18 March 2010

Have Six-Shooter, Will Travel Mug

My recent Army-travel to Pennsylvania forced me to reach beyond my usual coffee horizons. Unlike other "deployments," I couldn't pack my small drip coffee maker that's seen duty during floods and blizzards. I couldn't guarantee sufficient access to boiling water for my REI-brand French press, which makes great coffee--but also a bit of a mess. After some recon-by-Internet, I knew that the nearest Starbucks, Caribou Coffee, or other equivalent chain was going to require driving 30 minutes or more off-post.

What to do?

In a fit of desperately innovative consumption, I opted to purchase a specially designed "VIA Ready Brew" stainless steel mug from the local Starbucks. This device is designed to both store and promote the use of small, strangely cigarillo-like pouches of microground instant coffee. The pouches are visible through clear plastic chambers encircling the lower half of the metal mug.

Since the mug holds six pouches, I call it my "six-shooter."

(Safety note, however: I no longer call it my "six-shooter" while conversing with members of the Transportation Security Administration.)

Depending on how many you purchase as a time, the price-point per pouch ranges from about $1 to $1.33. VIA Ready Brew is available in three "flavors": Columbian (Medium); Italian Roast (Extra Bold); and Decaf Italian Roast (Extra Bold). I've tried both the Columbian and Italian Roast, and, while both are OK, I'd more generally recommend the Italian Roast. Click here for a funky-but-non-informative video that includes lines such as, "Then we take an extra step: Using a super-secret technology that we developed ..." Uh, yeah. Thanks for not telling me anything.

The coffee isn't going to knock your Army wool socks off, but it's a heckuva step up from nothing. It's also better than chewing Folgers straight out of the MRE accessory packs. What I'm trying to say is, you know those Army-issued spring-loaded atropine injectors? They don't provide an antidote for nerve agent exposure, either, but they sure as heck increase your chances of survival.

That's right, folks, you heard it here first: Starbucks VIA Ready Brew is like Atropine. Mmmmm, good.

More notes: The mug fits nicely into the side "water-bottle" pouch of my new tactical man-purse. It's self-contained--no zipper-lock plastic baggies of ground-at-home coffee to either spill or get the drug-dogs all crazy. Given sufficient travel-survival savvy, a VIA user can poach hot water from airport and hotel bistros that cater to tea-drinkers. Or, pack a microwaveable Nalgene bottle.

There are a few design-flaws, but nothing fatal. For example, I noticed--or rather, I didn't notice but others did--that the design of the lid occasionally deposited coffee across the bridge of my nose. This resulted in some hilarity and name-calling. Also, the paint used to emblazon the "VIA" mini-brand on the mug turns viscous when heated. This condition may occur when the container is filled with--I'm just using this as an example--hot coffee, or hot water on its way to becoming coffee. Eventually, this paint will wear off, I suppose, and the flaw will correct itself.

To review: Starbucks microground Via instant coffee is an acceptable solution for traveling Sherpas. The "six-shooter" stainless-steel travel mug is equal parts fun and functional. I plan to use it as a back-up weapon as necessary, and to add it to my basic combat load.


  1. Question! - how do they guys out *there* (being great sandy hostile places) actually boil their water? I would guess the FOB's and bases would have electrical jugs but what about the rest of them?

    [working on a list of "Good things to send adoptees" atm]

  2. You're right regarding life on the FOB, although, on my multi-national base back in 2004, I did eventually purchase an "electric kettle" that was both European-standard voltage (220 instead of 110?) and plugs. French press goodness.

    Depending on where you're at, you can do some field-expedient, science-experimenty stuff with solar energy (water bottles in the sun). I'd more likely use one of the water-activated chemical heaters in our Meals, Ready-to-Eat (MRE). They're designed to heat either the foil-envelopes of MRE food or beverage-mixes.

    Those chem-heaters are not mailable, however.

    That said, Uncle Sam does a great job of supplying hot-enough water, when and wherever available. It's more of a hygiene thing than a comfort thing. Joes like me still have to shave daily, you know. I'll ask around to buddies who are former and present Embedded Training Team members, to see whether they've got other insights regarding life on the smaller outposts.

    In the meantime, maybe other readers might have some insights, too? How do they get their coffee on downrange?

  3. Coffee? Check.

    Brother Sherpa - Good to see you're covering all the creature-comfort bases before you're deployed. Our buddy, SFC Jeff Courter, kept himself in hot water with a tiny propane heater & bottled water when stationed at the small hamlet of Khayr Kot in Eastern Afghanistan.

    Regardless - not bad to have backup. Have you considered the convenience of chewing beans directly?

    All the caffeine. None of the mess. Granted, half the fun. But clearly, the most portable coffee delivery system on the planet...

    Hope that all other plans continue to move forward smoothly for you!

  4. Coffee is the backbone of the American military. You can tell how high up the ranking he is by how much his index finger stays bent. Civilian nevr-been's think its the Army's 'trigger finer' deformity, but it's actually the 'coffee cup' deformity. And you wanna make a fierce fighting unit...take them off coffee for a few days and tell the troops there is a coffee supply across no mans land. Victory assured.

  5. Lol - bad Coffeypot - I would imagine they would be having the withdrawal shakes by the time they got to the supplies.
    I don't actually drink coffee (love the smell - can't metabolise the liquid so I make do with coke. However I recently sent Mountain Thunder coffee (http://www.mountainthunder.com) to a bunch of marines - think I've earned a gold star? :D)

  6. The sign of a true soldier...NCOER or OER bullet:
    *Can Make Coffee anywhere, anytime


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