in vessel  add water. Simple as that.
Rip open packet, put in vessel, add water. Simple as that.

Portability


You really can't get more portable than tiny practically weightless packets. Bring along a whole handful for your overnighter, just to be safe, and you will still have room to pack your orange poop shovel and a teddy bear.

Making Starbucks VIA couldn't be simpler or less messy: add coffee from packet to water.
Making Starbucks VIA couldn't be simpler or less messy: add coffee from packet to water.

Weight


At 0.14 ounces for one packet, VIA is still less than half an ounce for three servings. This factor alone makes it the perfect solution for caffeine-addicted ultralight backpackers.

Starbucks VIA packages are small and light  so even four servings barely add weight to your pack. This is an excellent backpacking coffee solution  though certainly not the tastiest.
Starbucks VIA packages are small and light, so even four servings barely add weight to your pack. This is an excellent backpacking coffee solution, though certainly not the tastiest.

Conclusion


If you are a backpacker who likes to move fast and light but are still encouraged by caffeine-filled mornings, then this is your method for a brew. Taking up almost no weight or space, it seems as if instant coffee was designed with outdoor adventurers in mind. Car-campers will be better off with a more sustainable coffee brewing method, such as the Hario V60 Plastic Dripper or Aerobie AeroPress, our Top Pick for Gourmet Taste.

While still having a distinctly instant flavor  the Veranda Blend bordered on quite decent and will certainly hit the spot while out in the backcountry.
While still having a distinctly instant flavor, the Veranda Blend bordered on quite decent and will certainly hit the spot while out in the backcountry.

Other Versions for the Sweet Lover



VIA Lattes
VIA Vanilla Latte
  • Rich and creamy
  • A little fancier than your regular cup of joe
  • Available in Caramel, Vanilla, and Caffè Mocha

VIA Iced Coffee
VIA Iced Coffe
  • Specially crafted for cold water
  • Great for warm mornings
  • Available in Classic (lightly sweetened) or Caramel

Penney Garrett and McKenzie Long

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: May 30, 2018
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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  • 5
 (3.0)
Average Customer Rating:  
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  • 5
 (3.4)

100% of 4 reviewers recommend it
 
Rating Distribution
6 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 67%  (4)
3 star: 17%  (1)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 17%  (1)
Person Icon

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   Aug 9, 2015 - 09:18pm
caribouman1052 · Seattle
Pros: - Good flavor, low weight, pretty much no bulk, no specialized machinery needed

Cons: - Not the absolute best flavor, one packet is so strong it makes me jittery, lots of packaging for the amount of product.

The big upside to me is cost / hassle ratio. Here in Seattle, where a (low cost) cuppa from Starbucks is $1.92, two packages of Via will give the four of us on my crew one cup each at break time for $1.40 plus fuel. No one has to leave the site, we get truly hot coffee… all in all it's a good deal.

On the down side, you don't get quite the ritual you would from a filter or a press: One of my favorite memories is making a double espresso for my climbing partner just before dawn, on a ledge between Dana glacier and the tarn…
  • 1/5 because it doesn't give quite the flavor of your favorite bean, the packaging is of questionable recyclability, and you can't get quite the full ritual.
  • 4/5 for sheer utility combined with flavor!



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Backpacker

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   Jul 8, 2015 - 11:38am
dosei · Backpacker · Greenville, SC

I am a full blown coffee snob that generally will only choose to endure drinking "Charbucks" swill if I simply have no better option available. That said…Starbucks VIA is my "go-to" coffee when backpacking. It weights almost nothing, it takes up almost no space, and it actually tastes okay. Costco frequently marks it down to $11 for a box of 24, making the cost just under 50 cents per cup…I can swallow that.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.


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   Jul 20, 2014 - 02:33pm
bergbryce · Climber · South Lake Tahoe, CA

These make all the other backcountry coffee methods moot.

The taste to weight ratio is off the chart good. I haven't carried anything but these for probably 4 years and have converted some of my friends, some who are very serious about their coffee. These are good enough for backcountry use and they make that legit cup from fresh grounds that much better when you return to camp/car.

Tip: Safeway has a store brand version that is probably 20% less than the Starbucks brand and works equally as well.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.

Backpacker

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   Jul 20, 2014 - 11:26am
Norman · Backpacker · Henrico

Yes it is more expensive than the alternatives, however, the convenience and light weight is well worth the added cost. Not to mention the taste is awesome. I've been an avid consumer of black coffee for 40 years and this is by far the best "instant" coffee ever. I write instant because the label specifies instant and microground coffee which is interesting. There are a few "grounds" at the bottom of the cup but not much to worry about. No other cleanup required as with other coffee making products. yes there is the byproduct of the tubes, but as we all know to carry this out and dispose of properly.



Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.


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