Sip, Savor, Repeat: Discovering the Best Instant Coffee Brands

Sip, Savor, Repeat: Discovering the Best Instant Coffee Brands

For many busy people, instant coffee is the most convenient way to get their daily caffeine fix. While instant coffee has a reputation for being lower in quality than fresh brewed coffee, technology and production methods have improved dramatically over the years. Now, there are many excellent instant coffee options that can satisfy both flavour and convenience needs. This article will explore what instant coffee is, compare it with brewed coffee, review factors to consider when choosing an instant brand, highlight top brands, provide buying and enjoyment tips, and give final recommendations on discovering satisfying instant coffee.

What is Instant Coffee and How is it Made?

Before reviewing specific brands, it helps to understand what instant coffee is and how it differs from regular brewed coffee.

Brief History of Instant Coffee

Instant coffee was invented in 1901 by a Japanese scientist named Satori Kato. It was first introduced commercially by the company Nescafe in 1938. The idea was to create a coffee product that could be made quickly and easily, without requiring brewing equipment. This made it popular among soldiers, travelers, and busy households. Production expanded greatly after World War II. While instant coffee used to have a negative reputation, quality and flavor have improved over the decades with new technologies.

Instant vs. Brewed Coffee – The Main Differences

Instant and brewed coffee both start from roasted coffee beans. With brewed coffee, the beans are ground and then brewed with hot water for a fresh cup. With instant, the beans are brewed into a concentrate first. This concentrate is freeze dried or spray dried into powder or granule form. To make a cup, hot water is simply added.

The main advantages of instant coffee are speed and convenience. There is no waiting for brewing. It is also more portable for travel or the office. The drawbacks are that it contains less antioxidants and nutrients compared to freshly brewed, and the flavor is often considered inferior. However, there are high quality instant coffee options that can come close to real brewed coffeehouse taste.

How Instant Coffee is Produced

There are two main methods used to produce the best instant coffee. The first is freeze drying, where the concentrated brew is frozen and then subjected to a vacuum process that removes the ice through sublimation. This avoids damage to the coffee’s aroma and flavor compounds. The second method is spray drying, where the concentrate is sprayed in hot air, allowing the water to evaporate. Both methods result in a soluble powder or granules.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Drinking Instant Coffee

Let’s look closer at some of the main pros and cons of drinking instant coffee rather than brewed.

Convenience and Portability

The biggest benefits of instant coffee are the convenience and portability it offers. Making a cup takes less than a minute – just add hot water and stir. It’s lightweight and compact, making it ideal to take camping, traveling, or to the office. For those with busy lifestyles, it can be a lifesaver in the mornings.

Lower Cost

Instant coffee is less expensive to produce and buy than roasted beans or packs of ground coffee. The process removes the need for brewing equipment. For those who drink coffee regularly or in larger amounts, the savings can add up significantly over time.

Fewer Antioxidants and Nutrients

Studies show that fresh roasted coffee contains higher levels of healthful antioxidants and nutrients than instant. This is because some are lost in the extra processing steps instant goes through. So for maximum health benefits, brewed may be a better choice. However, instant can still provide antioxidants and boost alertness.

Not as Flavorful as Freshly Brewed

The convenience of instant coffee does come at a cost when it comes to taste. Even the best instant likely won’t match the robust aroma and full body of a freshly brewed cup. The drying process can dull certain flavor notes. So for coffee purists focused solely on flavor, instant may leave something to be desired.

Factors to Consider When Choosing an Instant Coffee

While instant coffee won’t be identical to brewed, there are high quality options available for purchase. Here are some factors to consider to help choose a satisfying instant coffee brand:

Type of Beans and Roast

As when buying regular coffee, pay attention to the type of beans (Arabica, Robusta) and how they are roasted. Beans with certain origins and darker roasts often taste richer. Stay away from vague labels like “100% coffee”.

Grind Size

Finer coffee grinds tend to produce a better quality instant coffee. They infuse faster and extract more flavor. Beans that are too coarsely ground may result in weaker flavor.

Freshness and Expiration Date

Check the best by date on the packaging. Instant coffee has a shelf life of 6 months to 2 years. Old or stale instant coffee will have faded aroma and muddled taste. Purchase small package sizes if you don’t drink it often.

Fair Trade and Organic Options

There are many sustainably-sourced, organic instant coffee choices for those concerned about ethical production. Fair trade certification means better wages and conditions for farmers.

Packaging and Environmental Impact

Instant coffee is convenient, but look for brands that use responsible packaging like recyclable tins or pouches rather than wasteful plastic jars. Coffee pods are very convenient but create a lot of waste.

Reviews of the Top Instant Coffee Brands

With an idea of what to look for, here are reviews of some of the top rated and most popular instant coffee options:

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

Starbucks VIA comes in a wide variety of roast styles as well as flavored options like caramel and mocha. The packaging is convenient to take on the go. The taste is closer to brewed Starbucks coffee compared to other instants but can depend on the variety. Overall a very solid instant coffee choice.

Mount Hagen Organic Instant Coffee

For organic instant coffee, Mount Hagen is an excellent choice. Their freeze dried process helps preserve flavor. It has pleasant aroma and minimal bitterness. Fair trade and sustainably sourced beans. A great option for eco-conscious coffee drinkers.

Folgers Classic Instant Coffee Crystals

A budget-friendly but reliable choice, Folgers Classic instant has been around for years. While it won’t blow flavor-seekers away, it has dependable consistency and comfort coffee appeal. At a low price point for a big jar, it’s good for everyday use.

Nescafé Taster’s Choice Instant Coffee

Nescafé Taster’s Choice offers smooth instant coffee in a variety of roasts. House Blend is well-balanced and mild. The jars keep it fresh. While not complex, it’s an easy drinking instant coffee. The brand has a long history going back to 1938.

Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence Instant Coffee

Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence has a deep, rich aroma and robust flavor. It tastes like an upgraded, smoother version of regular instant coffee. The glass jar and responsible sourcing are also nice perks. One of the tastier grocery store instant options.

Cafe Altura Freeze Dried Instant Coffee

For a premium gourmet instant coffee, Cafe Altura is a great choice. Their 100% Arabica beans are freeze-dried, maximizing flavor. Great aroma and tastes very close to brewed. A bit pricier but worth it for instant coffee connoisseurs. Excellent reviews.

Choosing the Right Instant Coffee for You

With all these options, choosing the “best” instant coffee comes down to your own needs and preferences:

Consider Your Priorities: Flavor, Cost, Convenience

Think about what matters most – taste, budget, ethical sourcing, ease of use on the go? This will help narrow down the choices. If top taste is the priority, go for quality freeze dried instant. For affordability, value size jars work. Convenience? Choose single-serve packets.

Try Different Brands and Roasts

Don’t settle on the first instant coffee you try. You may discover you prefer a darker roast or different origin. Trying a few brands is worthwhile, as the flavor nuances can vary widely.

Store Properly to Maintain Freshness

Once opened, instant coffee can start losing aroma and potency. Transfer to an airtight container if not using the original packaging. Store in a cool, dark place to maximize shelf life. Freeze if not using frequently.

Tips for Enjoying Instant Coffee

Once you’ve selected an instant coffee (or two!), here are some tips for making the best tasting cup:

Use Good Quality Hot Water

Don’t undermine your instant coffee with bad tasting tap water. Filtered water is better. Water that is too hot can also scald the coffee. Around 185°F is ideal.

Experiment with Milk, Creamers, Sweeteners

Personalize your instant coffee! Try different dairy or non-dairy creamers until you find your perfect ratio. Add a dash of cinnamon or vanilla extract.

Make Iced Instant Coffee

During hot weather, pour the hot instant coffee over ice for a refreshing iced coffee drink. Adjust sweetness as needed.

Try Adding Spices or Flavorings

For a flavor twist, stir in spices like nutmeg, cardamom or cocoa powder. Or add a teaspoon of hazelnut or other flavored syrup.

Conclusion and Final Recommendations

Instant coffee has evolved well beyond the generic unsavory reputation it once held. Today’s quality instant coffee brands can deliver on convenience without sacrificing flavor. While brewed coffee remains the gold standard in taste, modern instant can come satisfyingly close. For busy people needing their coffee fix in a hurry, brands like Starbucks VIA, Mount Hagen, and Cafe Altura are excellent grab and go options. However, part of the fun is sampling different instant coffees to discover new favorites tailored to your own preferences. With proper storage and preparation, instant coffee is an efficient way to sip and savor a bit more time in your day.

5 FAQs about Instant Coffee

What is the healthiest instant coffee?

Organic, fair trade instant coffee is generally the healthiest, with Mount Hagen and Cafe Altura being good choices. They avoid pesticides and synthetic fertilizers.

Is instant coffee unhealthy?

While it contains fewer nutrients than brewed coffee, instant can still provide antioxidants and other benefits. Consumed in moderation, it can be part of a healthy diet. But added cream and sugar can make it unhealthy.

Is instant coffee cheaper than brewed?

Yes, instant coffee is generally about 30-50% cheaper per serving compared to drip coffee. Freeze dried instant costs more than spray dried, but still less than brewed.


Unopened instant coffee lasts 12-24 months. Once opened, it stays fresh for 6 months in the pantry, longer if refrigerated or frozen. Over time it loses aroma and flavor.


Yes, instant coffee contains caffeine, though freeze drying can slightly reduce the amount versus brewed. An 8 oz cup of instant has 57-73 mg caffeine compared to 96-200 mg in brewed.


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