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Instant Coffees (that actually taste nice) Review

August 7, 2017

The stars gaze down on you, stumbling your way around in the predawn light. You sigh, then wipe the sleep from your eyes. You’re really here. The place you’ve been dreaming about since you were old enough to dream about things. Your number one travel destination. You’re here, it’s beautiful and it’s everything you ever hoped it would be.

And also you’ve got a coffee on the brew about 10 seconds away. Score!

This is an idealized version of events where you need a 10-second coffee, mostly because I like thinking about my own dream camping trip. Glacier national park, anyone? But there are loads of situations where a 10-second coffee is just what you need.

  • When you don’t have time in your morning routine for the 5-10 minutes to use your French Press.
  • When you’re on the road working and not sure if the hotel will serve coffee.
  • When you just like the option of having a coffee without the work.
  • If you’re going camping and need something light and easy to make.
  • If you’re travelling and have no space in your luggage.

Wherever you are in life, sometimes you just need easy access to a decent cup of coffee. But the thing is… instant coffee tastes BAD! I mean it’s just freeze dried garbage that goes against the your entire ethos of drinking freshly brewed coffee.

I mean, you could use pods but then you’d have to buy a machine and that costs money and there’s no way you could take it on the road…

You could get something portable like an Aeropress and a small but solid grinder but it’s a lot of hassle and cleaning and that’s not what you want when you’re away from home.

So what do you do?

Well, I’m not going to argue that instant coffee tastes great. But what I will say is there are a few options that are a lot better than most people realize. Read on for a few examples of reasonable quality coffee that can be made with just a splash of hot water.

picture of Glacier national park

I’d be quite happy drinking instant coffee if I was here.

A few things you should know

Instant Coffee – A precise definition

Instant coffee is made from real coffee that has been brewed. After the brew is complete, all the water is removed which leaves dry fragments or powder. This can be mixed with hot water to recreate the original coffee. Of course you lose a lot of flavor, texture and aroma in the process.

You can see these flakes of instant coffee below. Bottom right is instant coffee flakes, bottom left is unroasted coffee beans, top right is roasted coffee beans and top left is ground coffee.

ground and whole bean coffee

As you’d expect, it usually tastes a lot worse than real coffee. But not always, and that’s why this article is here.

Instant coffee is EASY

How to make it:

  1. Open the packet
  2. Put it in the cup
  3. Add hot water

That’s it. It’s finished. You don’t need to worry about filtering out the coffee grounds or anything else, it’s ready to drink. You can add milk or sugar to taste although some even come with those in the instant coffee which will save you some time and effort.

Instant coffee tastes BAD

Instant coffee is inherently poor. The drying process kills the beautiful taste and aroma that you can expect from freshly made coffee.

Instant coffee also lacks body. The drink will feel like it is thin and watered down. Imagine the difference between full-fat and no-fat milk. And the aroma does not stay in the hollow, dried out coffee.

Instant coffee tastes worse. You’ll never be able to recreate a really good fresh coffee. Bear that in mind before you jump in excitement at my glowing recommendations.

Pouches or jar

You’ve got two main options to chose from when you buy instant coffee. You can purchase it in small, 1-cup and 1-use pouches or you can buy a larger amount in a jar or some other container.

Pouches.
These are super convenient and portable. They’re pretty small and soft and will fit anywhere. Rip off the top and put it in your cup and you’re done. They tend to cost more though.

Jar.
The jar of instant coffee is harder to carry around. You will need to measure your own servings with a spoon or something similar. Useful if you like a stronger or weaker coffee but is a bit of a pain if you’re on the move. Buying instant coffee in a jar is usually much cheaper though.

Making instant coffee a little nicer

A couple of tips to make instant slightly more bearable:

Add sugar and milk.
I drink my coffee black 90% of the time. Really good coffee doesn’t need sugar or milk. Bad coffee, on the other hand, does. Adding stuff to your instant coffee is quick way to make it more palatable. I have a friend who, despite my attempts to convert him, only drinks instant. He loads it up with sugar and milk and considers it almost more a dessert or snack than a beverage.

Dark roast.
Darker roasts have been roasted for longer and so taste more burnt and less of the natural flavor of the coffee. This is a good thing for poorer beans as it can mask any deficiences in taste. It’s why dark roasts are common for cheaper beans and lighter roasts are usually used for high quality coffee beans. This is also true of instant. You’ll notice that many of the instant coffee’s below are dark roasts.


The choices

Starbucks Via Douwe Egberts Sudden Coffee Mount Hagen
starbucks via packet douwe egberts jar sudden coffee packet mount hagen jar
Taste four stars three stars four stars two stars
Price per cup $1.30 $0.35 $2.38 $0.38
Jar/Pouch Pouch only Jar only Pouch only Jar only
Roasts/Flavors Lots (14+) 2 Lots but 1 at a time 1

*Starbucks Via and Sudden are both genuinely good instant coffes but I just can’t bring myself to give an instant coffee 5/5, even with context.


1. Starbucks Via

Overview
Taste four stars
Price per cup $1.30
Jar/Pouch Pouch only
Roasts/Flavors Lots (14+)

I’m sure I don’t need to give an introduction to Starbuck’s, but perhaps I do need to give one to their range of instant coffee. Starbuck’s Via. This is a surprisingly excellent-tasting instant with a massive range of roasts and flavors with the extra convenience of being able to get them everywhere.

The Via selection was introduced around ten years ago. Starbucks claimed they had invented a way to create instant that tastes as good as the real thing. The idea is they put a lot of care into the brew the drying process and then add real ground coffee to the mixture. It works out really well, making a solid tasting coffee.

Like all instants, the most noticeable difference to fresh brewed coffee is the lack of texture and body. Once you get past the watery thinness they have a lovely taste to them. I have thought once or twice that their instant coffee is better than stuff you get from the store!

A nice advantage of Via is the breadth of flavors. My favorites are the Italian Roast, French Roast and Pike Place Roast – they match with the range of coffee beans if you are familiar with them. They also have options like Sweetened Iced Coffee, Caramel Latte and Mocha Latte if that’s more your thing. You can check them out at a store or on Amazon yourself.

P.S. The name ‘Via’ comes from the Italian word for ‘Road’, which I think is a clever touch.

starbucks via flavor
starbucks via flavor
starbucks via flavor
starbucks via flavor

2. Douwe Egberts Instant Coffee

Overview
Taste three stars
Price per cup $0.35
Jar/Pouch Jar only
Roasts/Flavors 2

You know how in the states cheap coffee is brown swill that comes from a machine and has been sitting in a big pot all day? Well across the pond cheap coffee is instant coffee. And actually it makes up up to 90% of the coffee drank in the UK? It’s a big thing over there.

So you’d expect the UK to either be a bunch of tasteless philistines or have a few pretty decent instants. I’d rather not insult an entire country of people and luckily I won’t have to because of this coffee.

Douwe Egberts is considered a high-end instant coffee over there and it’s easy to see why when you taste it. It’s a very bold dark roast so you’ll notice a dark and burnt taste. The taste might not be for everyone but for those who like dark roasts this is a great option.

You can buy it from Amazon in jars of the stuff and it works out to be very cheap compared to some of the others on this list.

douwe egberts coffee


3. Sudden Coffee

Overview
Taste four stars
Price per cup $2.38
Jar/Pouch Pouch only
Roasts/Flavors Lots but 1 at a time

A recent addition to the instant coffee fold, and one I was excited about trying after hearing the buzz about it. Their tagline of ‘Tastes like Pour-over. Works like instant.’ is catchy and promising.

It’s priced at $19 per 8 sachets where each sachet equals one cup. Pretty expensive. It works on a subcription model so you pay an amount each month and get a regular delivery. This makes it suitable for the frequent traveler but less so for someone who wants instant on a ‘just-in-case’ type basis.

It actually was a major effort to get my hands on some. I won’t bore you with the details except to mention I was very happy I made the effort.

I tried a blend called Helvetica, like the font. It’s a very pleasing taste. It was lacking the body that all instant coffee is missing but I won’t hold that against it. Overall for taste I give it 5 stars. Along with Starbuck’s Via, as good as you’re going to get from instant coffee.

Sudden Coffee imply that their coffee is better than others due to some revolutionary techniques. Details of which are sorely missing from their webpage. I suspect the process is somewhat similar to Starbucks Via – they have a similar theme of good taste and aroma with a thinner, watery body.

Does it compete with well made fresh cofffee? Of course not. But against an average fresh coffee, then maybe. Given the choice, I’d go for this than some coffee that my mom had made.

(Sorry mom!)

You can check out these user taste tests pitting Sudden Coffee against freshly made Starbuck’s. Bear in mind the video was made by the manufacturer so it’s likely these particular reviews are handpicked. You know what those marketing people are like!

sudden instant coffee


4. Mount Hagen Organic

Overview
Taste two stars
Price per cup $0.38
Jar/Pouch Jar only
Roasts/Flavors 1

The Mount Hagen is a similar style to the Douwe Egberts. Instant coffee served in a large jar where you use a spoon to choose the amount you want. The quality is decent but not as good as the more expensive Starbucks Via and Sudden Coffee. Also a bit weaker than the Douwe Egberts in my opinion.

The Mount Hagen is a medium roast. This stands it apart from the many Dark Roast instant coffees and makes it particularly good for those who don’t like that burnt dark roast taste. Also this instant advertises itself as USDA-Organic and Fair Trade – suitable for the ethically minded.

mount hagen instant coffee


Enjoy this article? Absolutely hate it? Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

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