Best Instant Coffee in the UK, tasted and reviewed
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.
At A Glance via Amazon:
How to choose The Best Instant Coffee (if that’s possible)
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.
|Bird & Wild Organic Instant Coffee||
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|Kenco Smooth Instant||
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|Laird Superfood Instafuel||
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|Nescafe Azera Americano||
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|Cafédirect Fairtrade Machu Picchu||
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|Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee||
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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 flavour. 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 flavours 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 flavour)
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 flavours accompanied by a complex acidity.
In comparison, Robusta beans have darker, earthier flavours 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 instant coffee is roasted to a generic medium-dark. With its balanced and approachable flavours, 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 flavour, add nutrients, or do both.
Instant coffees with powdered milk, sugar, or spices added can be a great option when travelling 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 flavour before purchasing in bulk.
The 7 Best Tasting instant coffees of 2023
While this may not have been true in the past, in 2020, 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.
Bird & Wild’s Organic Instant Coffee is a testament to the fact that instant coffee can be made with the same care and quality as regular coffee. The brand produces only blends, with careful selection to maintain a consistent taste across seasonal availability. Their instant coffee is made from 100% Arabica beans that have been Fair Trade sourced and Soil Association certified organic.
The coffee has been freeze-dried (rather than dehydrated), which helps to conserve more of the beans’ original flavour. You’ll appreciate that when you taste the balanced cup, with flavour notes of biscuit and chocolate, and a clean finish. It works well on its own or with milk.
The Bird & Wild brand is known for its shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee beans. While the beans used to make this instant coffee don’t have the same certification, you’ll still be doing good with your purchase. They donate 6% of sales to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Charity, with £20,000 donated since 2017.
Kenco instant coffee is a familiar sight on British supermarket shelves, but you might not be aware just how old the company is. It started as a roastery in 1923, selling coffee by mail order, before opening a chain of cafes, and later creating its popular line of instant coffees.
Kenco has a huge range that includes everything from single-origin Colombian coffee and decaf to all-in-one Baileys flavoured latte mix, but the Smooth Instant remains the brand’s most popular product.
As the name suggests, people love it for its smooth taste, which makes it a great choice if you like your coffee black. But this doesn’t mean it’s lacking in flavour. Kenco smooth has a rich taste that stands up well to milk and even ice – try it as an iced latte on a hot day.
As an established brand, it’s more than what you’d pay for a supermarket’s own brand coffee, but less than specialty instant coffee. Its popularity means it comes in pretty much any size or format to suit your needs.
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 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).
The Nescafe brand hardly needs any introduction, having been at the forefront of instant coffee for the best part of a century. Many of the brand’s most popular products have remained the same for decades, but the Azera Range introduces something new.
Nescafe Azera Americano is a mix of instant coffee and microground coffee. Unlike instant coffee, which has been brewed and then dehydrated, microground coffee is simply beans that have been ground incredibly fine. It’s not completely soluble in the way that instant coffee is, but it’s fine enough that you won’t get a mouthful – you’ll just see a bit of residue in the bottom of your cup.
By combining both instant and microground coffee, you still get a convenient brew, but with a boost of that real coffee taste. Azera Americano has been selected and blended to be served black, with a rich, fruity aroma and well-balanced flavour.
Cafedirect is another great example of how buying instant coffee doesn’t have to mean lowering your standards, especially when it comes to ethical purchasing. Cafedirect was the first coffee company in the UK to achieve B Corp certification, meaning they meet strict standards across governance, workers, environmental impact and community. The company also invests an incredible 50% of profits into Producers Direct, a charity aiming to improve sustainability for farmers.
Cafedirect produces regular ground coffee and roast coffee beans, and this is simply the instant version of its popular Machu Picchu coffee. Prior to processing, these 100% Arabica beans were sourced from high altitude farms in the Peruvian Andes. Just add water and you’ll get a rich yet smooth cup of coffee with deep chocolate notes.
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. For this reason, this coffee is one of HomeGrounds’ most recommended mushroom coffees.
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 flavoured dark roast, with the fungi adding depth rather than tasting notes. With less than half the caffeine of a standard brew, this instant 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 flavour 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 flavour, 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 flavours, consumers can now enjoy the convenience of instant coffee without sacrificing the subtle tastes and aromas of a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
The Home Grounds pick for the best instant coffee is Bird & Wild’s Organic Instant Coffee, a high-quality blend made with organic, fair trade beans. All you need to do is add hot water, and you’ll be enjoying a balanced brew with rich flavours of chocolate and biscuit.
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 instant coffees 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/ask/listing/1513