10 Best Instant Coffees Reviewed & Fully Compared

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Regardless of your exercise motivations, coffee is a morning necessity in many households. However, coffee makers can be expensive and time consuming to use. They can also be wasteful if you are just making coffee for one or two. Buying coffee out is often more efficient but the cost can add up quickly. Instant coffee offers a convenient and affordable alternative when brewing at home or buying out is not working with your lifestyle. Even for those who love their home brew, instant coffee can be a convenient source of caffeine when you are on the road. While many people save instant coffee packets solely for camping, many travelers love to bring their own instant when staying in hotels as good coffee can be hard to come by. Additionally, avid coffee fans love keeping instant espresso on hand to add flavor to their baking or even to strengthen up weaker coffee.

Many coffee snobs are turned off by the idea of an instant coffee. While it is true that it often does not compare to the real deal, there are a variety of options on the market that people enjoy. Some people are able to find instant coffee that they actually prefer to brewed and even the most reluctant instant coffee drinkers are able to find a replacement that is adequate, even if it is not better.

There are many options available when considering instant coffees so we put together the following list of the top 10 best tasting and most convenient to help you find a place to start.

 

Starbucks VIA Colombia Roast
  • Starbucks VIA Colombia Roast
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Dissolves easily
  • Price: See Here
Cafe Altura
  • Cafe Altura
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Organic
  • Price: See Here
Mount Hagen
  • Mount Hagen
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Low acidity
  • Price: See Here

 

10 Best Instant Coffees

 

1. Starbucks VIA Colombia Roast

Starbucks VIA sets the standard for instant coffee with its microground beans and this medium roast Colombia coffee is a fan favorite. This balanced and nutty coffee has a nice level of acidity and one packet dissolves easily in hot and cold water to instantly provide a strong cup of coffee with 135 mg of caffeine.
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Beans/Roast:
This medium roast coffee is made of 100% Arabica micro-ground beans.

Taste & Texture:
Taste is described as nutty and balanced. Users note a roasted walnut flavor with a nice level of acidity. Starbucks’ microground blend dissolves completely in water for a smooth, drinkable cup of coffee.

Convenience:
Conveniently packaged in 0.11 oz single-serve packets that dissolve easily in hot or cold water.

Caffeine:
Around 135 mg of caffeine

Shelf Life:
This instant coffee has a long shelf life that lasts well beyond the labeled “Use By” date. Users do not notice any change in strength or flavor no matter how long they leave it sitting in the cupboard.

Value:
The price is the biggest complaint about Starbucks VIA. Most instant coffees are less expensive but the Starbucks VIA offers a strong, quality coffee with just one packet.
Pros
  • Medium roast for a bit more caffeine
  • Convenient single-serve packets
  • Dissolves easily in hot and cold water
  • Long shelf life
Cons
  • Price

2. Cafe Altura

This freeze dried, organic coffee is shade grown and certified fair trade. Users love the mellow taste that lacks the bitterness and acidity of many instant coffees.
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Beans/Roast:
This coffee is made of 100% Arabica organically grown and sustainably farmed beans. It has a light/medium roast.

Taste & Texture:
This mellow coffee has a lighter taste that is not bitter or acidic.

Convenience:
This instant coffee is packaged in a small jar and easily dissolves in hot or cold water.

Caffeine:
It has 60 mg of caffeine for the standard serving size.

Shelf Life:
This coffee is freeze dried giving it a 3 year shelf life without any chemicals. Users note is maintains its flavor well over time.

Value:
This freeze-dried instant coffee is on the expensive end and is sold in relatively small jars. However, if you are looking for a good organic, fair trade instant, this is the way to go.
Pros
  • Organic
  • Fair Trade certified
  • Dissolves easily in hot and cold water
Cons
  • Price
  • Sold in small jars; not packaged by serving size

3. Mount Hagen

This certified organic instant coffee comes in convenient single-serve packages. It has lower acidity and a smooth, mellow but slightly less flavorful taste.
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Beans/Roast:
This coffee is made from 100% Highland Arabica beans and has a medium roast.

Taste & Texture:
This medium roast has a mellow, mild flavor that is much less acidic. Many coffee snobs accept this a good alternative to a freshly brewed cup of joe.

Convenience:
Packaged in single-serve packets for easy use and convenient storage. Some buyers report success with dissolving this coffee in cold or room temperature water but is seems to be best with hot water.

Caffeine:
The company does not report how much caffeine is in each packet but users feel it does not have a very high caffeine content and is comparable to other Arabica coffee.

Shelf Life:
This freeze-dried coffee is preserved for 6-12 months with no chemical preservatives needed.

Value:
This organic coffee is slightly more expensive than some of the budget brands.
Pros
  • Certified Organic
  • No preservatives
  • Low acidity
  • Convenient single-serve packets
Cons
  • Less flavorful

4. Starbucks VIA Italian Roast

This Starbucks VIA Italian Roast packs in a bold, robust flavor that reliably creates a strong coffee taste with just one convenient packet.
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Beans/Roast:
This coffee is an Italian dark roast and is made of 100% micro-ground Arabica beans.

Taste & Texture:
The taste of this dark roast is described as bold and robust. Users love the strong taste and bitter finish. The finely ground instant coffee dissolves completely without leaving any grounds lingering.

Convenience:
Packaged in convenient single-serving packages that are easy to carry with you. This instant coffee dissolves after 10 seconds in hot water and can even dissolve in cold water when given a bit more time and stirring.

Caffeine:
Each packet has around 135 mg of caffeine.

Shelf Life:
This coffee has a long-lasting shelf life and users report good tasting, strong coffee even 8 months past the “Use By” date listed on the packaging.

Value:
More expensive than most other options on the market. Due to the long shelf life you can stock up on packs of 50 and save a bit of money.
Pros
  • Dissolves in cold water
  • Convenient single-serve packages
  • Long shelf life
Cons
  • Price
  • Slightly more bitter

5. Douwe Egberts Pure Gold

Many people love this coffee as a more affordable alternative to the Starbucks VIA packets. While it may take 2-3 packets to equal the strength of Starbucks, many still feel that the lower price and less bitter taste make these coffee sticks an excellent option.
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Bean/Roast:
This coffee has a medium roast and is a blend of Robusta and Arabica beans.

Taste & Texture:
This coffee has a bold, full bodied, spiced taste that is not bitter or acidic. Many users find one packet sufficient for a 6 oz coffee but will double up if making a larger cup.

Convenience:
These single serve packets are very convenient and dissolve easily into hot or cold water. The box can also double as a dispenser making these easy to grab when your on the go.

Caffeine:
It has about 60 mg of caffeine per serving.

Shelf Life:
This coffee maintains its strength for well over a year.

Value:
These single-serve packets are very inexpensive. Even when using multiple packets, they still end up being a fraction of the cost of Starbucks.
Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Not bitter or acidic
  • Convenient single-serving packages
  • Dissolves easily in hot or cold water
Cons
  • Mild coffee
  • May need more than one packet for strong coffee

6. Medaglia D’Oro

Instant Espresso is a nice option for a convenient caffeine boost and the Medaglia D'Oro is a favorite. This strong espresso has a less bitter taste and creamier texture than typical instant coffees. Many people love adding this to brewed coffee to strengthen the flavor in addition to using it on its own as an instant espresso.
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Beans/Roast:
This coffee is a double roasted espresso blend.

Taste & Texture:
The texture of this instant espresso is thicker and creamier than typical instant coffees. The flavor is smooth and lacks the bitterness of many coffees. The strength of the coffee can be customized by adding more or less powder.

Convenience:
This instant espresso is easy to use in a variety of drinks. It comes in a jar rather than single serve packets and users add powder to fit their tastes rather than having a set serving size. The jars are only 2 oz large and, although they are not as convenient as the packets, they do travel well.

Caffeine:
It is difficult to determine how much caffeine is in each cup as the serving size is not consistent. However, espresso tends to have 2-3 times the amount of caffeine as a cup of instant coffee.

Shelf Life:
This product has a shelf life of at least a year and maintains its strong flavor.

Value:
This instant espresso is fairly inexpensive but, as there is no set serving size, it is difficult to say how long it will last.
Pros
  • Thicker and smoother consistency
  • Great for a variety of drinks
  • Not bitter
Cons
  • Not packaged by serving

7. Nescafe Tasters Choice Hazelnut

Voted one of the best tasting and affordable instant coffees. This medium to dark roast has a hint of hazelnut that many buyers love.
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Beans/Roast:
This medium/dark roast coffee features a blend of both Robusta and Arabica beans.

Taste & Texture:
This darker coffee makes a strong cup of coffee with a noticeable hazelnut flavoring.

Convenience:
This instant coffee comes in small, single-serving tubes that are great for travel and use on the go. Many users love the addition of hazelnut and are happy to replace their morning brewed coffee with this instant blend.

Caffeine:
There is 25-30 mg caffeine per packet.

Shelf Life:
These packets should maintain their flavor for over 2 years.

Value:
This coffee is fairly inexpensive and the flavor is strong enough that most users require only one packet per serving.
Pros
  • Strong coffee with hazelnut flavor
  • Affordable
  • Convenient, small single-serve packets
Cons
  • Flavor is not for everyone

8. Cafe Bustelo

An instant espresso style coffee that is conveniently packaged in single serve packets. The smooth texture and low acidity makes this darker coffee a favorite for many.
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Beans/Roast:
This coffee is espresso style dark roast blend.

Taste & Texture:
This coffee has a smooth and mellow taste that is low in acidity and not very bitter. One serving does not have the very strong taste expected of espresso so many people recommend using two packets.

Convenience:
Packaged in small single-serve sleeves that are easy to use and travel with, without making a mess.

Caffeine:
You'll find 112 mg per serving.

Shelf Life:
These vacuum sealed packets last 720 days, about 2 years.

Value:
These convenient packets are very inexpensive. They are affordable even if you plan to use 2 packets per serving.
Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Not bitter or sour
  • Convenient single-serve sleeves
  • High caffeine content
Cons
  • May need 2 packets for strong flavor

9. Nescafe Taster’s Choice House Blend

These affordable and compact sleeves have a light and smooth flavor that is convenient for travel. It is not the best tasting instant coffee on the market but it is not bitter and is a fraction of the cost of some of the higher end brands.
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Beans/Roast:
This coffee features a blend of beans and has a light to medium roast.

Taste & Texture:
This standard house blend is rich and smooth. Most users enjoy the light flavor but some find one packet a bit too weak and prefer to use 2-3 packs for a stronger taste.

Convenience:
This instant coffee comes in easy-to-open sticks that are very compact and easy to store.

Caffeine:
This coffee has about 65 mg of caffeine per cup.

Shelf Life:
The individually sealed, freeze dried coffee has a very long shelf life lasting almost 2 years.

Value:
This instant coffee is convenient and very inexpensive when considering the cost per cup.
Pros
  • Convenient single-serve packages
  • Compact packaging
  • Very affordable
  • Long shelf life
Cons
  • Light flavor

10. Four Sigmatic Mushroom

This mushroom infused instant coffee has about half the caffeine of a regular cup of coffee. This may not be ideal if you are seeking caffeine to boost your runs. However, many users note that the this coffee is easier on the stomach and makes them less jittery than your typical coffee. Some users do note a hint of mushroom in the taste but most find the coffee to be light and smooth with a velvety texture.
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Beans/Roast:
The coffee is made with 100% Arabica beans with Lion’s Mane and Chaga Mushrooms. It has a light roast.

Taste & Texture:
The flavor of this coffee is light and smooth. Most users note the taste is fairly standard for instant coffee but some people do note a hint of mushroom or dirt aftertaste that is off-putting.

Convenience:
This instant coffee comes in convenient single-serve packets and dissolves in hot water.

Caffeine:
It has 40 mg per serving.

Shelf Life:
This mushroom coffee is well-packaged and has a shelf life of 12 months.

Value:
This product is a bit more expensive when compared to other instant coffees. However, it is still less than buying a cup of coffee at a shop.
Pros
  • Easy on the stomach
  • No jitters
  • Convenient single-serve packets
Cons
  • Less caffeine
  • Hint of mushroom taste
  • A bit more expensive

The Benefits of Coffee

Studies on endurance athletes have found that caffeine, and coffee specifically, has numerous benefits for runners, swimmers and cyclists. Caffeine, in any form, can boost endurance performance. Studies have found that caffeine boosts both speed and endurance to help you go faster for longer. It is also rapidly absorbed in the GI tract which helps to give you an instant kick when consumed mid-race. Caffeine assists athletic performance by working as a stimulant and increasing the circulation of free fatty acids, making more glycogen available. In this sense, caffeine also works well in your post workout routine as it can help you replenish your glycogen stores. Furthermore, there is not much evidence to suggest it is dehydrating as some have been lead to believe.

There are many ways to incorporate caffeine into your exercise routine through teas, sports drinks and caffeinated gels. However, there are some benefits to coffee itself as part of your daily routine. Recent studies have provided some evidence that coffee contains some substances that can be beneficial to brain health and can help stave off dementia.

The Metrics We Used to Determine the Best Instant Coffee

Comparing instant coffees can be challenging because much of the decision making comes down to personal preference. However, we did find some important criteria that helped to narrow down the playing field. We looked for coffees that were convenient to use and tasted good to most reviewers. We sought out a variety of coffees and flavor profiles to provide a diverse top ten list with something for everyone.

Beans

Coffee is made from two types of beans: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is generally recognized as a better bean that is more aromatic and has more distinct flavors than the Robusta variety. Due to the better flavor profile, Arabica is generally preferred over Robusta. However, the Arabica plants are more delicate and therefore, Arabica beans are more expensive to grow and cost more. Robusta plants are much hardier and are more resistant to weather and insects. The taste of Robusta beans is not as refined but boasts a much higher caffeine level than Arabica beans. This bean is easier to grow making the coffee made from it much more affordable.

Roast

The roast of coffee is determined by the extent to which the coffee beans are roasted. This is typically measured by the color and internal temperature of the roasted beans. The “best” roast is largely up to personal preference. Lighter roasts are said to have a lighter texture and more mellow taste. These lighter beans also tend to be drier and have a more acidic taste and higher caffeine concentration than the darker variety. Medium roasts are typically described as balanced and smooth. Darker roasts are typically more robust, rich and full bodied. Beans become dark through higher temperatures and longer roasting. As they roast longer, some of the caffeine burns off and they begin to lose the flavors from the bean and take on more flavor from the roasting itself.

Taste & Texture

These two qualities may be the most important when selecting an instant coffee. Sure, you may be willing to settle for a less tasty coffee when you are solely looking for convenience but it should not be too hard to find a variety that is better than tolerable. The ideal flavor profile, again, is largely personal preference. However, we focused our search on coffees that were generally well-received.

Convenience

Whether you are traveling or just trying to save time in your morning routine, if you are choosing an instant coffee you are likely doing so for the convenience factor. We sought out coffees that are packaged well and easy to use when you are on the go.

Caffeine

There is not a standard ideal amount for caffeine. Again, this is typically determined by the individual and how much caffeine you are accustomed to drinking and feel you need.  Some users may be more sensitive to caffeine than others.  Though we included only caffeinated options on this list, many of the brands on our list come in a decaffeinated version as well. 

Shelf Life

Many people stock up on instant coffee for travel supplies and backpacking trips. If you are not planning to drink this coffee everyday it is important to consider the shelf life. While the coffee should not really “go bad” it can become less flavorful over time.

Value

Price is always important when considering any purchase. We wanted to make sure that if you are paying more for your coffee, there is a good reason why. 

 

Other Things to Consider When Buying Instant Coffee

Flavor: Much like ground coffee, instant coffee comes with a variety of flavor profiles. When choosing an instant coffee, it is best to start with flavors you already know you like. The type of roast will also effect the flavor of the coffee, so keep in mind if you prefer a strong flavor or a more mild one.  Darker roasts tend to have a stronger flavor while medium roast won’t be as strong.

Caffeine: Many people come to love the taste of coffee but most of us out there have become addicted to the wonderful caffeine that keeps you alert and boosts performance. If you are considering coffee for the athletic benefits, experts recommend 3-6 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight taken 1 hour before performance. If you are seeking caffeine to wake you up in the morning then it may be a bit more trial and error to figure out the ideal amount. Typically this will depend on your weight and how much caffeine you are accustomed to drinking. Keep in mind that too much caffeine can produce negative side effects such as jitters and sleeplessness.

Purpose: Are you looking for an instant coffee to have for the occasional trip or do you plan to throw out your coffee maker and only use instant? If you are dedicated to a daily cup of instant coffee then a jar may be more convenient than packets because it is easier to customize the strength and taste of your coffee. Additionally, people switching over to instant tend to prefer the instant espresso or espresso style coffees as they have a richer texture and no bitterness. On the other hand, if you need a coffee that can easily be stored away for the spontaneous camping trip, packets are your friend as they take up very little room and have a longer shelf life than the coffee that comes in jars. In the case of occasional use, many people reach for the Starbucks VIA packets as it packs reliably strong flavor and a ton of caffeine to wake you up after sleeping on the ground. And, with occasional use, the cost will not break the bank.

Additionally, consider how you will be using your coffee. When we think of instant coffee we typically think about mixing it with boiling water. However, many people enjoy making iced coffee or even mixing the powder into milk to make an instant latte. Even if you don’t love the taste of coffee, instant coffee is an easy way to get caffeine into your pre or post-run ritual. Many runners love to mix instant coffee into butter to top their pancakes or blend it into a smoothie. Instant coffee is also a great flavoring agent for baking.

FAQs

Q: How much caffeine should I drink?

A:  The recommended amount for endurance athletes is 3-6 mg per kg of your body weight. Generally, exceeding this amount has not been shown to be beneficial.  Too much caffeine can have negative side effects such as the jitters, stomach issues and interfering with sleep.

Q: Will coffee make me dehydrated?

A: Contrary to popular belief, coffee itself has not been shown to be dehydrating. However, it can serve as stimulant for your GI tract so if it is sending you to the bathroom more often you may need to stock up on electrolytes to restore balance.

Q: Is too much caffeine dangerous?

A: Unless you have a preexisting condition or are pregnant, too much caffeine will not be dangerous. However, too much caffeine can cause uncomfortable side effects such as jitteriness or sleeplessness. Additionally, caffeine has a cumulative effect so if you are consuming a lot the effects will last much longer.

Q: When should I consume caffeine?

A: If you are looking to boost your endurance performance, most studies recommend consuming caffeine about 1 hour before your run.

Q: How is instant coffee made?

A: There are two main methods for creating instant coffee. Both start with liquid coffee and convert it to a powder. The first method requires spraying liquid coffee in a fine mist through very hot and dry air. As the water vapor evaporates, you are left with a fine powder that can be reconstituted when water is adding. The other, often preferred method is freeze drying. In this case, liquid coffee is frozen and then vaporized through chemical sublimation. This version is preferred because it maintains a bit more of the aromatics and flavor of the original coffee and is more stable and has a longer shelf life. Starbucks VIA, on the other hand, has its own patented method of creating instant coffee with micro grinding technology. This unique process grinds the coffee into a very fine powder that helps maintain the coffee’s taste.

Sources

  1. Bede, Pamela Nisevich, 5 Truths About Running and Caffeine, Web Article, Oct 20, 2016
  2. Runner's World, 8 Things Runners Should Know About Coffee, Web Article, Jun 03, 2013
  3. Lokker, Brian , Coffee Roasts from Light to Dark, Web Article, Apr 05, 2013
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