Instant Coffee Showdown: Starbucks Via vs. Alpine StartPhotos via Alpine Start and Tayloright Drink Features Alpine Start
2018 is a wonderful time to be lazy. We have the internet on our wrists, TV with no commercials and robots that vacuum your house while you watch TV with no commercials. Life is pretty damn sweet for those of us who fall somewhere between “30-year-old stoner living in your mom’s basement” and “mom who circles the parking lot 14 times looking for a closer spot at the grocery store” on the “Lazy Spectrum.” It’s an especially good time to be lazy if you’re a coffee drinker, because instant coffee, the spirit animal for lazy people, has gotten legitimately good.
I know I’m supposed to take the time to track down beans from that little indie roaster that operates out of the used book shop two Thursdays every year, and then grind those beans by hand before executing the perfect pour over with a water temp of exactly 195 degrees Fahrenheit, but damn it I just don’t have the time. I drink coffee because I’m tired and it tastes good in the morning and I want the caffeine in my body before I lose my shit with my kids because they still. Can’t. Tie. Their. Own. Shoes. I’ll be artisanal after 7am. Right now, I need caffeine.
So, I lean pretty heavily on fast coffee, whether that’s from a pre-set coffee pot or those little instant coffee packs. There, I said it. Sometimes, I drink tubes of instant coffee. And here’s a secret: it’s pretty damn good.
I’m not talking about the Folgers Crystals that your middle school science teacher kept in his cupboard to hide the smell of bourbon in his mug. I’m talking about carefully sourced, finely ground coffee that comes in a single-serve tube. All you do is add water and stir and you’ve got a good cup of coffee.
Starbucks revolutionized the instant coffee scene with their Via packs, which gave lazy coffee drinkers all over the world a respectable cup of joe that only required heating 8 ounces of water. Folgers and NesCafe also have tubes of instant, but they’re so weak, I found myself having to put two packs in a single cup just to trick myself into thinking I’m drinking a real cup of coffee. But in the last couple of years, a new player has arrived on the single serve, instant gratification coffee scene: Alpine Start, a Boulder-based company that aims to bring premium coffee to little paper tubes.
The reviews have been overwhelmingly good so far, and since Starbucks Via is widely considered the best instant coffee on the market, and Alpine Start the hot newcomer on the scene, I decided to pit the two against each other in a side by side taste test.
Photo via Tayloright
Alpine Start’s “Original Blend” is a 100% Arabica coffee from the mountains of Colombia, so I pit it against Starbuck’s Via Colombia, which is also comprised of 100% Arabica coffee from the mountains of Colombia. I poured the exact same amount of water in each cup (8 ounces), as it’s been my experience that these instant packets are best if you stick to the 8-ounce recommendation on the box.
Starbucks Via is a bit darker in the cup, looking less watery around the edges. As for the nose, they’re so similar, it’s hard for me to distinguish one from the other. Both are good cups of coffee. The Alpine Start is a little bolder, but it also comes off as a bit more “roasted,” and has a more defined layer of acidity. Starbucks is more mellow, and ultimately, more balanced. Alpine Start, on the other hand, is bold. A bit more bitter, yes, but there’s also a faint note of cocoa that’s pleasant, and unexpected.
Both cups of coffee are similar in their taste profile, but the newcomer, Alpine Start has a slight edge just by being a bit more interesting. Oh, and truly lazy coffee drinkers take note: Alpine Start works as a cold brew too, so you don’t even have to heat water to get your caffeine. Just stir and drink.
Alpine Start is $9 for a pack of eight, and Starbucks Via Colombia is $8 for a pack of eight, so the price is basically a wash. You can get Alpine Start at REI and some Whole Foods, while Starbucks Via is sold just about everywhere. Seriously. It’s everywhere.