From the folks who turned the ordinary cup of coffee into an “affordable luxury” comes the latest effort to boost sales during the economic downturn: Instant Coffee.

Starbucks Coffee Co. is launching the product today across North America and to prove it’s a notch above anyone else’s instant java, it’s challenging customers to a taste test.

“There’s a dramatic difference,” Starbucks founder and chief executive officer Howard Schultz said in a telephone interview with Canadian media late last week. “It’s the difference between fresh squeezed orange juice and frozen concentrate.”

Priced around $1 a cup, Schultz says he thinks consumers will see Starbucks “VIA” as good value.

But the proof will be in the drinking, marketing expert David Dunne says.

“It’s got to taste significantly better than existing instant coffees and pretty close to a ground coffee from Starbucks,” said Dunne, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. “I think it’s a risky move if you don’t have a clearly better product.”

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