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Cost-conscious coffee drinkers may just benefit from Starbucks efforts to revive instant coffee.

The coffee chain is now selling its own instant, "100% natural roasted coffee, made without preservatives" for less than $1 in stores nationwide, Starbucks (Stock Quote: SBUX) announced.

To back claims that their instant coffee is at least as good as their fresh brewed stuff, from Oct. 2 to Oct. 5, Starbucks will conduct a Starbucks Via Ready Brew Taste Challenge at stores, allowing customers to taste both fresh-brewed and instant coffee and guess which is which.  “Participants will receive coupon for a complimentary Tall brewed coffee on their next visit as well as an offer for $1 off a Starbucks Via Ready Brew purchase,” the company said in a press release.

And it may even taste better than its regular brew.  The instant coffee, called Via Ready Brew, “has more subdued flavors, is not as bitter, and has a slight cereal taste,” compared with the companies fresh-brewed stuff, according to Consumer Reports.

Eight months ago, Starbucks began testing its instant coffee in some of its stores in Seattle, where the company is headquartered, and in Chicago, according to the Associated Press.

To appeal to shoppers on a budget, the instant coffee packets will also be sold in stores like Target (Stock Quote: TGT) and Costco Wholesale (Stock Quote: COST) among others, the AP notes.

The single-serving packs, which can be dissolved in hot or cold water, will sell for about $2.95 for a three-pack and $9.95 for a 12-pack, the company said in a press release.

“Instant, soluble coffee has long been the unspeakable wasteland of the coffee business. Conventional wisdom would be that no premium brand should go near it,” said Professor John Quelch of Harvard Business School in a Starbucks press release.  “[Via] will offer time-strapped Starbucks loyalists a chance to stretch their dollars and sustain their Starbucks brand consumption frequency. It will also offer non-Starbucks users an affordable entry point into the Starbucks world,” Quelch added.

Or could it just mean the coffee giant is now selling "instant crap in a cup," as Fark.com puts it?

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