October 05, 2009
A good article by Eric Felton in the WSJ about Starbucks' introduction of a line of instant coffee:
It's a tricky dance, but not exactly a new one for Starbucks. The company has always been a strange hybrid—a corner coffee boutique with a crunchy-alternative vibe that also happens to be a massive multinational corporation; a brand devoted to an authentic, slow-food experience that, for the most part, cranks out fast-food volumes of coffee for customers cranky from standing in lines worthy of Disneyland. Starbucks has always been in the oxymoronic business of affordable luxury. Its magic ability to elide these contradictions relied on our willing suspension of disbelief as to what could be considered luxe. But alas, no definition of swanky is elastic enough to include instant coffee.
Which doesn't mean Starbucks instant coffee tastes bad. It's very good, as far as instant coffee goes, and not terrible when compared with a regular cup of brewed coffee. Just drink it fast, while it's super hot. Warmish Via has a slightly pasty quality. I doubt the stuff will ever overcome its connotation as the choice of the unsophisticated, of coffee know-nothings. Not because it offends the palate but because it has no romance, it requires none of the effort that demonstrates enthusiasm and passion. Someone may someday contrive a microwaveable hamburger that tastes, miraculously, like something right off the Weber. I don't want it. The pleasure in a hamburger is in more than just the eating. It is in the lighting of the charcoal, the tending of the fire, the smoke in your eyes, and the ever-present risk that, without vigilant attention, the patties will be ruined. Without going all Walden Pond, I would suggest that even good instant coffee is bad for the soul.
I've seen the stuff the past couple days but have not tried a sample. Don't think I will, either. Somehow, it just doesn't seem right.
It'll be interesting to see how this project goes. I believe I read that Starbuck hasn't exactly bet the farm on it, but has sunk a fair wodge of dosh on the hope of success. My gut feeling is that it probably won't do that well. I don't think we're talking about epic fail on the lines of New Coke, but I wouldn't be surprised if sales don't justify the outlay.