Buying Guides

Best Instant Coffee: Brew on the Dark Side

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

And every dedicated home barista has his or her preferred method of brewing. You may favor the traditional French press, the more modern Aeropress method. Perhaps you’ve bought an all bells and whistles espresso machine. Heck, you might even be an expert in the art of siphon coffee making or an aficionado of the pour-over method.

Also, those of you who need a quick brew without hassle might even resort to an automatic coffee making machine. Well, nobody’s perfect.

At a Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Instant Coffee

One thing we’re pretty confident about is that you won’t reach for a jar or packet of instant coffee when you want to make a brew. Or maybe not…

best instant coffee

Instant coffee … seriously?

Okay, we realize that instant coffee is never going to match the flavor or taste you’ll get with any other form of brew.

Instant coffee, like anything that’s been reconstituted, won’t offer you the subtlety of taste or intensity of bouquet that, say, a well-brewed Moka pot beverage or espresso shot can, for example. And this is doubly true if you don’t pick the right brand.

However, here at Roasty, we aren’t coffee snobs, and there’s no discrimination here. So, we’ve reviewed what’s on offer in this supposedly “taboo” coffee marketplace, steering clear of the usual grocery store fare and focusing instead on some of the better-quality instants.

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

(Just humor us.)

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 is history. Nescafé has pretty much cornered the instant coffee market, holding some 70% of sales.

Unfortunately, true coffee fans are horrified at the prospect of being forced to drink a cup of instant coffee. It is truly disgusting and the stuff of the Devil. Right?

So, just what is instant coffee?

Instant coffee begins life as regular coffee. The coffee beans are ground and brewed as usual. However, that brewing happens in an industrial caffeinating kit to draw out as much 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. Extraction of the coffee 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 and turned into a powder or granular form. Drying is typically carried out through freeze or spray-drying.

To the tower …

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

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 there 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 20oF. The frozen coffee is then placed onto belts and allowed to cool down further until a temperature of about -40o is attained.

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 brews taste flat, bitter, and uninspiring, especially when you go ahead and douse the granules 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, etc. Cool.

Now, before you turn your nose up at the prospect, you should give the following ten instant coffee products a try.

Our Top 11 Best Instant Coffees

Here at Roasty, we believe that every bean deserves a chance, so we’ve found ten respectable-tasting picks for the best instant coffee. Just click on the links to order, and prepare to be surprised and amazed (in a good way!)

Quick Summary

Waka Coffee Quality Instant Coffee, Colombian, Medium Roast | 100% Arabica, Freeze Dried, 8 Single-Serve Packets | We Bring The Instant BackWaka Instant coffee
  • A solid option to have in the cupboard when you’re in a hurry
  • Also a business with a purpose
Check on Amazon →
Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee Dark Roast Packets — Italian Roast — 100% Arabica — 1 box (50 packets)Starbucks VIA Instant Italian Roast
  • Dark roast with a rich, deep flavor
  • Sweet notes of caramelized sugar
  • Just add hot water, wait, stir, and enjoy
Check on Amazon →
Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee Medium Roast Packets — Colombia — 1 box (50 packets)Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee, Colombia
  • Starbuck's best-selling instant coffee variety
  • Made from 100% Colombian Arabica
  • Signature walnut flavor
Check on Amazon →
Mount Hagen Organic Fair Trade Freeze Dried Instant Coffee 3.53 oz Kosher Award-Winning Single-Origin 100% ArabicaMount Hagan Organic Freeze Dried Instant Coffee
  • One of Amazon's best sellers
  • Made from organically grown beans from Fairtrade plantations
Check on Amazon →
Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee Crystals, 8 OuncesFolgers Instant Coffee Crystals, Classic Roast
  • Rich, pure taste and a delicious aroma
  • Made from mountain-grown beans
Check on Amazon →
Mushroom Coffee by Four Sigmatic, Organic and Fair Trade Instant Coffee with Lions Mane, Chaga, & Mushroom Powder, Focus & Immune Support, 10 CountFour Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee
  • Made using 100% organic Arabica coffee
  • Supports focus and productivity
  • Gives a boost to your immune system
Check on Amazon →
Death Wish Instant Coffee, The World's Strongest Coffee, Fair Trade and USDA Certified Organic, 8 PacketsDeath Wish Instant Coffee
  • Contains only half the acid in regular coffees
  • Ideal for coffee fans who have sensitive digestion
  • Rich, full-bodied flavor and delicious aroma
Check on Amazon →
Medaglia D'Oro Instant Espresso Coffee, 2 OuncesMedaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso Coffee
  • Rich, bold flavor with a thick crema on top of your brew
  • Well-balanced and smooth
  • Great base for cappuccinos and lattes
Check on Amazon →
Jacobs Kronung Instant Coffee 200 Gram / 7.05 Ounce (Pack of 6)Jacobs Coffee Kronung Instant Coffee
  • Rich and flavorful
  • Made from a blend of 100% ground coffee
Check on Amazon →
Trung Nguyen - G7 3 In 1 Instant Coffee - 100 Packets | Roasted Ground Coffee Blend with Creamer and Sugar, Suitable for Most Coffee Brewing Methods, (16gr/stick)G7 3-in-1 Instant Premium Vietnamese Coffee
  • Perfect for traveling or for use at work
  • Contains creamer and sugar
  • Just add hot water and enjoy
Check on Amazon →
Laird Superfood Instafuel Instant Coffee - Delicious Mix of Premium Coffee and Our Original Superfood Non-Dairy Creamer, 1lb BagLaird Superfood Instafuel Premium Instant Coffee Plus Creamer
  • Complete instant coffee on the go
  • Full, vibrant flavor
  • Creamer is dairy and gluten-free, non-GMO, and suitable for vegans
Check on Amazon →

Waka Coffee

Waka instant coffee Waka instant coffee

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.

I was a little skeptical, but I have to admit – they brewed some darn good cups of coffee. The Indian option (linked above) was our favorite, but the Columbian has the most classic coffee feel. They also offer a decaf option, 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. Click here to try it for yourself.  You can also read our full review of the brand here.

Mount Hagen Organic Fair Trade Freeze Dried Coffee

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

Mount Hagen coffee is made from organically grown beans sourced from fair trade plantations. The beans are single-origin, sourced from Papua New Guinea. The brew is velvety and mild while still having that rich depth that you expect from your morning cup of 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 a more medium roast instant, rather than dark roast coffees.

Folgers Coffee Crystals, Classic Roast

Folgers is one of the most popular instant coffee brands in the US. They’ve been around since 1850, so they’re clearly doing something right. Plus, they continue to work with UTZ to ensure that their sourcing is sustainable, so chances are they’re sticking around.

Their classic medium roast instant coffee crystals are made from mountain-grown beans to give a rich, pure taste and a delicious aroma too.

Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee

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% 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

Fair Trade and USDA Organic Certified, Death Wish Instant Coffee comes in a box of 8 single-serve packets that 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 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 instant coffees go, but it’s definitely worth the extra pennies. It is also a popular option for those looking for an espresso powder to use in cooking.

Jacobs Coffee Kronung Instant Coffee

This freeze-dried instant coffee is made from a blend of 100% ground coffee. It’s a good-quality German brand that’s presented in a glass jar with a good seal to keep the coffee fresh.

This rich and flavorful coffee makes a tasty, quick cup of Joe to beat the afternoon slump.

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 in our 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.

Laird Superfood Instafuel Premium Coffee Plus Creamer

For those who like the idea of a complete instant coffee that can be enjoyed on the go, Laired Superfood Instafuel is a leading contender.

This instant coffee contains creamer (but no sugar). The coffee used is premium Arabica for a full, vibrant flavor. The creamer is dairy and gluten-free, non-GMO, and it’s also suitable for vegans.

Starbucks VIA Instant Italian Roast

Starbucks VIA instant Italian roast is a high-quality instant coffee that’s made using Arabica beans. This coffee is a dark roast with a rich, deep flavor and sweet notes of caramelized sugar.

VIA comes in a box of 50 individually wrapped servings that keep the coffee super-fresh. All you have to do is add hot water, wait for 10 seconds, stir, and enjoy.

Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee, Colombia

Starbucks again, but we just had to include their best-selling instant coffee variety in our list for you to try.

This blend is made from 100% Colombian Arabica coffee and has a signature walnut flavor.

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 a 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 actually 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 coffees you try.

FAQ’s

Can you make iced coffee with instant?

Absolutely! The process is actually 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.

For those of you with a sweet tooth or looking for something delightfully creamy, you can try Folger’s 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 a number of 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!

Wrapping up

Instant coffee is versatile, quick to brew, easy to customize, and surprisingly flavorsome.

So, now you know all about instant coffee, why not take a journey to the dark side and try one of our favorite featured brands for yourself?

Happy caffeinating!

 

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