Ever wanted to know a little more about our top-ranked instant coffee? Wonder no more coffee friends; today, we’re doing a full Waka Coffee review of their complete coffee line-up. And boy are we excited about it.
This review is covering the full nine yards on this unique instant coffee brand to see if their promise to “bring the instant back” might come to fruition. Read on to find out more about the company, their products, and our thoughts on how their brews stand up against both standard and instant coffee competitors.
About the Company
Their Mission: Why Instant?
A company that’s all about instant might seems a little weird to your average coffee connoisseur. So let’s talk about their mission and vision first. They’re as follows:
Mission: “Help people enjoy coffee more easily, wherever they are.”
Vision: “To be the future’s online coffee shop company.”
David Kovalevski, the founder and CEO of Waka Coffee, came up with the idea for the company as a busy, working undergrad student living in the Big Apple. Blighted by the high price and inconvenience of coffee shops, he turned to instant but was disappointed by what he found there.
So, now he and his company are committed to making great-tasting, easy coffee that’s as versatile as people’s schedules. They accomplish this by making craft-quality instant coffee and selling it online through both their website and via Amazon (hence their vision for the future).
What they Sell
Waka Coffee’s main three options are a Single-Origin Colombian, a Decaf Single-Origin Colombian, and a Single-Origin Indian. Of course, all of these are instant. They each come in four purchasing options: A box with 8 single-serve packets, a value pack with 3 of those boxes, a 3.5-ounce bag, and an 8-ounce bag.
In addition to their main line-up, they also sell a Kenyan Instant Black Tea in a 4.5-ounce bag, bamboo coffee spoons (red or black grip handles), and a Waka Coffee branded double-walled insulated tumbler. Plus, there are Starter Packs/Gift Sets which include the tumbler, a spoon, and a box + 3.5-ounce bag of the Colombian options (either caffeinated or decaffeinated).
Waka Coffee’s first effort towards sustainability is in its packaging. They have chosen to make their boxes completely recyclable.
Currently, Waka Coffee is partnered with charity: water, a highly-transparent, reputable non-profit organization working primarily in the global south to provide long and short term solutions to providing clean, safe drinking water to areas that need it.
4% of every purchase of Waka Coffee gets donated to charity: water. You can read more about this program and why Waka Coffee has chosen to contribute to this organization on their Add Water, Give Water page.
In addition to their current efforts, Waka coffee is open about its efforts to improve sustainability and positive impact projects. They are currently working on getting Fair Trade and Organic certifications for their products. On this note, the company has stated that “In the meantime, we strive for fair payment in our supply chain to deliver to you the finest product.”
About the Coffee
Right of the bat, hearing that this brand uses 100% Arabica beans should tell you they’re doing something different. Most instant coffee brands use blends composed mostly if not entirely of Robusta beans.
Typically, this choice is made because Robusta beans are cheaper than Arabica ones. Also, Robusta beans tend to give a better caffeine kick. That said, what they have going in terms of cost and caffeine comes at the expense of flavor. Their brews (especially the instants) are not infrequently compared to drinking liquid tires.
On the other hand, Arabica beans tend to be less intensely bitter and offer richer, complex flavors. That is why they are the go-to for most of your favorite coffee shops and at-home coffee gurus.
Now, in an even bolder move than going 100% Arabica, Waka Coffee has opted to sell single-origin coffee. That means each of their green coffees is produced at a single geographic location (likely a single farm or plantation).
This “single-origin” label is becoming increasingly popular in craft coffee circles because it indicates that the regional flavors of the beans can be both preserved and recreated. Basically, their flavors are recognizable and consistent.
As you may already know, instant coffee involves a pre-brewing process to create an extra-strong brew from which water is then removed, leaving a coffee extract. There are a couple of different methods of accomplishing this:
- A centrifuge: Brewed coffee is spun at high speeds, leaving denser coffee extract behind while removing the water.
- Heat (spray drying): The brewed coffee is heated until the water evaporates out of it.
- Dry-Freezing: Coffee is frozen and water is sublimated out using a vacuum.
Waka Coffee uses the last option, and there are a few advantages to opting for this more time-consuming, expensive process. The coffee is first frozen at -50° C (-58° F), which helps to preserve the flavor and aroma.
Then, a vacuum is applied, causing the sublimation process (where ice immediately changes to steam, rather than first becoming water). This causes less damage to the original taste of the brew, unlike spray drying.
FYI: Stray drying is the faster, cheaper method used by most instant coffee brands. It involves spaying hot air over the brew to force the water to evaporate. The extra heat tends to diminish the flavor, giving you that typical, weak and tire-like instant coffee taste.
Another thing noted on Waka Coffee’s website (though not their packaging since it’s a bit of a no-brainer) is that they’re selling pure coffee. Other coffee brands both instant and pre-bottled will throw in additives and fillers for color or volume.
Not so with Waka. You can rest assured knowing exactly what you’re sipping on.
Waka coffee also offers a subscription option. So once you’re hooked you can save extra cash by signing up. You can choose this option with most of their products and have them delivered to you once a month with a 20% discount.
About the Brew
For our taste-test, we made four brews. For each of the three flavors (decaf, Indian, Columbian), we opted to use the single-serve packages. We also included the bagged version of the caffeinated Columbian option to see if the packaging resulted in any disparity in flavor/freshness.
First, we tried each cup black (no sugar or milk). We then tested how the brews stood up to a splash of milk and a bit of sugar consecutively (adding milk first, testing, then adding sugar).
Needless to say, the brewing portion of this taste test was an absolute breeze. We simply put a large batch of water into our kettle and waited. While the water was heating up, we went ahead and poured out the packets into each cup and measured out about .1 ounce of the bagged coffee. (We just eyeballed it based on the single-serve amounts).
Here are our thoughts on each of the coffees we tried. They are color-coded to match their packaging. Note: Both the bagged and boxed caffeinated Columbian are the same blue, though the lighting in the picture above makes it seem otherwise. All of the boxes match their bagged counterparts.
Columbian Instant Coffee (Caffeinated)
Columbian coffee is a popular option for 100% Arabica blends. Because the region is the #3 coffee producing country in the world, the beans are in abundance, which helps keep costs low. These brews tend to be mild and well-balanced, and Waka Coffee’s blend is no exception.
There was no notable difference between the bagged and single-serve brews in terms of freshness or intensity of flavor. And the labeling does indicate that they were from the same lot, so it is unsurprising that the flavors weren’t any different.
Because of the Columbian beans, these brews had a very “classic” taste. They were fresh and tasty but nothing too special if you’re comparing them to other Columbian brews. But that’s alright– there’s a reason this taste is so popular.
However, Waka gets points for accomplishing this with an instant coffee– you honestly can’t tell that this isn’t a typical brewed cup of coffee. Especially stacking these brews up against other instants, we were pretty impressed. The brews weren’t super bitter or over-roasted, a pleasant surprise in the world of instant.
When milk and sugar were added, these brews considerably weakened. We’d recommend sticking closer to the 8-ounce suggestion rather than the 10 if you are hoping to add some extras. But we could have had these black with no complaints. (We initially brewed on the higher-water end as we normally drink our coffee black anyway).
Columbian Instant Coffee - Caffeinated
Tastes like a fresh brew, fast like instant. No wait, no lines, no machines – pure coffee – no additives at all!
Columbian Instant Coffee (Decaffeinated)
First off, the decaffeinated version does taste different from their caffeinated Columbians. It still has the “classic coffee” feel. But the subtler, more complex flavor created by citrus notes indicated on the package were significantly easier to notice in this cup.
As a fan of decaf myself, this brew got me pretty excited. I definitely could have downed the whole thing black without adding the milk and sugar, but it actually held up pretty well to those in comparison to its caffeinated counterpart.
Overall, this one is an excellent option for those who enjoy the experience of coffee in the morning but don’t want the caffeine. So if you are leading that fast-paced, high-stress lifestyle and are trying to take steps to reduce anxiety symptoms, this convenient little brew might be your new best friend (it’s certainly becoming mine).
Columbian Instant Coffee - Decaffeinated
Just like our caffeinated instant coffee, the decaf version is also freeze dried to preserve aroma and original flavor of the beans.
Indian Instant Coffee
To be completely honest, this brew was the crowd favorite. The chocolate and hazelnut notes lend the brew a richness that outshines the other two options. It also seemed to help the brew stand up much better to the additions of milk and sugar.
We were completely stunned by how delightfully flavorful this brew was. This type of impact from an instant coffee, a light roast at that, is basically unheard of. The low acidity and dry finish came through as advertised and we were all stoked.
While sometimes drinking a plain black brew you made on the way out the door can feel a bit like settling compared to your coffee shop go-to, this Indian brew definitely breaks that vibe. So if your standards are high but you’re light on time and money, this is a great option.
Essentially none– it was glorious. Even the rinse-and-run Aeropress can’t beat this almost-zero clean-up. All you need is your mug and a spoon for stirring (and/or measuring if you’re using the bag). There aren’t even any grounds to clean up!
Plus, a good bit of the packaging is recyclable, so you don’t even have to worry about creating extra waste. It’s a win-win.
Convenience is the heart and soul of instant coffee. Sure, it is nice to slow down and treat yourself to a specialty brew from your favorite coffee shop on a Sunday morning. However, most people don’t have the time (or money) to make that choice every day of the week. That’s where convenience wins out.
Even if you’re still holding out on instant and sticking to your home-brewer, you are limited to what you can fit in your travel mug. Plus, if you wake up late, you’re just S.O.L. Some of you are still going through those crowded morning drive-throughs to get your fix. Waka Coffee offers you an alternative to these less than ideal options.
Their instant coffee allows you to be on-the-go and coffeed-up anywhere that you can get your hands on water (it doesn’t even have to be hot). Plus, you aren’t sacrificing on flavor like you would with many other instant brands that offer the same promise of portability. Honestly, we’re pretty into that.
So, while Waka coffee was generous enough to send us these coffees to review for free, we did go ahead and check out their prices to see how they stack up. If you are buying their single-serve instant, you are looking at $1.20-$1.50 per serving compared to $2.00 at most chain coffee shops for a plain black brew.
If you are purchasing Waka Coffee’s bagged instant, you’re getting more cost-effective. These come out to about $0.71 per serving for the small bags (3.5 ounces/35 servings) and $0.49 per serving with the larger ones (8 ounces/80 servings).
So, on top of the convenience factor, these brews seem to be more budget-friendly than their coffee-shop and chain competitors. Even if your go-to is the $1 brew at McDonald’s, you aren’t compromising much on your budget (even with the more expensive single-serves), plus you don’t have to wait in line.
Like we mentioned earlier, you don’t have to have hot water to brew this stuff. So if you’re an iced coffee fan, using this stuff is much easier than almost any other kind of brewing when it comes to getting your chilly fix.
If you plan on using cold (rather than room temp) water, use a splash of some hot (or hot-ish) water to dissolve the coffee first, then add cold water and ice.
Things We Liked
- Preservation of flavors and freshness
- Efforts towards sustainability from the get-go
- Convenience, convenience, convenience (and versatility)
We could go on, but we didn’t want to give you a mile-long list. Our favorite thing about this coffee by far is the lengths the brand has gone to for the sake of preserving their flavor, aroma, and freshness. The results are definitely worth it. And if a friend were to take a sip of your drink, chances are they won’t notice it’s instant.
Another notable feature of this brand is the choice to prioritize sustainability from the beginning. they aren’t perfect (no one is). But the effort is certainly admirable in a relatively new company, as sustainable practices tend to be more time consuming and expensive.
Lastly, the most valuable feature of any instant coffee is its commitment to convenience. And this brand ticks that box pretty well. The fact that you can cold brew this stuff is a serious win. Plus, their packaging is sleek and subtle, so you won’t be toting around flashy plastic packets with you.
Room For Improvement
- The choice to use ounces measurement units on the Columbian packaging seems to depart from the spirit of convenience
- The Indian Instant coffee is not yet available as a starter pack/gift set
Honestly, our complaints here are pretty nitpicky because there isn’t much to complain about. So don’t let the little things dissuade you from checking out this brand. This is mostly just feedback for Waka coffee on how to continue to grow and improve.
Our first suggestion would be to change the measurements from ounces to teaspoons/tablespoons for the coffee on the bagged coffee. The “.1 ounce” suggestion on the back of the packaging is a bit hard to nail without a kitchen scale. We preferred the more user-friendly measurements on the decaf and Indian packages.
That is obviously only an issue for the bagged coffee, as the single-serve boxes have pre-measured packets. The 8-10 ounce suggestion for water isn’t as big of a deal, as that is about the size of a regular coffee mug anyway. Though saying 1 cup per serving may help those making larger batches in a travel mug.
The second suggestion is simply based on our taste bias. We enjoyed the Indian coffee the most and were a little bummed it wasn’t offered as a set just yet (but, to be fair, it just released in December 2019). Because it’s still relatively new, we assume (and hope) this is in the works.
Who’s it for?
Aside from people already into instant coffee, there are a couple of demographics who will probably appreciate Waka Coffee:
- Travelers: People who are in and out of cars and airports all the time and don’t want to drop obscene amounts of money on mediocre coffee
- Campers: For when you are literally out of range of your go-to coffee and don’t want to pack any extra coffee gear.
- Busy Bees: Whether its work or college or just life, some people are always on the go
- Lazy Days: We all have them– sometimes you just need something to be completely, blissfully, effort-free
Overall, we’re pretty confident giving Waka Coffee our stamp of approval. So next time you’re ordering your coffee, give them a try.
PS. You can check out Waka Coffee on Instagram and Facebook by following @wakacoffee or twitter @trywakacoffee. You can even shoot them an email at [email protected] #instantisback