Starbucks VIA vs. Vietnamese 3-in-1 coffee
Much has been written about coffee on the trail. With the introduction of the long-awaited new instant coffee from Starbucks (it's called VIA) it’s time to have another look. Touted as instant coffee that tastes like real coffee, Starbucks VIA is microground coffee in two flavors, the milder Columbian and the stronger Italian. I thought I’d like the Italian better, as I’m normally an espresso drinker, but it’s got a bitter edge to it, and I actually prefer the Columbian. Both formulations provide a good, honest kick of caffeine, and the flavor of VIA is relatively convincing. I would say it’s the best instant coffee I’ve ever tried. But alas, it is still instant coffee. Nothing tops the real thing. One thing about VIA that’s a bit perplexing—it leaves quite a bit of sludge in the bottom of the cup. VIA’s quite expensive, running about a dollar per 8 ounce serving.
Vinacafe is one of many “3-in-one” instant coffees available from Vietnam. These handy little packets come presweetened and creamed. There are dozens of brands out there, but I like Vinacafe because there’s enough “stuff” in the package to make a proper cuppa joe. These 3-in-ones are very inexpensive, running about 4 bucks for a huge bag of packets. What they have in convenience, they tend to lack in good old caffeinated kick, so I typically add a little bit of freeze-dried espresso to each cup. I like Nescafe Dolco (with carmelized sugar in it, yum!) or Medaglia D’Oro. Vinacafe+instant espresso is very good and cheap, but it’s more trouble and a less authentic cup of coffee.
For a list of stores in Washington that carry Vinacafe, click here.
In short, for the most authentic coffee flavor from instant coffee, the Starbucks really can’t be beat. For a tasty, cheap, caffeinated treat, 3-in-one with a boost of powdered espresso will start your day right.
To read more on coffee in the backcountry, check out this archived article from Washington Trails magazine.