By Patricia Sellers
September 30, 2009

Addendum: The Starbucks Via Taste Challenge kicks off Friday and runs through Monday in Starbucks stores across the U.S. and Canada. But I got a head start Tuesday morning, as I noted in the post below: I disagree with CEO Howard Schultz’s “guarantee” that you won’t be able to tell the difference between Starbucks’ drip and its new instant (or “ready brew,” as he calls it). Starbucks Bold drip handily beat Bold Via in my taste test–for what it’s worth. This morning (Wednesday) at my local Starbucks, I tried the lower-test brews: Pike Place drip vs. Columbia Mild Via, side by side. Verdict: Via wins. Then again, what true coffee lover loves Pike Place?

“We’ve literally cracked the code on being able to replicate a cup of Starbucks coffee that I can guarantee you would not be able to tell the difference.”

– Starbucks

CEO Howard Schultz on his entry today into the $20-plus billion instant coffee market. I tried Via, Starbucks’ new product, this morning: The barista served me a cup of the new instant bold brew and a cup my usual bold drip coffee, and I drank them side by side.

Howard, I have to tell you, they do taste different. Your new Via lacks the burnt taste that causes some people to call Starbucks “Charbucks.” I actually prefer the burnt taste of your bold drip. Via seems to me to be short on flavor. Though the barista insisted that the regular Via is better than Pike Place drip.

It’s interesting that Starbucks is introducing its value brand, Via (“less than a dollar a cup,” notes Schultz in the video below), the same week that the guy who tried to balance value and quality and got the boot, Jim Donald, landed a new CEO job elsewhere. Former Starbucks chief executive Donald, whom Schultz replaced with himself in January 2008, has been under the radar for almost two years (roaming, rowing, speaking, teaching, and serving on boards), but he just accepted a job as CEO of Haggen, a food and drugstore chain based in Washington state. (Haggen’s website claims that it was the first grocer to have an in-store Starbucks Coffee shop, in 1989.) Donald’s earlier career was in grocery–senior posts at Safeway

, Wal-Mart

, and Pathmark–so he’s going back to his roots.–Patricia Sellers

[cnnmoney-video vid=/video/news/2009/09/29/n_starbucks_instant_coffee.cnnmoney/]

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