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If you were to ask 10 coffee lovers what their favorite type of coffee is, we’d bet that none of them would say “instant coffee.”
While instant coffees have been around for over a century, they have something of a bad reputation. Coffee aficionados believe that a genuine cup of joe has to be made as fresh as possible from whole or ground beans. For many, drinking coffee is an experience, not a means to an end.
That said, instant coffee has dramatically improved in recent years. When it comes to convenience and a quick caffeine boost, you can’t go wrong with a cup of instant coffee.
So, with that in mind, we want to look at the top 10 instant coffee brands available. If you’re new to this world, allow us to guide the way.
Why instant coffee?
Even if you’re a coffee enthusiast, there’s nothing wrong with drinking some instant coffee. The primary benefit of this product is its speed and efficiency. You can go from coffee-free to sipping a cup in a few minutes, all without complicated machinery or equipment. You don’t have to grind the beans or use a French press. Simply stir some instant coffee crystals in a mug with hot water, and you’re ready to go.
Best of all, since instant coffee still uses quality beans, you get most of the health benefits associated with coffee. These benefits can include a boosted metabolism, reduced risk of diabetes, and added antioxidants. Keep in mind, though, that instant coffee doesn’t have as much caffeine as freshly roasted varieties, so if you need an energy boost you might have to drink an extra cup.
Finally, instant coffee gives you more flexibility regarding flavor and caffeine content. Whether you’re using individual instant coffee packets or a jar, you can add more coffee to your beverage to make it stronger. On days where you need less of a boost, you can dilute the mixture as necessary.
Top 10 instant coffee brands
Typically, when mixing instant coffee, you have to measure the amount with a spoon. Starbucks VIA makes it easier to brew your cup of coffee by offering single-serve packets. Typically, you can get up to 50 in a big box, which should be enough for a whole month’s supply, depending on how much coffee you drink regularly.
Based on user reviews, this instant coffee is better than most, with a 4.5-star rating out of 2000+ reviews. The flavor profile is balanced and nutty, and you get a mix of soluble and micro-ground beans. As we’ll discuss later, soluble instant coffee will dissolve in your hot water immediately, while micro-grounds will take a bit longer. So, if you start drinking right away, your coffee will be slightly crunchy. Instead, you want to let it steep for a few minutes so that the grounds can dissipate fully.
2. Mount Hagen
One way to tell if an instant coffee brand is high-quality is whether it’s fair trade and organic. Some cheaper brands use fillers and additives to mask any unpleasant flavors, but not Mount Hagen. This is a German company that focuses on producing stellar coffee in small batches. The flavor profile is rich and smooth, with a nutty and earthy aftertaste.
Since this coffee is freeze-dried, it has thin, light flakes to stir into your hot water. One jar contains up to 50 servings, depending on how strong you want your beverage.
3. Waka Coffee
If you’re not sure what kind of instant coffee you prefer, you can sample a few varieties from Waka Coffee. This Indian company offers three roasts – light, medium, and dark. You can also choose between a full bag of freeze-dried mix or individual packets.
As with other instant coffee brands, Waka uses 100% Arabica beans from Columbia. Columbian Arabica coffee is pretty much the gold standard for most roasters, so you know that you’re getting a decent cup. One bag makes up to 35 servings, or you can buy an eight-pack of single bags. If you’re still unsure, you can buy a sample pack and taste them all.
This brand hails from the Netherlands, which is well-known for having lots of high-quality coffee shops. Although Douwe Egberts probably isn’t served in any of those shops, you can still get a taste of what it’s like for Dutch coffee drinkers.
You can buy either a medium or dark roast, and the jar makes about 40 cups of coffee. The coffee flavor profile is smooth and light, so you can drink it any time of day without removing any taste buds from your tongue. For our money, the medium roast is the better option since it has a mild flavor and decent caffeine content.
5. Joe Coffee
While this coffee isn’t certified as “fair trade,” it is Rainforest Alliance Certified, meaning that the coffee production doesn’t disrupt local wildlife. However, Joe Coffee doesn’t indicate where the beans are from specifically, so it’s hard to verify those claims.
Unlike other instant coffee brands, Joe Coffee only produces small batches. So, instead of a jar with 50+ servings, you can only buy six packets at a time. If you really like the coffee and want to incorporate it into your routine, you’ll have to buy a case so that you won’t run out anytime soon.
The flavor profile of Joe Coffee is medium and sweet, with hints of caramel and chocolate. You can buy either the regular or decaf version.
As we mentioned, one of the primary benefits of drinking instant coffee is that it’s quick and convenient. Although many brands and flavors are available, sometimes, it’s best to go with a standby option like Nescafe. You can find a wide array of blends and roasts, including French Roast, Columbian, House Blend, and Hazelnut. So, no matter your preference, you can find a Nescafe Taster’s Choice to suit it.
If you’re unsure about a flavor, you can buy individual packets instead of a massive 14-ounce jar. Each jar makes over 200 cups of coffee, so you might not want to engage in that kind of commitment upfront.
If you grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, you know that Folgers is the “best part of waking up.” While the brand has stiff competition these days, it still holds a sizable share of the instant coffee market.
Unlike Nescafe, Folgers only has the original “classic roast.” You can buy it in small batches (eight ounces each), individual servings, or in a massive container. What’s nice about this coffee is that it’s mild and versatile. Also, since you get so much, you can add coffee crystals to other recipes (i.e., cake) to get the flavor without watering down your dish.
Did you know that Maxwell House‘s slogan, “good to the last drop,” came from President Teddy Roosevelt? This brand has been around since the turn of the 20th century, so it knows how to make some excellent instant coffee. The other benefit of being one of the oldest brands is that there are many unique flavors from which to choose. Options include Hazelnut, French Roast, Vienna Roast, Vanilla Caramel, and more. So if you like variety, you’ll appreciate Maxwell House.
Here we have another German brand, which was founded in 1895. As with Mount Hagen instant coffee, Jacobs Kronung uses high-quality beans and a stellar roasting and freeze-drying process. However, this coffee is not certified as organic and fair trade, which may be a dealbreaker for some coffee enthusiasts.
One thing to point out is that Kronung is the type of coffee, which is a medium, smooth roast. You can also buy Cronat Gold, which darker and more flavorful like an Italian roast.
Some instant coffee brands can taste sour and bitter because there’s too much acid leftover from the brewing and drying processes. Kava neutralizes most of the acidity (up to 90 per cent) so that you get a smooth, rich flavor profile. Less acidic coffee also means that you likely won’t need as much milk and/or sugar to make your cup more drinkable.
How to choose an instant coffee
Without trying all of the unique instant coffee brands we’ve listed, it can be hard to choose the best option. Fortunately, we’re here to help. Here are the factors to consider when comparing different products.
With instant coffee, the beans have already been brewed, which is why some users complain of a sour or bitter flavor with instant coffee. That said, you can still choose between one of three roasts: light, medium, and dark. The difference between the three is more noticeable when using regular coffee grounds or fresh beans, but it’s still present with instant coffee.
As a rule, dark roasts are bolder, with nutty and earthy flavors. Light roasts are more bitter and acidic because the roasting process is much shorter, so the beans don’t bake as long. Medium roasts are in the middle, so they’re not too bitter or too robust.
There are two primary ways to make instant coffee: spray drying and freeze-drying. Most of the brands we’ve shown are freeze-dried because that process preserves more of the flavor. Here’s a quick overview of both options:
- Spray drying: Brewed coffee is tossed with hot air so that the granules can dry out quickly and evenly. Doing this evaporates more water, though, which can pull flavor and smoothness from the coffee itself.
- Freeze drying: Rather than heat-drying, the coffee is frozen and cut into cubes. Then, moisture is extracted at low temperatures through a vacuum system. Since less water is taken out, more of the taste and aroma remains.
One advantage of instant coffee is that the beverage is pre-made. This process allows manufacturers to add flavors and other elements to the liquid before drying it out. So, some instant coffee brands will have additives like vanilla or chocolate. Since instant coffee can be more bitter than regular brews, these added flavors can elevate your drinking experience.
Regular or decaf
You may assume that decaf coffee is completely caffeine-free. However, that’s not entirely accurate. Since coffee beans naturally have caffeine, it’s impossible to remove all of it from the beverage. Instead, decaf varieties simply have less of an energy boost than regular coffee.
Instant coffee is more than just convenient
If you’ve been avoiding instant coffee because of its reputation, now is the time to change your mind. With so many high-quality flavors and brands out there, it’s never been easier to find an instant coffee that will rival most coffee grounds. That said, because instant coffee can’t recreate the experience of grinding fresh beans, you’ll likely want to mix and match, depending on your preferences.
And if you find yourself stuck with instant coffee in the cupboard that isn’t from one of these brands, and you just want to get through it before moving on to something better, we have some tips for making instant coffee taste better.
Overall, instant coffee has come a long way, and it will continue to be a viable drink option for your morning routine.