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 convenience that makes instant brews so popular.
We’ve got nine 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.
How to choose the best instant coffee
In many ways, choosing the best 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.
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 coffees. 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.
Choose arabica beans for the best 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 level can still matter.
A lot of instant coffee is 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.
However, if you love a bright light roast or a super-dark 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.
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 in 2020
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.
| ||Sudden Coffee Intelligentsia Illumination Blend|
CLICK TO CHECK PRICE
| ||Waka Coffee Indian|
| ||Alpine Start Dirty Chai|
| ||Laird Superfood Instafuel|
| ||Waka Coffee Decaf Colombian|
| ||Starbucks VIA Instant Colombia|
| ||Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee|
| ||Sudden Coffee One Village Peru Finca Matapalo|
CLICK TO CHECK PRICE
| ||Nescafe Espresso|
Founded in 2015, Sudden Coffee has taken the instant coffee world by storm with an entirely new business model. Instead of coming out with an instant coffee product, they focused on developing a science-backed technique to turn high-end coffee into instant coffee.
They source their coffee beans by partnering with specialty coffee roasters around the world, who have already mastered the ideal single origins, blends, and roast levels. They then use a proprietary mild brewing process to capture all the complex and fruity flavor notes before slowly freeze-drying the coffee to preserve the fragile aromatic molecules. The willingness of top-of-the-line roasters, most of whom would traditionally shy away from instant coffee, to partner with Sudden is a testament to the success of this process.
The Sudden Coffee line-up is ever-changing, in keeping with the notion of capturing beans at their fresh and seasonal best. Our favorite at present is the Intelligentsia Illumination house blend.
The shade-grown organic coffee beans are a blend of Ethiopian, sourced from the famed Yirgacheffe region, and Peruvian, harvested high in the Andes mountains, and both are grown by small scale family farmers. The former provides floral aromas and tropical fruit sweetness, while the latter offers a rounded sweetness and silky body.
The beans are roasted to a perfect medium, yielding an elegant, juicy brew with bright flavors of cranberry, lime, and mandarin orange, backed by the dark and rich taste of molasses.
2. Waka Coffee Indian – Best Budget
Roast level: Light
- Additives: None
- Varietal: Arabica
Waka Coffee is another newcomer to the instant coffee 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 instant coffee in resealable bags of up to 80 servings. Given the long shelf life of instant coffee, there is no detriment to stocking up, and buying in bulk makes this coffee an excellent value.
3. Alpine Start Dirty Chai Latte – Best Latte
Roast level: Unspecified
- Additives: Chai spices, black tea, soy milk
- Varietal: Arabica
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.
4. Laird Superfood Instafuel – Best All-in-One
Roast level: Unspecified
- Additives: Coconut Milk Powder, Organic Coconut Sugar, Aquamin, Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- Varietal: Arabica
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.
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 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 instant coffee game when they introduced the Starbucks VIA instant 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 Colombian 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 organic 100% 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 instant coffee provides the energy boost you crave without any accompanying jitters or afternoon crashes.
One Village Peru Finca Matapalo is another offering from Sudden Coffee, and it provides the unique opportunity to experience the exotic flavors of a single origin bean with the convenience of an instant coffee. If you want to make your coffee-loving camping buddies wildly jealous of your morning brew, this is the stuff to bring along!
Finca Matapalo is in the Junin region of central Peru on the edge of the Andes Mountains. The beans are grown at high elevation, between 4,800 and 5,900 feet, and wet-processed for exceptional clarity of flavor. They’ve been Rainforest Alliance certified, which guarantees that they were grown in a manner that supports both local farmers and biodiversity.
Using their patented method, Sudden Coffee can produce instant coffee granules that maintain all the subtle characteristics of the original brew. The result is an easy-drinking coffee with cocoa powder as its dominant flavor. You can also expect to taste toasted nuts and a hint of apricot accompanied by a honey sweetness in the cup.
9. Nescafe Espresso – Best Instant Espresso
Roast level: Medium
- Additives: None
- Varietal: Arabica
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 coffee without sacrificing the subtle tastes and aromas of a freshly brewed cup of coffee.
Our favorite for 2020 is Sudden Coffee’s Intelligentsia Illumination blend, a carefully crafted combination of organically grown Ethiopian and Peruvian beans. All you need to do is add hot water, and you’ll be enjoying rich flavors of cranberry, lime, mandarin orange, and molasses.
Is instant coffee bad for you?
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).
Where is instant coffee popular?
Instant coffee is popular around the globe, except for the United States, but it is particularly dominant in the Asia-Pacific region (9).
Why does instant coffee foam?
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).
How is instant coffee made?
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.
How should you use instant coffee?
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