The world is comprised of two types of coffee drinkers. There are those for whom coffee is mere fuel to be devoured quickly and in whichever form, and those for whom coffee is a ritual from which great joy and purpose is derived. I like to think of myself as belonging to the second category, but not always.
That’s because caffeine is a drug, and I am an addict. So, yesterday when I found myself having business on the espresso wasteland that is the south end of NW 23rd Avenue, I popped into Starbucks for an after lunch pick-me-up in the form of a mediocre but not outright offensive shot of watered-down espresso. It was forgettable coffee, but there were no alternatives and it did the trick. On my way out, I was given a sample of a new Starbucks product. It’s called Via. This stuff is dangerous.
As if Starbucks coffee weren’t readily available enough with its 16,000 locations worldwide (I’m told there are nearly 200 in the Portland area alone), Via is the company’s recently unveiled brand of instant coffee powder. Served in a rectangular envelope that looks like an Italian sugar packet, Via is an impressive manifestation of modernity and efficiency, and its path to enjoyment is simple: Open the packet. Empty the packet. Add hot water. Stir.
For a guy who regularly writes about coffee, such efficiency initially seemed an affront to the ritual of coffee enjoyment, but free is free. I put the envelope in my pocket.
I forgot about Via until this morning when woke up and learned I was out of coffee. I did what any addict would do. I opened the packet, emptied the packet, added hot water. Stirred. This is, after all, how coffee is enjoyed in such gastronomic desserts as Ireland and England. And though we should never emulate the epicurean habits of countries who regularly boil meat, Via did the trick.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, but I would like to make a point. I wouldn’t be boring you with this story of instant powdered coffee had there been a high-quality coffee shop on NW 23rd. I would have simply gone there, enjoyed my espresso, and gone about my day as I always do. Northwest 23rd is the most dense pedestrian-frequented shopping street in the city, and most Portlanders find themselves there from time to time. Couldn’t there be at least one good coffee option?