Buying Guides

Best Instant Coffee: Brew on the Dark Side

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best instant coffee

We all love to start our day with a steaming, aromatic cup of coffee, right?

Every dedicated home barista has their preferred method of brewing. You may favor the traditional French press, or perhaps you like the more modern Aeropress method. Maybe you’ve bought an espresso machine with all the bells and whistles, or you might even be an expert in the art of siphon coffee-making or a pour-over method aficionado!

And of course, some need a quick, hassle-free brew and resort to a pod coffee machine. If you fall into that category, it’s OK; nobody’s perfect.

No matter your preferred brewing method, we think it’s pretty safe to say that none of us are reaching for instant coffee packets when it’s time for morning java; instant coffee is pretty much off the table….or is it?

At a Glance: Best Instant Coffee

Instant coffee? Seriously?

We realize none of the instant coffee options on the market or going to match the rich flavor or taste of any other brewed coffee. Like anything that’s been reconstituted, it won’t offer you the subtlety of taste or intensity of bouquet that, say, a well-brewed Moka pot beverage or espresso shot can. And this is doubly true if you purchase instant coffee from subpar companies.

However, here at Roasty, there’s no discrimination against instant coffee lovers, and we’ve reviewed some of what’s available in this “taboo” coffee marketplace. We’re steering clear of the usual grocery store fare and instead, focusing on some of the better-quality instant blends.

First, let’s examine the art — and there absolutely is an art — of making the perfect cup of instant coffee.

Seriously…just humor us. Who knows? By the time we’re finished, you just might be the newest instant coffee convert.

Quick Summary: Best Instant Coffee

Waka Coffee Quality Instant Coffee, Indian, Light Roast | 100% Arabica, Freeze Dried, 8 Single-Serve Packets | Make Hot & Iced Coffee in SecondsWAKA COFFEE
  • Light Roast
  • 100% Arabica
  • Freeze Dried
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Anthony's Organic Instant Coffee,14oz, Ultra Fine Microground, Gluten Free, Arabica, Non GMOANTHONY’S ORGANIC INSTANT COFFEE
  • Gluten Free
  • Ultra Fine Microground
  • Organic High Aroma Arabica Beans
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Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence Instant Coffee in Jar, Dark Roast, 7.05-Ounce, 200 gramDOUWE EGBERTS PURE INDULGENCE INSTANT COFFEE
  • Instant Coffee In Jar
  • Imported From Holland
  • Dark Roast Coffee
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Mount Hagen Organic Fair Trade Freeze Dried Instant Coffee 3.53 oz Kosher Award-Winning Single-Origin 100% ArabicaMOUNT HAGEN ORGANIC FAIR TRADE FREEZE DRIED COFFEE
  • Award-Winning
  • Single Origin
  • 100% Arabica
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Nescafe Taster's Choice Instant Coffee, House Blend (Pack of 12)NESCAFE TASTER’S CHOICE HOUSE BLEND
  • Smooth And Well-Balanced Flavor
  • 100% Pure Premium Coffee
  • Mildly Roasted
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Joe Coffee Specialty Instant Coffee Packets, The Daily House Blend', 6 servings per box, Premium quality coffee for on-the-go/travelJOE COFFEE SPECIALTY INSTANT COFFEE PACKETS
  • Premium Quality Coffee
  • Good For On-The-Go Travel
  • 6 Servings Per Box
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Four Sigma Foods Mushroom Instant Coffee, Organic and Fair Trade Instant Coffee with Lions Mane, Chaga, & Mushroom Powder, Focus & Immune Support, Paleo, 10 CountFOUR SIGMATIC MUSHROOM COFFEE MIX
  • Focus & Immune Support
  • Lions Mane, Chaga, & Mushroom Powder
  • Perfect For All Diets
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DEATH WISH COFFEE Instant Coffee Sticks [8 packs of single-serve packets | 4.9 g | 300mg of Caffeine] The World's Strongest Coffee, USDA Certified OrganicDEATH WISH INSTANT COFFEE
  • World's Strongest Coffee
  • USDA Certified Organic
  • Premium Beans
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Medaglia D'Oro Instant Espresso Coffee, 2 OuncesMEDAGLIA D’ORO INSTANT ESPRESSO COFFEE
  • Fine Quality Coffee Beans
  • Rich Aroma And Robust Espresso Flavor
  • Contains 1- 2 Ounce Jar Of Instant Espresso Coffee
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Jacobs Kronung Instant Coffee 200 Gram / 7.05 Ounce (Pack of 6)JACOBS COFFEE KRONUNG INSTANT COFFEE
  • Superior Fresh Taste
  • Flavorful Blend
  • Imported From Germany
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A brief history of instant coffee

We bet you didn’t know that “modern” instant coffee was first patented in 1881 by Frenchman, Alphonse Allais. Following a world glut of coffee beans in 1930, Nestlé began tinkering around with the process of making dried, reconstituted coffee. And in 1938, the company launched its first instant coffee.

The rest, as they say, is history. Nescafé has pretty much cornered the instant coffee market, holding around 70 percent of its total sales.

So, just what is instant coffee?

Is instant coffee real coffee? Yes. Instant coffee begins its life as regular coffee beans that are ground and brewed as usual. However, that brewing happens in an industrial caffeinating kit to draw out as much of its taste and flavor as possible. Controlling both the pressure applied to the coffee and the water temperature used is essential at this stage in the process.

After brewing is complete, the water has to be removed from the coffee, leaving behind the pure coffee extract. Coffee extraction can be carried out in several ways:

  • A centrifuge spins the coffee. The centrifugal force applied leaves the denser coffee extract behind and removes all the water.
  • Heat evaporates the water from the coffee, leaving behind the coffee extract.
  • The coffee is frozen and the water extracted.

The resulting extract is then dried, usually through freezing or spray-drying, and turned into a powder or granular form.

When the moisture has been removed from the coffee extract, the pure coffee is sprayed through hot air, (480 degrees, to be exact).

The action takes place at the top of a massive tower, where the coffee “mist” is transformed into a fine powder that falls and collects at the bottom of the structure. And then, you have your spray-dried instant coffee.

Chilling out

The process of freeze-drying coffee sees the coffee extract chilled down to a temperature of around 20 degrees Fahrenheit. The frozen coffee is then placed onto belts and allowed to cool down further until it reaches about -40 degrees.

The process transforms the coffee into ice, which is then shattered into smaller particles and dried to evaporate any remaining moisture.

During the packaging process, the compounds and oils that give the coffee its aroma and taste are put back into the granules.

The end result

When you compare your regular brewing process with the way instant coffee is created, it’s easy to see how the fragile aromatics of the coffee bean can be damaged. That’s why many of these coffees taste flat, bitter, and uninspiring, especially when the granules are doused with boiling water, too!

Remember that, aside from the speed and convenience of instant coffee, you can easily adjust the brew strength to suit your taste. That’s especially handy if you’re entertaining friends whose tastes vary. Also, if you’re into baking, you should know that most of these coffees can also be used to flavor cakes, frostings, and more — pretty cool, huh?

Roasty Rankings: Our Picks for Best Instant Coffee

Give your coffee maker a rest and try a packet of these instant coffee grounds.

Waka Coffee

Waka instant coffee Waka instant coffee

Indian Instant Coffee
Indian Instant Coffee - Light Roast
Our rating:

Made of 100% high quality Arabica beans instant coffee from India. Freeze dried to preserve aroma and original flavor of the beans.

CHECK PRICE

Full disclosure – the good folks at Waka Coffee sent us a sample box with the promise that it was going to be unlike any traditional brand we had ever tried.

We were a little skeptical, but we have to admit – the single-serve packets of Waka Coffee Quality Instant Coffee brewed some darn good cups of coffee. The Indian option was our favorite, but the Colombian has the most classic coffee feel. They also give the option of instant decaf coffee, in case you aren’t in it for the caffeine.

Also, Waka Coffee is a business with a purpose – providing clean water to those who need it. Four percent of their profits go to clean water projects that aid 26 countries in Africa, Asia, Central, and South America.

You can also read our full review of the brand here.

Anthony’s Organic Instant Coffee

If you’re an exclusively organic coffee drinker who’s looking to venture into the instant coffee world, Los Angeles-based Anthony’s Goods has just the product for you. The 100 percent Arabica beans used to make the brand’s organic instant coffee hail from Latin America, and once they make their way to the company headquarters in California, they’re ground finely so they easily dissolve in hot water.

Each cup of this brew is gluten-free and non-GMO, and while that takes care of what’s not in this coffee, it’s equally important for you to know what is. And that’s antioxidants. This strong coffee will give you the caffeine-driven energy boost you need to get your day going while providing the good-for-you compounds that protect your cells against free radicals that play a role in serious ailments like cancer.

Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence Instant Coffee

It’s been over 200 years since Douwe Egberts first stepped onto the coffee scene, and since then, the brand has made its mission to enhance the little pleasures of daily life starting with your morning cup o’ joe.

Enter Pure Indulgence.

This java is the darkest in the coffee company’s instant coffee lineup, made from a blend of strong robusta and arabica beans. Each jar makes about 115 cups of brew, and each one will be strong, rich, velvety, and smooth — all you’ve got to do is add water, and you’re set!

Mount Hagen Organic Fair Trade Freeze Dried Coffee

Mount Hagen Organic is a very popular instant coffee brand. So, if you’re looking for tried-and-true instant blends, this one might be for you.

Mount Hagen’s coffee is made from organically grown, single-origin beans sourced from fair trade plantations in Papua New Guinea. The resulting brew is velvety and mild while still boasting that rich depth you expect from your morning coffee.

Lastly, Mount Hagen’s coffee is packed in a glass jar with a good seal to keep the granules fresh. This is also a great choice if you are looking for medium-roasted instant coffees, rather than dark roast coffees.

Nescafe Taster’s Choice House Blend

As we mentioned before, Nescafe dominates the world’s instant coffee sales, so we’d be remiss to leave the Swiss-born company off our list.

Nestle Nescafe’s house blend is a medium roast that packs a smooth, balanced, and rich taste in every cup of the just-add-water brew. This coffee is a combination of high-quality, responsibly-sourced arabica and robusta beans, and the glass jar this instant coffee blend comes in makes certain you don’t lose any of the precious flavors or aromas while the product sits on your pantry shelf.

Joe Coffee Specialty Instant Coffee Packets

If you’ve ever visited a Joe Coffee shop in New York and sipped on the milk chocolate and caramel notes of the company’s Daily House blend, you’ll be pleased to know you can take the coffee’s rich flavors with you on the go thanks to the convenience of instant coffee crystals.

The beans for this brew come from Huila, Colombia and Cajamarca, Peru, and as they’re processed in the brand’s Brooklyn headquarters, they’re put into sachets. All you have to do is add eight to 10 ounces of water — hold or cold — stir, and enjoy. Each packet contains five grams of quality coffee you can enjoy at home during the mornings when you don’t have time to brew a whole pot of coffee or out and about with no access to a coffee maker.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix

Now, having ventured across to the “dark side” of caffeinating, you might as well try something totally off-the-wall.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee is one of the top-selling instants we found. Who knew?

The coffee is made using 100 percent organic arabica coffee. And two functional mushrooms. Fear not, the brew doesn’t taste like mushrooms. Organic Lion’s Mane mushroom and wild-crafted organic Chaga mushroom are added to the coffee. The former supports focus and productivity, and the latter gives a boost to your immune system.

It’s different, but this medium roast coffee is certainly flavorsome and well worth a try.

Death Wish Instant Coffee, 8 Packets

On Sale

Fair-trade and USDA-certified organic, Death Wish Instant Coffee comes in a box of 8 single-serve packets you can brew at home or take with you on the road wherever you roam.

All you need to brew is 8 ounces of how water, or hot milk. Each packet contains about 5 grams of coffee that pack a solid punch of caffeine. This is a dark roast coffee, so if you’re looking for something intense in more than one way, this is certainly worth your time.

Interested in Death Wish’s other options? Check out our full review of the brand here.

Medaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso Coffee

Now, this is an instant coffee with class! Medaglia D’Oro is an espresso made from blended, double-roasted coffee to produce a rich, bold flavor. You’ll even get a thick crema on top of your brew.

The coffee is so well-balanced and smooth; it makes a great base for other beverages such as cappuccinos and lattes.

The only real downside to this product is that it is a tad pricey as far as instant coffees go, but it’s definitely worth the extra pennies. It’s also a popular option for those looking for an espresso powder to use in cooking.

Jacobs Coffee Kronung Instant Coffee

On Sale

Step up your instant coffee game with a jar of good-quality coffee imported from Germany. The freeze-dried instant coffee is made from a blend of java from the best growing areas and sealed in a well-sealed glass jar to keep the granules fresh.

This rich and flavorful coffee makes a tasty, quick cup of joe to beat the afternoon slump or a perfect morning pick-me-up for campers on their way out for a full day of hiking. And if your taste buds aren’t a fan of drinking coffee black, it’s easy to stir in sugar, spices, or creamer to this instant brew.

G7 3-in-1 Instant Premium Vietnamese Coffee

 G7 is created via a secret “patented dry-roasting process,” rather than the usual spray or freeze-drying methods we’ve previously mentioned. The result does receive lots of excellent reviews and sells very well, so however they do it, the secret process undoubtedly works.

We’ve included this coffee — a combination of Jamaican, Brazilian, Ethiopian, and Vietnamese beans — in our list of favorite products because we reckon it’s perfect to take with you if you’re traveling or for use at work. The flavorful coffee contains creamer and sugar; all you need to do is add hot water and enjoy!

Starbucks VIA Instant Pike Place

If you’re one of the millions across the globe who enjoy the tastes and flavors of Starbucks coffees, you’ll be thrilled to know that, thanks to an individual packet of Starbucks VIA Instant coffee, you can enjoy your favorite blends at all times — just add hot water, wait 10 seconds, and stir until the micro-ground beans are dissolved. Use the instant coffee grounds to fuel your next camping trip or when you feel like whipping up a fancy but simple Dalgona coffee.

Try a packet of the Seattle-founded franchise’s Pike Place blend for a smooth and balanced medium-roasted brew with notes of chocolate and toasted nuts. For a darker instant coffee experience, opt for a packet of Starbucks’s Italian roast instead. This classic brew is the brand’s quintessential dark roast, boasting flavor notes of dark chocolate and toasted marshmallow.

Republica Organic Decaf Instant Coffee

Some coffee lovers want their morning cup without caffeine jitters. That’s why decaffeinated coffee exists, and luckily for you, Republica Coffee Roasters has an instant coffee blend that’s sure to please even the most devoted decaf drinker.

This certified organic and fair-trade coffee is sourced from South America, and each serving (1-2 teaspoons of crystallized java) makes a smooth cup of coffee. The company seals its product in a glass jar that’s made of recycled materials so the fresh taste and aroma of the medium-roasted arabica beans are locked in.

Instant vs. Regular Coffee

Many coffee aficionados are hesitant to branch out from their fresh, home-ground coffee. Honestly, we don’t blame you; it’s hard to beat the flavor and complexity of freshly ground and brewed coffee. However, for those of you reaching for pre-ground coffee or just looking to improve their on-the-go options, instant coffee may be the best option.

The convenience factor of a coffee that can be brewed with hot or cold water and on the go is hard to challenge. Thus, people often go for alternative criticism: coffee taste. But we’re going to let you in on a little secret: the ingredients matter more than the form.

While you may not be able to achieve the same freshness with instant, the strength and flavor of regular coffee can be rivaled if you are buying the right beans. Many of your standard instants use robusta beans to make up for the lower caffeine content. But if you search and seek out specialty brews (hint: we’ve taken care of that work for you), you can achieve a strong, tasty brew nonetheless.

A Tip for Taste

The best way of extracting maximum coffee flavor from your cup of instant is to place a teaspoon or two of coffee into your cup and mix it with a dash of warm water. Allow the coffee to “rest” for half a minute, and then top-up your brew with hot water (not boiling!).

This technique helps the coffee granules to brew more gently without destroying the flavor by scalding them with too much heat. This way, you can make the most of any instant coffee you try.

FAQs

Can you make instant iced coffee or cold brew?

Absolutely! The process is pretty simple, too. To brew iced coffee with any of the products we’ve listed, simply dissolve the granules as described above with a little bit of warm water. If you want to extract some extra flavor or your granules aren’t entirely dissolved you can add a little more hot water.

After that, simply add cold water and any sweeteners and serve over ice. Voila! The perfect iced cup of coffee.

There are even instant coffee brands that have designed products specifically designed to be dissolved in cold water, like Cusa Coffee. Pour an individual packet of this coffee into any temperature water and enjoy a cold brew or hot java, whichever you prefer, in just a matter of seconds.

For those of you with a sweet tooth or looking for something both cold and delightfully creamy, you can try Folgers’ recipe for creamy instant iced coffee. Simply combine a can of chilled evaporated milk with your instant coffee of choice and blend with 1/3 cup of sugar in a blender until everything is dissolved and well incorporated. Pour over ice and enjoy!

Bonus: Throw some whipped cream on top of add extra flavorings to spice things up.

Is instant coffee bad for you?

Instant coffee, much like regular brewed coffee, boasts many health benefits due to its antioxidants. A serving of these convenient brews not only tastes like a decent cup of joe, but it also boasts potential health benefits such as enhanced brain function and boosted metabolism (just to name a couple).

Furthermore, instant coffee tends to have less caffeine than regular brew. While for some that’s a bit of a bummer, for many others who are sensitive to caffeine, it’s a relief.

The only potential downfall of this type of coffee is the presence of acrylamide. Regular coffee has about half as much acrylamide as its pre-brewed companion. However, this chemical is only harmful in rather high amounts, and the levels in instant coffee aren’t going to hurt you (even if you’re drinking it every day).

So the bottom line is, no. It isn’t bad for you, and it may even have a few health benefits!

Should you refrigerate instant coffee?

You might think that, since the grounds in instant coffee products have already been freeze-dried, it’s harmless to keep the opened coffee in the refrigerator. However, this is false.

The coffee world is quite divided over whether or not you should store coffee in the fridge or freezer. We at Roasty, however, find ourselves on the side of keeping all beans out of the freezer. This is because those cold environments create an opportunity for excess moisture to slip into the coffee, which ruins the smells and flavors of the brew.

You don’t want the instant coffee to lose any of its flavors, either, so it’s best to keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, like a pantry.

How long can you store instant coffee?

Even once it’s been opened, instant coffee has a shelf life of up to 20 years. For this reason, many people keep it on hand in case of emergencies, like power outages or at-home brewer breakdowns. But just because you can keep it nearly forever doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

As you can imagine, your coffee won’t taste its best a whopping two decades after you purchased it. Some say that, if stored properly in an airtight container and kept away from light and moisture, your instant coffee will retain its freshness and quality for 12 to 18 months.

It’s still safe to use the instant brew after the 18 months have passed, but for the best-tasting results, you should consume the coffee before then.

Powder or crystals?

You might notice when shopping around for a new instant brew that some of the coffees are powders while others are granules or crystals. Is there a difference between the two, and if so, which is the better choice?

The distinction lies in how the two are processed. Powder is the result of spray-drying the coffee, while coffee crystals have been freeze-dried. Of the two, freeze-dried coffee, or coffee crystals, are preferred by the majority of instant coffee enthusiasts because the freeze-drying process allows the coffee to retain all of the delicious flavors and aromas we love so much.

And by the way…you might see some instant coffees, particularly powdered ones, being referred to as coffee powder or soluble coffee. Don’t let those names confuse you, though; they’re still the instant, just-add-water java you’re looking for.

Wrapping up

Instant coffee is versatile, quick to brew, easily customizable, and surprisingly flavorsome — a perfect recipe for a convenient caffeine kick, so long as you purchase a quality product. Now that you know all about instant brews, step out of your coffee comfort zone and try one of our featured brands for yourself.

Happy caffeinating!

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