How would you like to drink an instant coffee that takes 10 seconds to brew, but tastes the same as brewed coffee? I bet that sounds crazy to you… but instant coffees have improved so much in recent years. You just need to know what the good ones are.
I’ve got a few great-tasting instant coffee brands I want to share with you. Trust me, these are way better than they used to be. In fact, they’re so darned good you’ll forget all about instant coffee like gramma’s old jar of folgers.
Best instant coffees
The Douwe Egberts is one of the most popular instant coffees in the UK, where instant coffee makes up about 90% of the coffee they drink. So you think they’d know a thing or two about great tasting instant, right?
This stuff is very, very smooth. You don’t get any of those acrid bitter flavors that are common with cheap instant coffees. Pair it with a touch of milk or cream to balance out the flavor, and you might notice some soft chocolate notes, as well.
Douwe Egberts offer a few different options with their instant coffee. We think the best option is the gold roast, which is their signature medium roast. They also do a dark roast, for those who prefer darker and smokier flavors in their coffee. And for those who like to go easy on the caffeine, you can find a decaf option, too.
The biggest problem? It’s hard to get this stuff in the States. Your best bet is to check out the resellers on Amazon to see if you can get a hold of some of this high quality instant coffee.
Starbucks Via is Starbucks’ attempt at a range of instant coffee. And I must say, they didn’t do a bad job at all.
The selection of Via instant coffees was introduced a little over ten years ago. Starbucks claimed they had invented a way to make instant taste as good as brewed coffee. How? Well, they did two things differently.
- An emphasis on brewing high quality coffee before the freeze drying process
- Adding ground coffee to the instant mixture
That first point is what I think is key. A lot of instant coffes are aimed at the budget market, which means the coffee is made as cheaply as possible. Cheap brewed coffee gets freeze dried and turned into cheap instant. So the trick to great-tasting instant, that I think Starbucks figured out, was to actually use good brewed coffee in the first place.
Maybe the best thing about Starbucks Via is the range of flavors and roasts it offers. If you visit Starbucks, you might notice some of their brewed coffees make up their Via range like Italian Roast, French Roast or Pike Place Roast.
You have decaf options for many of these roasts, and even options like Caramel Latte or Sweetened Ice Coffee. Click here to see more. Or you can simply visit your local branch, if you’d prefer.
P.S. The name ‘Via’ comes from the Italian word for ‘Road’, which I think is a clever touch.
Mount Hagen instant coffee is known for those who want a healthier and more environmentally friendly option.
The coffee beans used to brew the coffee are USDA-organic and Fairtrade, so you know the farmer is getting a good deal. And you can see the little logos on the jar so you know it’s authentic.
The taste is excellent, too. This is a smooth, balanced tasting coffee with little in the way of a bitter aftertaste. It’s one of the best tasting instants on the market, and you won’t need to cover it up with loads of sugar and cream.
Mount Hagen don’t offer too much in the way of choices. You have the normal instant coffee option (which is a medium roast) and a decaffeinated option, and that’s about it. But when the coffee’s this good? Maybe that’s all you need.
The Hills Bros Cappuccino is a little different from the others in this list, because it isn’t 100% instant coffee. Actually, this is an “instant coffee mix” that’s a lot sweeter.
This is clear when you look at the flavors on offer like White Chocolate Caramel, English Toffee or French Vanilla. This instant coffee is for those who like a little (or a lot) of sweetness in their coffee.
For the right person, this will feel like you’ve gone out to get a nice, sugary treat from your local coffee shop. Rather than pouring yourself a cheap instant in your own kitchen.
And if you’re worried about the calories? There are a range of sugar-free options, too. All with a tasty instant coffee mix that’ll give you a sweet treat as your morning coffee.
Instant Coffee Buyer’s Guide
How instant coffee is made
Instant coffee is made the same as brewed coffee, at first anyway. Coffee beans are roasted and then brewed into coffee in a drinkable form, but then they are freeze-dried into coffee crystals (or sometimes a powder).
You can think of it as a little like reheating a frozen meal. Because that’s all you are doing, reheating. You add the water and it brings the original brewed coffee into what it used to look like, even if some of the taste and aroma will be lost.
Here’s a quick photo to see the difference between what instant coffee looks like and ground coffee. Remember, with ground coffee you need to fish the grounds out after it’s brewed.
Can instant coffee taste as good as brewed coffee?
The best instant coffee will not taste as good as the best brewed coffee, because it loses aroma and taste in the freeze-drying process. However, the high-quality instant coffees that are available nowadays can stand up to mediocre and even average-tasting brewed coffee.
So it’s a question of expectations. If convenience is important to you, then it’s possible to pick up an instant coffee that will be easy to make and taste like a decent brewed coffee.
If taste is your priority however, you should brew coffee fresh. Instant coffee cannot, and probably never will be able to compete with really good brewed coffee. I mentioned that aroma and flavor doesn’t make it through the flash-freezing process, but the body and texture of the coffee is lacking with instant coffee, too.
Are pouches or a jar better for instant coffee?
You can buy instant coffee in two ways. Either in single-serve pouches or in a larger container like a jar.
Pouches of instant coffee are small and portable. They’re great for traveling because you can squeeze a few in your luggage and dig them out when you need them. No need for a spoon or anything. On the other hand, they cost more.
Jars of instant coffee come in a much larger size and are cheaper by volume. These are more suitable if you’re buying for your kitchen at home, where you have cupboard space, spoons and anything else you need. A jar also means you can choose how large or strong you want each coffee, as you decide how much instant coffee you scoop into the mug.
Advantages to instant coffee
Even though instant gets a bad rep, it has its uses for a certain time and a place. Or a certain person. Here are some situations where instant coffee shines:
- When you don’t have time in your morning routine for a 10-minute Aeropress brew.
- When you’re on a work trip and not sure if the hotel will have coffee in the room.
- 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.
How to brew instant coffee
Brewing instant coffee is super simple, just scoop some instant coffee into a mug then fill with hot water to the brim. Not much more to it that that. Here’s a 10-second gif that shows you the process:
Is instant coffee bad for you?
Instant coffee is not any worse for you than regular coffee. It is made by taking brewed coffee and flash-freezing it, so it can be reheated later. And because brewed coffee hasn’t been shown to have any adverse long term effects? Instant coffee is fine to drink.
So if you need some of that 10-second brew instant stuff, the Douwe Egberts is a solid bet. The coffee has a great, smooth taste, and won’t leave you retching out of bitterness like a lot of instants you can buy. In fact, you won’t even need to drown it with sugar or milk, either.
And if you take one thing from this article, it should be that instant coffee can be decent. So long as you don’t buy the common denomiinator cheap stuff from the bottom shelf of the grocery store. That’s stuff’s awful. We can all agree on that.