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The 8 Best Instant Coffee Brands to Turn to on Busy Mornings

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Instant coffee gets a bad rap. It’s often considered to be a last resort for coffee drinkers when they don’t have time to brew a proper pot in the morning. What you don’t know? Instant coffee is in the midst of an epic renaissance: Sales went up by nearly 30 percent in 2020 as more and more people began making their daily joe at home. Not only does it provide a consistent cup, but offerings have dramatically improved since its last American heyday in the ’80s. Don’t believe us? We tested a slew of popular options to find the best instant coffee brands out there that deliver a joe just as delicious as one brewed with a drip machine or a French press.

To test them, we prepared each instant coffee according to its package instructions, making one hot cup and one cold if applicable. We added a bit of milk for tasting, unless the instant coffee already included creamer, and no extra sugar. Then, we rated them based on affordability, quality of ingredients and processing, ease of use and functionality (can it be made with either hot and cold water? Can you only make one cup at a time?), dissolvability and flavor. Read on for our top picks.

The Best Instant Coffee Brands at a Glance

 

Best Overall

1. Café Altura Instant Organic Coffee

  • Value: 19/20
  • Quality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 19/20
  • Dissolvability: 20/20
  • Taste: 20/20

TOTAL: 98/100

Believe it or not, instant coffee can taste just like drip. Café Altura has a silky, full-bodied mouthfeel with none of the wateriness you may expect from an instant coffee. The blend is made with organic, Fair Trade Arabica coffee from South America, Africa and Asia, which is rain-washed, sun-dried and fire-roasted to perfection. The flavor is rich-yet-mellow and balanced with notes of nuts, spices and chocolate. It boasts a smooth finish with just the right amount of bitterness. While it can be served both hot and cold, the brand recommends it be made with hot water, so if you want it chilled, add ice or refrigerate before sipping.

 

Best for Iced Coffee Drinkers

2. Waka Colombian Coffee

  • Value: 18/20
  • Quality: 19/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 19/20
  • Dissolvability: 19/20
  • Taste: 18/20

TOTAL: 93/100

Contrary to popular belief, not all instant coffees require hot water to dissolve. Waka Coffee, a brand that’s exclusively dedicated to instant coffees and teas, can be prepared with cold water, meaning you won’t have to wait for your brew to chill in the fridge to make a glass of iced coffee. Unlike some producers that use Robusta beans, which are typically more bitter and harsh, Waka uses 100 percent Arabica beans, which are smoother and sweeter. The instant coffee is also produced by freeze-drying—the beans are used to make coffee extract, which is frozen before getting its liquid sucked out by a vacuum, effectively turning the ice to steam in a process called sublimation. This helps the instant coffee retain its flavor and smell. We’re big fans of the medium roast Colombian variety’s single-serve packets, thanks to the smooth, citrus-forward flavor. It’s a little bit on the watery side, but a flavored syrup or creamer of your choice (we're Nut Pods fans ourselves) can help thicken the mouthfeel.

Oh. And did we mention Waka donates 4 percent of its sales through its Add Water, Give Water program, which brings clean, safe drinking water to communities in need all over the world?

 

Best Decaf Instant Coffee

3. Mount Hagen Organic Decaffeinated Coffee

  • Value: 18/20
  • Quality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 18/20
  • Dissolvability: 20/20
  • Taste: 18/20

TOTAL: 94/100

If you shop with ethical farming practices and climatarianism in mind, look no further than Mount Hagen. This brand is the first instant coffee producer in the world to be certified organic and Fair Trade, which guarantees that everyone on the supply chain—from farmers to processors to transporters—are paid and treated fairly. Like Waka, Mount Hagen uses Arabica beans and freeze-drying to make its instant coffee. The decaffeinated blend is a mix from Papua New Guinea, Peru and Honduras, which makes for a mild, nutty and fruity final product. There’s no specific amount of water noted on the packaging, so we used 2 teaspoons of coffee and filled our mug with about 6 ounces of water. The result was balanced and super smooth.

 

Best Blonde Roast

4. Starbucks VIA Instant Veranda Blend

  • Value: 18/20
  • Quality: 18/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 17/20
  • Dissolvability: 20/20
  • Taste: 17/20

TOTAL: 90/100

Did you know blonde roast coffee is actually higher in caffeine than dark roast? Many people assume the opposite because of dark roast's robust flavor, but blonde beans are actually roasted for a shorter length of time to achieve a mellower flavor, which in turn means less of the caffeine is roasted out. Made exclusively with Arabica beans, Starbucks Via Instant’s single-serve packets of the signature Veranda blend are filled with both instant and micro-ground coffee (aka coffee that’s so finely ground, it can be dissolved in water—we wonder if this is why we noticed some oily spots in the crema that formed on top of the coffee), so it looks more like typical grounds than the granules you might expect. Just like a blonde drip ordered in store, the instant version is malty, mild and bright with balanced, subtle sweetness. (BTW, if you prefer canisters over single-serve packets, Starbucks just launched three new Premium Instant coffees…)

 

Best Medium Roast

5. Joe Coffee The Daily

  • Value: 17/20
  • Quality: 19/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 19/20
  • Dissolvability: 20/20
  • Taste: 18/20

TOTAL: 93/100

Brace yourself for an easy-drinking cup of, well, joe, that just might become your new go-to. Joe Coffee’s The Daily is roasted, brewed and turned into concentrate in small batches before being freeze-dried, resulting in a blend that’s equal parts bright and sweet. The coffee is typically sourced from South and Central America, although the beans change based on what’s seasonal and fresh. Its caramel notes shine through beautifully when served cold, and we noted a more pronounced chocolate flavor served hot. If you like adding sweet creamers and flavor syrups to your coffee, we have a feeling this pick will be right up your alley.

 

Best Dark Roast

6. Nescafé Taster’s Choice French Roast

  • Value: 19/20
  • Quality: 17/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 18/20
  • Dissolvability: 20/20
  • Taste: 17/20

TOTAL: 91/100

On the hunt for a bold, complex dark roast that won’t totally bulldoze your tastebuds? The instant French Roast option from Nescafé’s Taster’s Choice line strikes just the right balance. “It’s not too acidic, [it] dissolves easily (no vigorous stirring required) and gives me rich flavor with minimal work,” says our Executive SEO Editor, Alexia Dellner. We put her claims to the test and tried it ourselves, only to be pleasantly surprised by its chocolatey notes and rich mouthfeel. Even though the packaging doesn’t recommend using cold water, the 7-ounce container certainly makes it easy to serve a crowd quickly, which is always plus in our book. We also love how easy the packaging made it to adjust the ratio of instant coffee to water based on your mug size.

 

7. Cusa Tea & Coffee Vanilla Dark Roast

  • Value: 18/20
  • Quality: 20/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 18/20
  • Dissolvability: 20/20
  • Taste: 18/20

TOTAL: 94/100

High-elevation Arabica beans + Madagascar vanilla = a match made in java-loving heaven. Whether you’re sipping this coffee hot or iced, Cusa’s vanilla dark roast is sure to please with its round flavor and subtle sweetness. The eight-hour cold brew process ensures that heat and aggressive dehydration don’t spoil the coffee’s flavor and quality. Instead, the coffee is gently brewed with room temperature water before being vacuum-dehydrated into dissolvable crystals. The added vanilla and the coffee’s natural flavor notes of caramel and burnt sugar remind us of baked goods (it basically tastes like a liquid chocolate chip cookie). The beans are from a Rainforest Alliance Certified plantation to boot, meaning they’re the result of organic farming practices and regenerative agriculture.

 

Best Value

8. Maxim Mocha Gold Mild Coffee Mix

  • Value: 20/20
  • Quality: 17/20
  • Ease of Use/Functionality: 20/20
  • Dissolvability: 19/20
  • Taste: 18/20

TOTAL: 94/100

Imagine an instant coffee that 1) can be prepared hot or cold, 2) is a killer bargain and 3) doesn’t require a drop of creamer or sugar. Introducing Maxim Mocha Gold mild coffee mix, the quickest route from zero to light-and-sweet java you’ll ever find. “These Korean instant coffee packs are delicious,” says our Beauty Director Jenny Jin. “They come pre-mixed with creamer and sugar in them, so they can be a tad sweet, but it’s pretty easy to adjust by not using the entire contents of the pack, because the sugar and cream usually sit on top of the coffee [so they’re easy to remove].” Not only do the single-serve packets come in 100-serving boxes (that’s about 26 cents per coffee), but they also don’t require any additional creamer or sugar. If you like your coffee black, this obviously isn’t the pick for you. But if you like it sweet, nutty and round with hints of chocolate and caramel, this pick will change your mornings forever. If you want it cold, we recommend dissolving it in a bit of hot water first or waiting a few minutes for the creamer to fully dissolve in cold water before drinking.

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PureWow is the best friend you never had when it comes to finding the best, most useful lifestyle products online. Founded in 2010, our company’s editors and writers have spent more than a decade shopping online, digging through sales and putting our home goods, beauty finds, wellness picks and more through the wringer—all to help you determine which ones are actually worth your hard-earned cash. From our PureWow100 series, which sees each and every item we test being ranked on a 100-point scale of awesomeness, to the painstakingly curated lists our fashion, beauty, cooking, home and family editors create as vertical experts, you can trust that our recommendations include some of the greatest items you’ll find on the internet. Whether you're looking for travel-size hair dryers you can take on-the-go or women’s walking shoes that won’t hurt your feet, we’ve got you covered.

Taryn Pire is PureWow's associate food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She's developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at Food52, New Jersey Family Magazine and Taste Talks. When she's not trying the latest TikTok food hack (looking at you, Kool-Aid pickles), she's having popcorn for dinner and posting about it on Instagram.

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