Instant coffee has not always had the best reputation in the coffee world. Some avid coffee drinkers don't even consider it real coffee. However, coffee makers are stepping up their game, and providing high-quality taste in an instant coffee version.
One of the benefits of instant is its ease of use. You don't have to deal with the hassle of setup or buying filters, making it great for on-the-go travel. Instant coffee does not contain as much caffeine as regular coffee, making it a great choice for those who want to cut back on their caffeine consumption.
If you're not a fan of hot coffee, you'll be happy to know that you can still make iced or cold brew with the little granules. Simply brew in cold water, instead of hot. If you prefer lattes over black, simply add your creamer of choice for some more flavor.
How Is Instant Coffee Made?
There are two main methods to make instant coffee. The first way is freeze-drying and the second way is spray drying. Freeze-dried is made by taking coffee extract from roasted beans, freezing it, then breaking it apart. Because of this, instant coffee is sometimes referred to as crystals.
Spray drying involves spraying extract into a chamber of hot air. The beans used for spray drying are not of the highest quality and are typically cheaper to produce. This results in a less flavorful and pleasant experience.
Several brands have infiltrated the market with high-quality instant coffees that don't skimp on flavor. We've tested four brands we found at the grocery store and rated what we think is the best instant coffee.
We brewed each in hot water, then let it cool to our desired warm temperature.
Best Instant Coffee, Ranked
4. Starbucks Via Instant Coffee-Dark Roast- Italian Packets
Starbucks is known for serving up a strong cup of coffee. This variety has a slightly bitter taste that reminded me of their espressos and is made from 100% Arabica beans. Each packet delivers a strong taste, even if it's a bit one-note.
3. Maxwell House Original Roast Instant Coffee
One of the major benefits of this brand is its affordability. As someone who prefers a milder flavor, this one fits the bill. This brand was smooth, yet full-bodied. It was difficult to tell that it wasn't fresh-brewed.
2. Nescafe Taster's Choice House Blend
I loved that this was a happy medium between light roast and medium roast. It was not too sharp or bitter. It comes with six packets, making it super easy to take on the go. It had low acidity, making it easy to drink.
1. Cafe Bustelo
This brand tastes the most like a classic cup. If I closed my eyes I could almost convince myself it was made by a true barista. It's marketed as "espresso coffee" because the beans are roasted in the same style as espresso beans.
Most importantly, there was no bitter aftertaste that some instant coffees have. It was definitely the best coffee for the best price.
Specialty Instant Coffee Brands
We couldn't possibly try every instant coffee brand out there, but we researched to see other brands that are worth trying.
Mount Hagen Organic takes the top spot for organic instant coffee. Their coffee is also fair trade. This brand also makes decaf coffee, which fans say tastes just as good. People say this has a nice fruity flavor.
Mount Hagen Organic
If you're looking for something superfood inspired, try Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix. This coffee mix is made with lion's mane. Four Sigmatic foods are the most nutrient-dense foods on Earth. Mushrooms, called Chaga, are one of the foods which this coffee is made from. Even though it is made from mushrooms, the mushroom flavor is masked by the medium roast coffee flavor.
If organic and superfood isn't quite in your budget, you can't go wrong with a traditional brand like Folgers for affordability. Folgers is a household name known for affordable coffee. In addition to selling whole bean coffee, they sell Folger's Classic Roast Instant Coffee for a convenient caffeine boost on the go.
Swift Cup Coffee is one of the priciest instant coffees if you want to splurge. They provide ethically sourced coffee from Africa, Colombia, and South America. They even partner with roasters throughout the U.S and abroad.
Products featured on Wide Open Eats are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.