We get it. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a good cup of coffee without the hassle of brewing it yourself or spending $5 at a coffee shop. Go for instant coffee, then!
But beware: some instant coffees are considerably better than others.
Unlike whole bean coffee, where a 'bad' bag usually just means it's too mild or flavorless, the quality range of instant coffee has a very wide spectrum. At the bottom, you'll often find it super bitter and acidic. But at the top, you'll find brands that are rich, flavorful, and smooth.
Here’s a list of our picks for the best instant coffee in 2020.
It’s obvious that the instant stuff is just different than the standard coffee beans used to make coffee. The ground up kind may look somewhat similar, but it certainly doesn’t function the same way.
Instant coffee is typically created using one of two different routes— the first way is made with a traditional cup of brewed coffee. It’s sprayed in a fine mist with incredibly hot and dry air. When those coffee droplets finally land, they’re the familiar flakey flecks we know and sometimes like.
The second route is freeze drying, which results in a shelf-stable coffee powder with just-add-hot-water directions. It’s a reconstituted drink.
Freeze dried drinks or food are the easiest to re-animate—all that’s required is water. If anyone else just imagined their morning cup of instant joe as zombie coffee beans, lazy Saturdays just got a whole lot more exciting.
There are perks to instant coffee powder, though, primarily when it comes to shelf life. Instant coffee can last several months longer than whole bean pre-ground or coffee.
If you’re not a daily drinker or just like to keep some handy in case the craving arises, a well-sealed container of instant coffee can last for years (although we're not saying it will be the best cup you've ever tasted).
Like anything that’s reconstituted, it’s just not going to have the complexity, the subtle notes, or the brightness of a fresh cup brewed with a French press coffee maker or single-serve machine. This is especially true if you don’t choose the right brand—which is totally where I come in. Before we get to listing the best instant coffees, though, let’s talking about the act of actually making the cuppa.
Like everything else in the 21st century, there are a number of hacks to make the best tasting instant coffee humanly possible. One of the easiest ways to enhance the flavor of your reconstituted brew is to put a teaspoon or two of cold water in your cup first. Mix up the grounds in this dash of H20 very well, and then throw in the hot water and enjoy as per usual. This helps the granules brew more gently, resulting in a decent cup of the good stuff.
Okay. We’re going to start this list now, which range from simple and economically-friendly to more 'specialty' options, but all are well-rated and ready for you to have a go at!
These are coffee crystals and that makes mornings sound fancier, right? Folgers has been making coffee since 1850, they’re committed to sustainability, and they have the reviews to prove that they’re doing something very right. (Or maybe it's just their catchy jingle!)
Folgers' instant coffee crystals is one of the most popular types of freeze dried instant coffee, as it's inexpensive but still has a nice, full body flavor. It dissolve very quickly and you don't even need boiling water to make it (just hot water will do).
This jar makes you up to 45 cups, 6 oz. each, but you can fiddle with the strength since it’s sent in a large container rather than in individuals packets. However, that is also an option.
Ah, Starbucks. These VIA instant coffee packets are comprised of high-quality arabica beans, which is give it a smooth and balanced flavor. The dark roast in this instant coffee is crafted to add sweet notes and intensity.
This dark roast is crafted to offer sweet notes and intensity for the jump start you need in the morning, evening, or anywhere in between. The caffeine content is relatively high in the VIA, with 130-140 mg per serving.
Finally, it's worth nothing that the VIA instant coffee can be made very quickly. All you need to do it pour into into a cup, add hot water, wait for 10 seconds, stir, and enjoy.
The Starbucks Via Instant Decaf Italian Roast is probably one of the best instant decaf coffee options you’ll find — there is really a lot to appreciate about it.
These slim packets are filled with 100% ethically-sourced arabica coffee. It’s micro-ground to dissolve easily with a few quick stirs, and this dark roast has a strong aroma that compliments its rich and bold flavor.
Decaf coffee often gets a bad wrap for being 'flavorless', but that couldn't be further from the truth with this. In our opinion, the VIA decaf Italian Roast is about as close as you'll get -- in terms of flavor -- to the real thing at Starbucks.
This Vietnamese coffee brand is a good choice if you’re really in one heck of a rush or honestly have zero time. This instant coffee is actually a mix, one that includes non-dairy creamer and sugar, which means you don’t need anything but this on-the-go packet.
Vinacafe may not be right for those who want black java, but it’s great for those that can’t imbibe their morning brew without dairy and sugar. You just grab your little packet, acquire some hot water, and away you go!
Here’s another all-in-1 option for those that can’t hang with the big kids and drink their morning caffeine black. This coffee powder is imported directly from Malaysia, is HALAL certified, and it takes all of 30 seconds to have a steaming cup of hot coffee at your beck and call.
These beauts are in stick form, which is great for a no-nonsense, no-measuring lifestyle, but they only allow for a 6 oz. cup of coffee. If you’re drinking 2+ a day, you’ll burn through 28 sticks fairly quickly. It does give nifty directions for cold brew coffee, which is ideal for hot, summer days.
It’s always nice when you can feel good about what you’re putting in your body, and Mount Hagen’s offers just that. Processed in Germany, Mount Hagen is 100% organic and fair trade.
Mount Hagen is a more mild coffee. It's quite smooth and doesn't have the bitter and acidic taste often found in cheaper instant coffee. That being said, this not going to be the best option for those that like a strongly flavored cup of coffee.
It’s in a glass jar to ensure freshness, though that jar is a tad on the small side. It makes about 60 cups of 6 oz. mugs, so bear that in mind if you choose this one as your caffeine source. Frankly, we think it's better to make one cup with two servings. Each serving contains 50-60 mg of caffeine, so that will give you a well-caffeinated 12 oz. beverage. It also dissolves quite easily, requiring only a few stirs in hot water.
When coffee lovers hear the words "organic coffee" or "free/fair trade", we assume that means it will be expensive. But that's not always the case! Mount Hagen was by far the winner in terms of the overall value. It tastes great and doesn't break the bank.
Alright. Suspend your understanding of coffee for just a moment. You may or may not have heard of them, but Four Sigmatic is a Los Angeles-based company specializing in mushroom based drinks. Complete with celebrity endorsements, Four Sigmatic's Mushroom Coffee Mix is quickly gaining in popularity among coffee lovers and more health-conscious connoisseurs of caffeinated beverages.
I’m naturally more of a purist in regards to my coffee. I only bring that up to explain that being attracted to something like Mushroom Coffee Mix isn’t “normal” behavior for me.
With that being said, when blind taste testing different instant coffees, the majority of the Coffee or Bust team gave the Four Sigmatic the highest overall score for flavor.
This mix is an intriguing combination of 100% organic arabica coffee, Lion’s Mane mushrooms, Chaga Mushrooms, and Rhodiola -- known as “the golden root”, wild-harvested in Tibet.
Although I admit it sounds a bit odd at first, have no fear! There is no hint of 'mushroomy' taste. In fact, the mushrooms seem to give the coffee a smoother and milder flavor while removing any offensive or bitter notes found in most instant coffees. Additionally, it's fairly priced considering the quality and organic ingredients.
So, well…. Why not? Branch out! Be adventurous and give it a try!
Nescafé’s Taster’s Choice House Blend is a simple, go-to option that is smooth and well-balanced.
It’s ethically-sourced and quite mild in flavor. The microground and soluble beans are flash frozen to seal in all of the good stuff. If you're going to give it a try, we recommend purchasing a jar rather than individual packets. By opting for the larger glass jar, there’s more capability for individualization. You can scoop out as much as you want to make 6 oz., 8 oz., 10 oz., ya know. Whatever you need to survive the work day.
The glass jar locks tight to prolong freshness, It makes roughly 105 6 oz. cups. In addition to its lighter flavor, the caffeine content is also pretty tame. Each 6 oz. serving contains 65mg of caffeine.
This fine quality coffee is a medium roast that’s been 250 years in the making. Douwe Egberts, a Dutch company, is committed to their coffee — even the instant stuff. With its smooth and slightly nutty notes, this freeze-dried instant coffee is definitely worth checking out.
Douwe Egberts also has a nice dark roast instant coffee, but we felt the Pure Gold Medium Roast was the better choice of the two. It has a creaminess to it that makes it an ideal instant coffee if you're looking to make a more 'extravagant' coffee drink, like a protein shake or blended drink with added flavoring. It's on the slightly pricier end of the spectrum, but you're getting a first-rate product. Even the glass jar it comes it is attractive and high-quality.
Douwe Egberts is a company that cares about sustainability when it comes to the farms they harvest from and the environment we’re all living in. A lot of care goes into their coffee and we think you'll notice the difference.
We included the G7 Instant Vietnamese Coffee as our 'guilty pleasure' pick when you need to satisfy your sweet tooth.
One of the most popular instant coffees in Southeast Asia, G7 isn’t created either of the two ways we’re traditionally familiar with (freeze dried or sprayed). They use a “patented dry roasting process” that’s probably a lot like the recipe for Coca-Cola: only two people in the whole wide world know the recipe and they can’t ever travel together.
Joking aside, this instant coffee has some excellent reviews, and for a relatively sweet drink, we were impressed that it only has 71 calories per serving. This instant coffee is also a 3-in-1, meaning it has the coffee, creamer, and sugar already in the mix. If you're a frequent traveler, this is a convenient option.
You can opt for this brand in either individual packets or in a larger aluminum foil bag. I vote for that second option — save a few bucks on the bag and choose the strength of your coffee.
This rich, flavorful blend makes its way from Germany to grace your cup. Freeze dried to make the trip, this instant blend is 100% ground coffee, totally untainted by milk or sugar. The glass container holds 7 oz., so it can stand up to even daily, multi-cup drinkers, especially since it can be purchased in packages of 2.
Jacob's Kronung has a smooth, mild flavor that's lot too acidic. This is the kind of instant coffee you can beat the afternoon slump with, so keep one in the office and one at home, and you’ll be appropriately covered whenever the need arises.
Mount Hagen was the other German brand of instant coffee that made it on our list, and while the Mount Hagen wins the 'overall' score when compared to the Jacob's Krunung, the Jacob's offers an excellent alternative for someone looking for a high quality instant coffee that's flavorful but less expensive.
Waka Coffee might be new kid on the block, but their 100% Arabica Freeze-Dried Colombian coffee is already creating a buzz in the coffee world.
One box comes with eight individual packets containing fives grams of instant coffee powder. Rather than the suggested 8-10 ounces of water, we mixed it with 6.5 ounces of hot water (at 85°C) in order to try a bold cup that really exposed the true flavor. While most instant coffees have 'chalky' taste, Waka Coffee proves that coffee can be both instant and high quality. You'll be able to notice a myriad of flavorful tones that are caramelly, sweet, and smooth. The finish also has some nice fruity tones.
We're big fans of Waka Coffee, and we also love that they donate 4% of each sale to support clean water projects.
If you’re tried several different kinds of instant coffee and haven't quite found 'the one' that's perfect for you, shake things up give the Coffee Mushroom Mix a try.
If you can’t silence the qualms and also need cream and sugar, I’d recommend the Vinacafe 3-in-1 Instant Coffee Mix. Easy packets are ideal for heading out within 60 seconds flat, no extra pouring, dumping, or mixing required.
If you’re a classic I-drink-my-coffee-black type of person, Waka Coffee and Mount Hagen steal the show. Rich in flavor and no bitter aftertaste.
Pick your poison and be ready to satisfy that desperate craving the moment it arrives. Happy drinking!