Updated: April 11, 2018
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. Certainly not most of the rubbish sold in grocery stores like in my photo just above. 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. And the best instant coffee ain’t half bad!
But first, let’s imagine again for a second that you’re in one of our most beautiful natural areas with some damn good coffee ready to brew… (Yes this is my own photo. Yes I am pretty proud of it!)
What exactly is Instant Coffee?
Instant coffee is made from real coffee beans that have been roasted and brewed just like a regular cup of coffee. After the brew is complete, all the water is removed using science 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 on the left in the picture below. On the right are whole bean coffee beans which are ground up to make coffee grounds, the middle. With instant coffee, those flakes vanish into the drink which makes it a super easy process! When you brew with coffee grounds you have to find a way to get those grounds out before you can drink it!
How do you make Instant Coffee?
Steps 1,2,3 – Open Packet, Put in Cup, Add Hot Water
No great surprises here. Instant is bar none the most simple way to make coffee. You might be interested to learn that a gooseneck kettle is in no way required for the correct preparation of instant coffee!
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. If you’re using cheap stuff, you probably should add milk or sugar to taste and lots of it.
Instant coffee tastes BAD
Instant coffee is inherently worse tasting than freshly brewed coffee. The drying process kills the beautiful taste and aroma that you can expect from freshly made coffee.
Instant coffee also tends to lack 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.
It 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.
So what’s different with these?
Instant has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years to come closer and closer to the taste of freshly brewed coffee. Whereas before, Instant was mass produced for a quick and easy caffeine hit whose bitter and acrid taste could be masked with dairy and sweeteners, in recent times certain companies have started using high quality products and processes for the original brew before the freeze drying. This makes a marked impact on the taste when the dry flakes are rehydrated. It might surprise you to learn that the best stuff can rival and often beat some freshly brewed coffees.
Pouches or jar
You’ve got two main options to chose from when you buy instant coffee. You can purchase it in small, single-serve pouches or you can buy a larger amount in a jar or some other container.
Buying your instant coffee in pouches is super convenient and portable. They’re pretty small and soft and will fit anywhere. Rip off the top and throw the powder in your cup and you’re done. Best for traveling. They tend to cost more though.
The jar of instant coffee is larger, holds more and 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.
Please note that the ratings I’ve given are in comparison to instant coffee. No-one would give any of these 5/5 compared to a freshly roasted, ground and brewed Sumatran Pour Over. At the same time, I’d rank Folgers or something similar at a 1/5 for comparison’s sake.
|Starbucks Via||Douwe Egberts||Sudden Coffee||Mount Hagen|
|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|
|Features||Range of Flavors||Excellent Value||Unique Process||Ethically Sourced, Fair Trade|
1. Starbucks Via
I’m sure I don’t need to give an introduction to Starbuck’s – I have written a 3000-word essay on why they suck! – but perhaps I do need to give one to their range of instant coffee, Starbuck’s Via. This is a surprisingly excellent tasting instant, particularly given Starbucks’ average reputation for coffee in general, and comes with a massive range of roasts and flavors that offer instant lattes, iced coffee or flavored coffee.
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. Placing more importance on the quality of the brew prior to the drying process was one factor, adding real ground coffee to the instant mixture was another.
Like all instants, the most noticeable difference to fresh brewed coffee is the lack of texture and body. This is something that’s keenly noticeable at first but you get used to. Once you’re past that then they have a pleasing 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 – the first two are dark roasts which suits the flavor profile of instant and the second is a solid if unspectacular blend. They also have options like Sweetened Iced Coffee, Caramel Latte and Mocha Latte. You won’t get bored of coffee with this sort of choice!
If you like the sound of this then here’s a link to one seller on Amazon who stocks lots of the different flavors, you can browse between them by checking on the related links.
P.S. The name ‘Via’ comes from the Italian word for ‘Road’, which I think is a clever touch.
Decaf option? Yes.
2. Douwe Egberts Instant Coffee
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. It actually 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 instant coffees. 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. There’s a few options. A very bold dark roast so you’ll get a dark and burnt or charry taste. You could opt for a medium roast which is a more solid all-round choice. Just below I’ve linked the Pure Gold Douwe Egberts which is their premium brand. A lot of the instant coffees in the UK have this ‘Gold’ option or ‘Gold Roast’ for their coffees and to put it simply, it’s the better tasting one.
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.
Decaf option? Yes, Douwe Egberts is known for doing an excellent decaf option but it’s difficult to get in the States. Try this Amazon link or searching from here to see if it’s on sale somewhere.
3. Sudden Coffee
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 used to work only on a subscription model where 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. You might be happy to hear that they have begun offering single buy purchases of a number of sachets/tubes or even a large pouch that contains a larger amount of mixed coffee.
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. If you’re looking for straight up the best instant coffee, this is it.
Does it compete with well made fresh coffee? 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. And combine that with it’s handy tubes that it comes in means it’s the best instant coffee for travelers or backpacking if you ask me.
It’s only sold through their website at present so go here to check it out in more detail.
Decaf option? No.
You might like to 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!
4. Mount Hagen Organic
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. Aronud the same level as 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.
Anyway, here’s the current seller on Amazon but this brand goes in and out of stock all the time so maybe a search will help you find one.
Decaf option? Yes, you can find it on Amazon here.
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