It was a busy morning. The early start was for a coffee tasting, organised for the launch of Starbucks’ Via. Or VIA TM, as their branding has it. (The capitals make it look like an acronym: it could be an army, the military wing of Caffeine Anonymous… Or maybe a sixth-generation cash machine? Or maybe a piece Viagra spam… And whilst we’re on branding, where’s the apostrophe in Starbuck’s gone?)
I haven’t written about food and drink here before, but I was as interested in the process of the launch as the product, and since my invitation stemmed from my occasional attendance at Tuttle – which features a lot of coffee – this does seem an appropriate place to discuss it.
I had in mind that whilst I have been to wine and whisky tastings – often – I hadn’t been to a coffee tasting before. But afterwards, I remembered an espresso tasting I once went to at Valvona & Crolla. It was a very reverent affair, with great care taken to produce the coffee.
I like coffee; I can be quite particular about it, and neither Starbucks nor instant coffee are my preferred beverage. I was upfront about this – and the team from Starbucks were very gracious as they tried to explain why their cappuccinos (or is it “cappuccini”?) were actually better than Pret à Manger’s. (I wasn’t convinced…) They were well-informed and informative, happy to talk about coffee at length with evangelistic vigour.
They explained why VIA TM is different from all other instant coffee (as well as not being freeze dried but spun-dried instead, they also include some microground coffee in the mix, so that there is real coffee in there ,too). There was also a bit of psychology about how our other senses influence what we taste – they have created a piece of music which is apparently meant to go well with coffee… (This may sound like pseudo-science – there is indeed an equation created by Prof Charles Spence [sponsored by Starbucks, of course…] detailing how to “achieve the most enjoyable coffee moment” – it requires coffee, environment, other people and time, apparently – but the environment clearly does play a part in our appreciation of food and drink: how much time we can give to enjoyment, how relaxed we are, how comfortable we are all play a role, I’d say.)
That said, the coffee was very good: in a blind tasting, I couldn’t identify which was VIA TM and which was Starbucks’ filter coffee.
I’m not sure what the market for VIA TM will actually be, though. Whilst much better than other instant coffee, and cheaper than , it isn’t cheap – about 38p a time: less than your typical tall skinny latte but rather more than other instant coffee.
For me, there is a certain amount of ritual to drinking coffee. If I’m at home or at work, it is an opportunity to take a break, to withdraw somewhat and contemplate; if I’m out in a coffee bar, a slightly more indulgent break; if I’m with other people, it is about the conversation. None of these times is begging for an instant coffee. Coffee takes time – it is a slow event, to be savoured. It isn’t instant – it is worth waiting for.
I can see two sets of circumstances where VIA TM would work for me: in hotels, instead of those nasty little sachets of Nescafe (which never taste right); and – seriously – when I am out in the hills. I’m going to the Highlands in May, and I might just take a few sachets of VIA TM with me. We’ll see…