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Sometimes being too cheap isn’t so bad?

December 06, 2011

Sometimes being too cheap isn’t so bad?



I have a shameful confession.  There is a product that I have been dying to try ever since it was introduced.  That product is Starbuck’s instant coffee Via.  They claimed when it came out that it would be hard for their customers to tell the difference in quality between their regular coffee and their new instant coffee.  


I thought this was both a fascinating and a hilarious statement.  At the same time perhaps it is even plausible.  Perhaps this is really, really good for instant coffee – far better than Folger’s and Taster’s choice.  Perhaps.  Even so, that is a bit like claiming your new car goes even faster than most of the mass market bicycles on the road today.  Look out Huffy, Thunder Road, you just are not going to be able to out race this new product from our car maker.



Making this claim seems to be equivalent to confessing not just to the obvious – that Starbucks is not competing with the best microroasters such as Klatch, Vivace, Paradise, etc, but the less obvious that it cannot even compete with the good, but not great mass market coffees like Peete’s , Illy, Trader Joes, etc. and that their new competition is Maxwell House.  To me this is an astounding confession from a company that not long ago claimed to be the best of the best.


Now it is true, that all though it is unlikely, this may be a whole new technology that makes instant coffee that is just as good as regular coffee or even better and so I really should try it before I deride it.  This is why I really, really do want to try it.  I would love to do a blind taste test with Starbucks Via, a “fresh” whole bean roast from Starbucks, (and just for fun throw in a blend from a really good roaster like Ceremony Roasters).  I think the conclusions would be obvious, but maybe David should give Goliath a chance to prove he is not so bad after all and can hold his own.  


Alas the one thing stopping me is that I am too cheap to give more money to a company whose regular coffee always lets me down, so I am afraid I will continue just buying good coffee from places like Ceremony, Velton’s, Counter Culture, … instead and always wondering how big the Via drop off is from regular Starbucks.  Sometimes being cheap may just pay off after all.






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