Anyone who has been in a Starbucks lately has seen Starbucks Via. The coffee company has been promoting their new instant coffee like crazy, so it’s pretty hard to miss. If you were lucky, you might have even gotten a free sample or two in a promotional taste test. I say “lucky” because Via is actually excellent for an instant coffee (and quite a bit better than some regular coffees). Starbucks came up with a new process to produce it, so it is not the same as the freeze-dried instant coffee that populates store shelves, nor does it taste anything like that watery, bland stuff. Via comes in two flavors – Colombian and Italian roasts – and tastes fresh and strong. It also dissolves easily in both hot and cold water, thanks to that new production process, so it can be used any time.
While I actually have taken a big like to taking a few packets of Via when I travel, I have found that it is an excellent baking ingredient in the home, too. Adding it into a recipe that calls for coffee flavoring is like adding a whole cup of coffee with just a little bit of powder. It definitely packs in much more flavor than regular instant coffee and incorporates much more seamlessly. This means that there is no need to dissolve it in a bit of hot liquid before adding it to a batter; you can stir it into dry ingredients just as you would with any ground spice, and it will blend perfectly into your finished product. The Colombian is good, but the Italian has a darker and stronger flavor, more like espresso. Via is a little more expensive than a generic instant coffee, but definitely well worth the price for the flavor and the convenience. I think that it is actually easier to use than the instant espresso powder that I usually use, and pretty much ties with Trablit coffee extract for flavor. Definitely worth keeping a box around the pantry if you like to use coffee flavoring in your baked goods or other dishes.