7 Best Tasting Instant Coffee Brands – Top Picks and Reviews
Though nearly 250 years old, instant coffee is experiencing a renaissance at the moment. A new generation of producers is offering instant coffee with all the complexity of their freshly brewed counterparts while maintaining the “just add hot water” convenience that makes instant brews so popular.
We’ve got seven of the best instant coffee reviews for you. But before you skim through our top picks, read the buying guide to see what to focus on when making your purchase.
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How to choose Instant Coffee
In many ways, choosing instant coffee comes down to how you plan to use it (1). If you mostly want to make frappes or add it to your Sunday baking, opt for value over quality. You won’t taste the difference.
Convenience is the product’s main strength but that won’t last as freshly-brewed coffee is now much quicker and easier to make at home.
While producers initially optimized instant coffee for convenience, the growing ease with which we can make freshly brewed coffee at home is forcing producers of instant coffee to adapt. With the prevailing wisdom being that freshly ground coffee beans are always better, these days, instant coffees also need to taste great to retain their place in the market (2).
If you want to get something for your next backcountry trip, prioritize good flavor. There’s nothing worse than starting a long day of exercise with a disappointing cup of coffee. You may also want to look for ones with health-boosting additives to better fuel your adventure – for example, four-sigmatic coffee, which we cover below.
If you just want a delicious coffee without the effort of mastering the perfect pour-over or pulling out the French press, look for the top-quality instant coffee brands. These coffees will offer the same rich and nuanced flavors as a standard brew but in a far more convenient package. Just don’t expect these to provide much if any, cost savings over standard beans.
arabica > Robusta (for flavor)
There are two main coffee varieties cultivated today, Arabica and Robusta, with Arabica making up about three-quarters of the world’s coffee crops.
Arabicas are generally considered to be the best tasting coffee beans with more nuanced and sweeter flavors accompanied by a complex acidity.
In comparison, Robusta beans have darker, earthier flavors that aren’t as popular with high-end roasters. However, they are easier and less expensive to grow.
Coffee makers use a large percentage of the world’s Robusta crop to make instant coffee, a market where convenience trumped quality for most of its history (3).
Nowadays there are plenty of instant coffees made from 100% Arabica beans.
Though they might be slightly more expensive, these are indeed the ones to seek out for a more pleasant brew, particularly if you like to drink your coffee black (4).
Roast Still matters
A lot of coffees are roasted to a generic medium-dark. With its balanced and approachable flavors, this classic roast tends to be preferred by most consumers around the globe.
But if you love a bright light roast or a super dark roast coffee (as dark as an Italian roast), there are now worthy options available. The higher-end producers who are starting to get into the instant coffee marketplace recognize the importance of using the right roast to highlight the character of the beans.
Be aware of extra additives. Do you really want them?
Many instant coffee packets contain more than just coffee. They’re made to brew up different types of coffee, with additives used to enhance the coffee flavor, add nutrients, or do both.
Instant coffees with powdered milk, sugar, or spices added can be a great option when traveling or camping. This certainly saves you from having to bring everything separately. Many use powdered soy or coconut milk or artificial sweeteners to comply with dietary restrictions as well. Just be careful you don’t get these accidentally if you prefer to drink your coffee black.
At present, the health and wellness market is vast, and instant coffee producers are looking to share in the wealth. Healthy additions can include everything from Aquamin, a marine mineral that adds calcium, to powdered mushrooms that increase energy and support immune function.
Look into these options if you want your morning java to provide more than just a hit of caffeine, but you might want to make sure you still enjoy the flavor before purchasing in bulk.
The 10 Best instant coffees of 2021
While this may not have been true in the past, in 2021, it is easy to find ten great instant coffees. In fact, with so many high-quality options on the market, it was hard to narrow down this list. Whether you’re looking for a single bright origin or want to make a convenient crema topped instant espresso, there’s something here for you.
||Waka Coffee Indian||
||Alpine Start Dirty Chai||
||Laird Superfood Instafuel||
||Waka Coffee Decaf Colombian||
||Starbucks VIA Instant Colombia||
||Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee||
Waka Coffee is another newcomer to the instant market, looking to deliver higher-end products for the modern coffee drinker. It was founded by a New Yorker, a population known for busy lives and tiny apartments.
Waka specializes in single-origin beans and offers a variety of roast levels, ensuring that they correctly showcase each origin. They use a freeze-drying method of dehydrating their coffee to preserve the complex and subtle flavors of the single-origin brews.
Their instant Indian coffee is the rare instant light roast, which is a testament to the quality of the beans. They start with 100% high-quality arabica beans, which they get from India, and use a light roast to perfectly showcase their inherent flavors. Expect to be treated to a low-acidity coffee with a pleasantly dry finish and a taste of chocolate and hazelnut.
Waka offers all its products in resealable bags of up to 80 servings. Given the long shelf life of instant coffees, there is no detriment to stocking up, and buying in bulk makes this coffee excellent value.
Alpine Start has a rock climber and outdoor adventurer for its owner. He founded the company to meet his own needs for a delicious morning brew, whether days into a hike or halfway up a cliff face. Indeed, “alpine start” is an adventurer’s term meaning to get up well before the break of dawn in search of long days and perfect conditions.
This instant coffee was built to fuel adventure, so it’s no surprise that the signature Dirty Chai Latte packs a flavorful punch.
This is a sweet, spicy, and aromatic brew. Chai spices are awakening your senses just as much as the caffeine.
It starts with 100% high-altitude arabica beans from Colombia, which are famed for their nutty aftertaste. They conventionally brew the beans before they’re gently dehydrated to preserve the complexity of the flavor. Alpine Start blends the beans with black tea, soy milk powder, and traditional Chai spices. The spices include cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, coriander, ginger, for a creamy and enticing brew.
As a bonus, this latte mix contains no added sugars, relying on the natural sweetness of the beans coupled with the aroma of the warm spices, so it’s suitable for the popular keto and Whole 30 diets. It also eschews traditional milk powder in favor of the soy variety, making it dairy-free.
Another instant coffee company founded by an adventurer, Laird Superfood is the brainchild of professional surfer Laird Hamilton. He developed his Superfood coffee creamer at home to fuel his adventures, but it soon found a popular following among athletes and coffee enthusiasts.
The Superfood Instafuel is the brand’s premium freeze-dried instant coffee. The Instafuel combines the Superfood creamer with dehydrated 100% arabica Peruvian coffee for an all-in-one instant coffee that will leave you ready to conquer your day. It’s also organic and fair trade certified.
The Peruvian coffee itself features notes of nuts, chocolate, and mild citrus, with a medium body and low acidity. To this, the Superfood cream is added, which consists of coconut milk powder, organic coconut sugar, Aquamin, and extra virgin coconut oil.
The coconut components provide healthy fats and carbohydrates, while also lending the drink a taste of the islands. The addition of Aquamin, a multi-mineral complex derived from marine algae, contributes both calcium and magnesium. Studies are increasingly demonstrating its beneficial properties, mostly related to bone and joint health (5).
We often exclude both decaf coffee beans and instant coffee from the realm of high-end roasters, but Waka Coffee is bucking the trend. Their instant Colombian decaf begins with carefully sourced single-origin arabica coffee beans, grown and harvested from the mountains of Colombia. This medium roast offers a smooth body and well-balanced flavor, which tastes like citrus backed by a toasted, nutty aroma.
The decaffeination is carried out via the sugar-cane-ethyl-acetate method, using ethyl alcohol naturally derived from Colombian sugar cane. This process avoids the use of high heat or pressure, which can disrupt the cellular structure of the green beans. Still, it offers a further economic advantage to local Colombian farmers.
Their method of making isn’t the only way in which Waka invests in local economies. They donate 4% of their profits to funding clean water initiatives with their “Add Water, Give Water” program, which operates in the regions where they source their beans.
While we aren’t always the first to recommend Starbucks, there’s no denying that they changed the game when they introduced the Starbucks VIA instant coffee collection just over a decade ago. Using a proprietary micro-grinding process to preserve the essential oils and aroma of the beans, they were among the first to recognize that there was a market for instant coffee that didn’t sacrifice good taste for convenience (6).
We are going to reinvent the company, reinvent the category. This is not your mothers’ instant coffee.
The medium roast instant Colombian coffee is a smooth and well-balanced brew with rich and approachable flavors. They source the beans from high elevation farms, nestled in the Colombian countryside at over 6,000 feet. They deliver a round body, juicy taste, and the signature walnut-flavored finish that characterizes many Colombian blends.
Though instant coffees are typically lower in caffeine than their freshly brewed counterparts, that is decidedly not the case here. If you’re looking for a severe jolt, a single Colombian VIA instant packet contains a whopping 135 mg of caffeine, enough to jumpstart any morning.
Four Sigmatic is a statistical term used when referring to the 100 most nutrient-dense foods on the planet. This company was founded to incorporate as many of them as possible into their products. Most impressively, they’ve done it very unobtrusively. You might be drinking mushrooms, but you certainly won’t be tasting them.
Four Sigmatic is based in Finland, the country which consumes the most coffee per capita on the planet, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that they’ve prioritized good coffee right and good health. Their Mushroom Coffee is first and foremost a blend of 100% organic, fair trade, arabica beans, dark roasted, brewed, and spray-dried into instant powder.
To this, they add Chaga, which supports immune function and, in fact, has a long history as a coffee substitute stemming back to coffee shortages in WWII, as well as cordyceps, which is used by endurance athletes around the world to support energy and endurance (7). They also supplement the mixture with eleuthero, an adaptogenic root common in Asia. There, people refer to it as Siberian ginseng.
The result is a richly flavored dark roast, with the fungi adding depth rather than tasting notes. With less than half the caffeine of a standard brew, this coffee provides the energy boost you crave without any accompanying jitters or afternoon crashes.
Check out our tasting review of Four Sigmatic Mushroom coffee:
One of the marks of a great espresso is a thick layer of crema resting on its surface. Thick crema has made instant espresso a particular challenge for producers, as crema is a problematic feature to preserve through the drying process. However, if anyone can pull it off, it’s Nescafe, a company that has been researching instant coffee for nearly 100 years and holds the largest market share worldwide.
Their instant espresso begins with premium hand-picked arabica beans. These offer a smooth, balanced flavor that isn’t overpowering, an essential factor when preparing a concentrated espresso. It can be served as an espresso or brewed up as an Americano, but in either case, a surprisingly rich crema layer rests on the surface.
Additionally, the Nescafe instant espresso dissolves particularly well in cold water and, with its bold espresso flavor, makes an excellent basis for a creamy iced coffee or a whipped frappe. While it won’t rival a fresh shot of espresso from a high-end machine, it will undoubtedly surpass your expectations for instant coffee.
The era of delicious instant coffee is upon us. With many producers developing techniques to dehydrate coffee while maintaining the complexity of its flavors, consumers can now enjoy the convenience of instant coffees without sacrificing the subtle tastes and aromas of a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
Our pick for the best instant coffee for 2021 is Waka Coffee’s Indian light roast, a carefully selected instant made with high quality Indian Arabica beans. All you need to do is add hot water, and you’ll be enjoying a low acidity brew with rich flavors of chocolate and hazelnuts.
No, instant coffee isn’t bad for you. Like regular coffee, it comes from coffee beans, so it has the same nutritional pros and cons (8).
Instant coffee is popular around the globe, except for the United States, but it is particularly dominant in the Asia-Pacific region (9).
Instant coffee foams because it is made by freeze-drying a liquid, which produces a powder with lots of air spaces tucked inside the grains. As the coffee dissolves, the air is released, generating a foam (10).
Instant coffee is made one of two ways, either by freeze-drying or sprays drying brewed coffee (11). Higher-end brands are usually made by freeze-drying because it doesn’t use any heat, which allows the natural coffee taste and nutrients to remain intact. For more details, we have an entire article on how instant coffee is made.
You should use instant coffee in a way that it tastes best to you. Many people around the globe drink it black or with the simple addition of cream and sugar. Because it dissolves in cold liquids as well as hot, it’s great for a quick cup of cold brew or added to a baking recipe, particularly when chocolate is involved.
- Newton, T. (2018, January 22). Coffee Wars: Should You Drink Instant or Whole Bean? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/01/coffee-wars-should-you-drink-instant-or-whole-bean/
- Winterman, D. (2014, April 5). Why do Britons drink so much instant coffee? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-26869244
- Origin and History of Instant Coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.historyofcoffee.net/coffee-history/instant-coffee-history/
- The Benefits of Instant Coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://cafealtura.com/instant-coffee-benefits/
- Frestedt, J.L., Kuskowski, M.A., Zenk, J.L. (2009, February 2). A natural seaweed derived mineral supplement (Aquamin F) for knee osteoarthritis: A randomised, placebo controlled pilot study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2642861/
- Miller, C. (2009, November 8). Starbucks makes a move to instant coffee. Retrieved form https://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/business/worldbusiness/18iht-sbux.3.20281557.html
- Sen, M. (2017, February 1). The Hidden Wartime Origins of Mushroom Coffee. Retrieved from https://food52.com/blog/18958-the-hidden-wartime-origins-of-mushroom-coffee
- Malicdem, D. (2019, December 10). Good and Bad Sides of Instant Coffee. Retrieved from https://www.msn.com/en-in/foodanddrink/foodnews/good-and-bad-sides-of-instant-coffee/ar-AAIEPh7
- Linshi, J. (2014, July 15). These Maps Show Why Half the World Prefers Instant Coffee to Fresh Coffee. Retrieved from https://time.com/2982636/maps-instant-fresh-coffee/
- Department of Physics, University of Illinois. (2012, October 1). Q&A: Coffee Foam. Retrieved from https://van.physics.illinois.edu/qa/listing.php?id=1513&t=coffee-foam