Review: Starbucks VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte

Oct 03

Packet is not for consumption.

Packet is not for consumption.

It’s that time of year again — the time for pumpkin spice everything. Starbucks, the traditional harbinger of fall with its Pumpkin Spice Latte, has taken the opportunity to also expand their VIA instant latte line with a pumpkin spice variety. Since I’ve already reviewed the real PSL, today I’m reviewing the instant version.

First of all, a standard reminder: pumpkin spice does not mean there’s pumpkin in it. Pumpkin spice means the spices you’d put in a pumpkin pie. We’re just too lazy to say pumpkin pie spice.

Like other VIA instant lattes, this one comes in a large single-serving packet, sold in packs of four. The ingredients include the dreaded, vague “natural flavors”, but since it’s instant coffee I don’t really expect any different. You pour the powder into a mug, add boiling water (the instructions say 8 ounces but I say however much it takes to fill your mug) and stir. Bam! Instant pumpkin spice latte.

Your happy sun mug may vary.

Your happy sun mug may vary.

Like the VIA vanilla latte, this is not as good as the “real thing”, made with actual espresso, non-powdered steamed milk, and syrup from a bottle. The pumpkin spice flavor is similar, and if you’re jonesing for pumpkin spice Starbucks and can’t leave the house it would probably tide you over. Also like the VIA vanilla latte, however, the overall taste is still reminiscent of the kind of instant flavored cream/coffee blends you can get in the grocery store, for a considerably higher price.

It’s not a bad drink, and I’ll certainly finish all four packets in the box I bought. And as far as an instant beverage, it’s decent. However, if you need a just-add-water drink that’s much heavier on the pumpkin spice and lighter on the instant taste, you may be better off with the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai. It’s cheaper per drink and in my opinion much more flavorful.

 

  • What: Starbucks VIA Pumpkin Spice Latte
  • Where: Starbucks locations and possibly some grocery stores
  • Verdict: Not bad, but you can probably find something better for cheaper.

 

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Recipe: Instant Dirty Chai

May 27

All right, recipe time ladies and gents! Today I’m gonna show you a little recipe I call “oops there’s no milk in the house and I let my wife take the last of the espresso”. Or, if you want a slightly more useful name, the Instant Dirty Chai. A dirty chai is chai with an espresso shot added. An instant dirty chai is laziness with ingenuity added.

This is a good emergency-caffeination drink because the ingredients are powders with a super long shelf life, you only need hot water to make it with, and you avoid that instant coffee taste you get with a regular “coffee from a powder” drink. Please pardon the photos on this post, I took them somewhat groggily with my cell phone camera with no caffeine (because that was my morning caffeine in the pictures).

Step 1: Boil some water. No photo here, use your favorite water-heating method.

Step 2: Place one serving of instant chai powder into your mug. I use Trader Joe’s chai mix, so one serving is one scoop.

Happy sun mug optional.

Happy sun mug optional.

Step 3: Mix in one spoonful of espresso powder. This is a little trickier to acquire, but specialty kitchen shops and grocery stores with a good baking aisle may have it. I use King Arthur brand, which is available on Amazon. Take a nice sniff of the jar when you open it, it’ll help you wake up enough to finish the drink.

Mix mix mix.

Mix mix mix.

Step 4: Add boiling water. You could measure out the correct amount of boiling water according to your instant chai package, but in my opinion the correct amount is always “one mugful”.

Happy sun mug approves.

Happy sun mug approves.

Step 5: Stir stir stir.

Smells like victory!

Smells like victory!

Step 6: Enjoy! Or be like me and drink it before it’s cooled off at all, so some of your tastebuds die a fiery death while you enjoy.

Between the strong flavor of the instant chai, and the fact that you’re using espresso powder instead of regular instant coffee, you get a delicious drink without that annoying taste of the coffee gods being disappointed in your laziness. You could even mix the powders together ahead of time, so when you’re sleepy and uncaffeinated all you have to do is pour powder and water, and stir. Great for camping or hotel rooms where you don’t trust the coffee machine!

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Review: Starbucks VIA Vanilla Latte

May 09

If you frequent Starbucks at all, you’ve probably seen the VIA packets on the shelves. This is Starbucks’s foray into the world of instant drinks — they started with instant versions of some of their more popular coffee beans, then the tea-based Refreshers, and most recently they added Vanilla Latte and Mocha packets to their lineup. As a lover of flavored lattes, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least give the VIA Vanilla Latte a shot.

ViaVanillaLatteMug

The VIA packet. Happy sun mug not included.

The idea behind these drinks is simple: You open the packet, pour it into a cup with hot (or cold) water, give it a stir, and voilà! A tasty beverage without any of the hassle of brewing equipment or leaving the house. On this count the VIA line consistently delivers as expected; the packets of powder dissolve cleanly and quickly to create a nice simple beverage.

So how does the instant vanilla latte compare to the real thing? Well … pretty much just “okay”. It is a decently tasty drink, but quality-wise it’s more in line with other instant “latte” or “cappuccino” powders you can buy in a grocery store.

ViaVanillaLatteStirred

The finished drink, with extra motion blur from stirring

It absolutely has the convenience angle down, so if all you need is a well-packaged single-serving powder you can use to conjure up a sweetened coffee drink with minimal materials, VIA has you covered. However, as far as “bang for your buck”, you’d do better buying flavored instant coffee powder from the grocery store. VIA tends to run over a buck a serving, whereas for a few bucks more at your local grocery you can buy a jar or tin that will get you way more servings with about the same quality. If you don’t need the convenience of the single-serving packet, VIA just isn’t worth the extra cost.

Starbucks often runs promotions on the VIA line, so keep an eye out for coupons, samples, or buy-one-get-ones — these may bring the price down enough that it’s a better deal for you.

Bullet-pointed summary:

  • What: Starbucks VIA Vanilla Latte instant coffee powder
  • Where: Starbucks stores and some grocery stores
  • Verdict: A decent, convenient drink, but not worth the higher price
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Review: Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Chai mix

Nov 09

This may seem shocking, given the amount of coffee I drink, but I’m one of those rare people who likes drinking coffee and tea. And given my love of the Pumpkin Spice Latte*, it’s only natural that I was dying to try out Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice chai mix as soon as I saw it.

Trader Joe's chai mix

Basically it’s a canister of powder, made with mostly normal sounding ingredients (with only a few polysyllabic chemically things, and tame ones at that). It’s got sugar, nonfat milk, tea, spices, coconut oil and a few random gibs and gobs for flavor and shelf stability. You mix it with hot water and bam, instant chai**!

There’s times in my life when I want a sugary, caffeinated drink with a minimum of effort. This mix is almost perfectly suited for those times. The flavor is good, if a little sweet for my liking. The spices are spiceful.

If you’re not big on tea, don’t worry — you won’t really taste the black tea in this. American chai tea lattes tend heavily toward spice and sugar rather than tea flavor and this is no exception. 23 grams of sugar per serving, according to the nutrition facts. If you’re looking for something less froufrousugardrink and more tea-like, you should probably leave this on the shelf and look for unsweetened Chai you can brew from loose tea.

The powder has some nonfat milk in it, so mixing it with water still gives you a somewhat milky drink. There was some graininess as I got to the bottom of the cup, but that might be from the spices (which generally don’t dissolve).

Verdict: If you like sugary Chai (like Starbucks’s Chai tea lattes) and want to make your own easily, give this a try! It’s delicious. Two mugs up.
*Which is not so much flavored like pumpkin, but like the spices you put in a pumpkin pie. More of a pumpkin pie spice latte. But that’s too many words.
**Yes, I know proper chai is not instant. I like my chai like I like my gratification.

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