You know it’s a recession when…

Starbucks starts selling instant coffee (link found from the always awesome SondraK): Called Via, the water-soluble product sells in packets of three for $2.95 or 12 for $9.95 – $1 or less per cup. Just Columbia and Italian Roast varieties will be available at first, but the company will add others later.

I call it a sign of recession not for what seems to be the obvious, but because, as if in a panic, Starbucks has thrown its brains out the window and made a stupid decision. Instant coffee serves two purposes: to meet the caffeine needs of those who perceive ground coffee beans to be too expensive, and to have coffee where one can not logistically make coffee from grounds.

Starbucks’ retail operation may be built on the sale of hyper-expensive prepared coffee drinks, but the permeation of coffee culture into daily life had increased the market for home-based coffee makers, French presses, and manual and automatic espresso machines. Selling their beans has made Starbucks a visible participant in this market beyond their cafe operations. The gourmet coffee market had also birthed such luxurious monstrosities like Tassimo and other capsule coffee products: the hallmark of conspicuous consumption, environmental largesse, and just plain ol’ home-ec stupidity.

Fat years place a premium on time; lean years place a premium on cash. Unless we are plunged into such great depths of poverty that we have no power to run our coffee makers, we’re not throwing them away. Starbucks’ participation in this market, at “less than a $1 per cup,” sets unrealistic expectations. The most cruel symptom of CEO Schultz’ disconnect from reality? The dig at their instant coffee not being “our mother’s” instant coffee. Our mothers had drip coffee. Our grandmothers had drip coffee. Our great-grandmothers roasted their own coffee. Instant coffee was a luxury back in the day, and today, it just isn’t really that much of a choice.

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