Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) delivered a great surprise for investors. Its fiscal first-quarter results contained many promising signs for the coffee giant, including the success of an initiative that brewed up some skepticism at its launch.

There was a lot to like in Starbucks' report:

  • Net income increased 276%, to $241.5 million, or $0.32 per share.
  • Total sales increased 4%, to $2.72 billion.
  • Comps increased 4%, compared to last year's 9% decline -- an admittedly easy comparison.

While that increase in comps was heartening, it owed mostly to customers paying more, rather than more customers actually setting foot inside the coffee shops. The company reported a 4% increase in its average ticket, compared to just a 1% increase in customer traffic.

Intriguingly, the company's instant coffee offering, VIA, has been a hit with Starbucks fans. Research suggests that VIA is producing a significant number of repeat customers. VIA's not only available at Starbucks stores, but also at Costco (NASDAQ:COST), Target (NYSE:TGT), REI, Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), and other retailers.

In the conference call, founder and CEO Howard Schultz addressed the need for continued innovation during our current economic difficulties. But he also shared reasons for optimism, including Starbucks' continued plans for growth in huge international markets like China. Starbucks has enjoyed very strong comps and store profitability as it ventures into the world's most populous country.

Schultz was also excited about VIA, adding that many customers consume it at home or work as a single-serve option that "does not require costly proprietary brewing equipment." Is that a little bust on Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' (NASDAQ:GMCR) Keurig one-cup brewers? Oh, snap!

Some of Starbucks' innovations have sounded a little crazy at first, but they've surprised me with their success. I thought its oatmeal initiative was wacky, yet it ended up resonating well with consumers. My similarly negative reaction to VIA seems no less off the mark, although our poll a year ago showed that only 19% of Foolish reader respondents thought it would be a hit.

As a Starbucks shareholder, I'm glad to see things moving in the right direction. Even though I nominated it as the Best Stock for 2009 in late 2008, as last year wore on, I voiced doubts many times. This quarter was heartening after all that angst.

That said, Starbucks' shares have soared 162% in a year. Even though Starbucks upped its earnings expectations for fiscal 2010, is the stock getting too expensive right now? Can it return to the old, old Starbucks, which constantly reported amazing financial results that pleasantly shocked everybody over and over? My Foolish colleague Tim Beyers seems to think not.

In December 2008, it was easy to suggest Starbucks was a steal, trading at 10 times forward earnings. Now it's trading at 20 times forward earnings; you can still get McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) shares far cheaper than that. Let us know in the comment boxes below whether you think Starbucks is a good buy now -- or head over to Tim's article, and respond to the poll there.

Starbucks, Amazon.com, and Costco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Costco is an Inside Value selection. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Costco. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.