How to make instant coffee taste better

Instant coffee on a picnic table at a campsite
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I’ll tell you what motivated me to learn how to make instant coffee taste better.

I volunteered to chaperone for a ski trip with my daughter’s high school. I was the lone adult looking after a cabin full of kids. Foolishly, I assumed the lodge would have some sort of decent coffee setup in each cabin.

I was wrong.

There was a kettle, and a can of instant coffee in the cupboard. That’s it. It was not good.

Next time, I’ll be more prepared. I’ve done the research, and I’m happy to share with you some ideas about how to make your instant coffee taste better.

The best tasting instant coffee

Before we go any further, let me start by saying your instant coffee will only be as good as the brand you buy, and there is one brand that clearly stands out above all the rest: Waka Coffee.

Waka Coffee
© Waka Coffee

Waka is bringing a specialty coffee sensibility to the instant coffee market, and their 100% single-origin Arabica coffee is easily the closest thing to fresh-brewed you will find. Their Colombian is a nice, medium roast with citrus notes, quite unlike any instant coffee you may know.

Their coffee comes in boxes of single-serve packets, and they donate a portion of proceeds to clean-water efforts around the globe.

If you can get your hands on some Waka, you’re off to a good start.

What is instant coffee?

Instant coffee might sound like a modern convenience, but it’s been around for centuries. The first instant coffee was made in Britain in the 1700s, with the first American version being made in the 1800s. Instant coffee can be made in two ways. One involves sending a liquid coffee spray through dry, hot air. The air dries the coffee into the crystal-like grains you see in instant coffee.

Instant coffee crystals on a plain white surface
Instant coffee crystals. (© Wikimedia Commons)

The other method is freeze-drying. It is more gentle on the coffee and tends to produce better flavor. 

Instant coffee vs. ground coffee

The process of making instant coffee detracts from the coffee’s flavor. And while instant coffee might look a bit like ground coffee, the two are very different. Both start with roasted coffee beans. To make regular coffee, the beans are ground and brewed with hot water. 

Instant coffee adds an extra step. In production facilities, roasted beans are ground and brewed into actual coffee. Then the brewed coffee is turned into instant coffee by being either dried out in hot air or freeze-dried.

A large metal device for freeze drying
Freeze-dried coffee crystals are made in a freeze drier like this one.

How to make instant coffee

Instant coffee seldom tastes as good as brewed coffee, but there are steps you can take to improve the taste. The first step, of course, is buying the best brand of instant coffee you can find, like Waka. You will probably see bargain brands for sale, but these almost always taste worse. 

The next step is ensuring you use filtered water. Many chain coffee shops use a special water filtration system to ensure purity, since even low levels of contaminants can affect taste. If you can, use bottled water or an at-home water filter. 

Next comes the brewing itself. Before mixing the instant coffee with hot water, dissolve it in a small amount of cold water. This might sound counterintuitive. But when instant coffee dissolves too quickly, even the liquid coffee has a powdery consistency. Dissolving it in cold water first makes a smoother-tasting cup.

A spoon pours instant coffee crystals into an empty cup
Add a bit of cold water to those crystals first to start dissolving them. (© Martyn Wright | Flickr)

And lastly, be sure the hot water you use has been freshly boiled. Water that sits in a kettle on the stove for a long while after boiling loses some of its vitality.

How much instant coffee per cup?

While it may be tempting to just eyeball how much instant coffee you put in your cup, doing so is a sure way to end up with coffee that’s either too strong or too weak. While your specific brand will likely have its own instructions, it’s a good general rule to use one to two teaspoons per cup of water. But if you like your coffee stronger or weaker, adjust accordingly. And let your taste buds be the guide—you can always add more coffee or or more water after tasting until you get it right.

What to add to instant coffee

Even when you use good-quality instant coffee, filtered water, and stick to the best process you know, sometimes the taste of your instant coffee still isn’t up to par. When this happens, your last recourse is to add some extra ingredients to make your instant coffee taste better. Here are a few suggestions:

Milk

Pouring milk into a cup of coffee
Adding a little milk or cream to your instant coffee can go a long way toward making it palatable. (© zaveqna | Flickr)

This is a simple addition, but if you’re looking to dilute the coffee flavor without adding a lot of calories, milk is the way to go. If you prefer a non-dairy alternative, you might try soy, almond, coconut, or oat milk. And milk is one of those things you’re likely to always have in your fridge.

Cream or heavy cream

For a more decadent taste, cream (also called half-and-half or breve) is an excellent addition. Heavy cream’s rich taste and thickness are likely to improve both the taste and consistency of a cup of instant coffee. 

Cinnamon

If you prefer spicy additions, try cinnamon. It’s calorie-free and adds a pleasant flavor.

Agave syrup

This is an unconventional way to sweeten coffee, but because of its consistency, agave syrup blends into instant coffee very well. 

Low-calorie sweetener

If you prefer to keep your calories low, your favorite low-calorie sweetener has the potential to bring out the better flavors in a cup of instant coffee.

Sugar

As the original coffee sweetener, sugar will make almost any cup of instant coffee taste better. 

Flavored syrups

If you’re the adventurous type or enjoy exploring new flavors, try an at-home coffee syrup. They come in a range of flavors, including caramel, vanilla, and hazelnut.

Flavored coffee creamer

Any grocery store is sure to have a range of flavored coffee creamers, which come in both liquid and powder form, in flavors similar to the syrups. Liquid is more likely to blend well, but powdered creamer will last significantly longer after you open it.

If you’ve been dissatisfied with the taste of your instant coffee, you now know several ways to make it taste better. And if one brewing method or coffee additive doesn’t measure up, don’t be afraid to try again. Learning how to make instant coffee taste better is a journey in itself—and can save you if you’re ever trapped in a cabin with kids, a can, and a kettle.

References:

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