Yes, it’s true, I’ve gone over to the dark side – DUN DUN DUUUUN!!! I’ve been sampling instant coffee for the past week. You know what, it’s not all doom and gloom, and there’s some pretty tasty instant coffee when you shop around and pick out the best brands.
Sure there’s some instant coffee that tastes like my sweaty flip-flop and should only be reserved for when your mother-in-law comes to visit. But trust me when I say there are some hidden gems that could pass for good ole regular pour-over coffee in a blind taste test.
Even those of you reading this thinking I’ve lost my mind have most likely tried instant coffee at least once. I bet that experience has most likely left you scarred for life, vowing never to touch that mysterious, dark, water-soluble powder ever again.
Times have changed, and the latest innovations in producing instant today have come on leaps and bounds since you tried it previously. – so I challenge you to give a cup of instant a try once again – if only once.
Would I drink instant coffee every day? Hell No.
But for those one-off times when you’re away from home or don’t have enough time to make a regular pot, using a good-tasting instant coffee will not banish you to the dark realms of decaf, blade grinders, and tea drinkers. – your secret is safe with me (wink).
History of Instant Coffee
Before I showcase the best-tasting instant coffee that I’ve unearthed this past week, I think delving deeper into the history of this soluble quick brewing coffee is going to be an excellent place to start.
Instant coffee isn’t a modern-day innovation. In fact, it can trace its roots (1) back to as early as 1771. It was around this time they say that the earliest version of a water-soluble coffee compound was invented in Britain.
Skip ahead a few decades, and an experimental coffee (cake form) was field-tested during the Civil War in 1853, allowing troops to enjoy a coffee while on the battlefield.
Coffee has had many shapes and forms over the years, but it wasn’t until 1890 that the coffee was patented as “instant coffee” after being invented by (2) David Strang of Invercargill, New Zealand.
In 1901, the first stable powdered coffee product was invented (3) in Japan by Sartori Kato. Using the knowledge and equipment he had developed for making instant tea, Sartori Kato was able to produce soluble fast brewed coffee.
At around the same time (1901) in America, instant coffee had started to be mass-produced (4) by George Constant Louis Washington. However, at the time, the instant coffee powder was thought by most to be a novelty and an acquired taste.
By 1938, Nescafe had come onto the scene and greatly improved (5) the taste by using different processing techniques, making the coffee a regular cupboard stable.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that freeze-drying coffee became the best process for retaining flavor and overall quality.
So there you have it – a brief history lesson on instant coffee.
How Is Instant Coffee Made?
Surprisingly, instant coffee starts as, well, regular coffee! Whole coffee beans are roasted, ground, and then brewed before they start their journey to becoming instant.
But how does it go from freshly brewed to a dry powder? Therein lies the science… let’s take a closer look.
After the coffee has been made into a strong concentrate, it must be dried and turned into a granule or powder form. There are two ways of doing this – spray drying and freeze-drying. The big-name coffee brands use both methods to make instant gourmet coffee that you can find on any supermarket shelf.
Spray drying coffee is achieved by (6) blowing liquid coffee concentrate as a fine mist into very hot, dry air (480 degrees F). As the coffee concentrate passes through the dry air, it completely evaporates the water; the coffee forms into dried tiny round crystals and is then collected from the bottom of the machine.
Another popular method of making instant soluble coffee is freeze-drying. There are two steps in this process. First, they cook the coffee and reduce it to a potent extract that is then chilled to about 20 degrees, turning the extract into a thick globby solution.
The coffee liquid is then poured out onto large trays on conveyor belts and is cooled down once again to a temperature of around -40°F, forming slabs of coffee ice. The solid sheets of coffee ice are then processed into granules and sent onto a drying vacuum where the ice is vaporized, leaving behind instant coffee granules.
Some of the best instant coffee brands will also reintroduce “volatile oils” to the granules during the packaging process – which are compounds that give coffee its flavor and aroma.
Best Rated Instant Coffee Brands
Okay, so now all the boring stuff is out of the way, I bet you’re eager to know which instant coffee granules are the best. I said at the beginning of this article that I have spent the past week sampling various brands; some were cringe-worthy and, to be frank, ended up down the sink.
On the other hand, surprisingly, some packets tasted pretty decent, and those are the instant coffee brands that made my list.
Sudden Coffee (Highly Recommended)
I can’t recommend Sudden Coffee enough. During my taste tests, it became apparent that there was a clear winner and one coffee leaps and bounds above the rest in all departments.
A bit of background on Sudden that I was able to unearth. Sudden Coffee is the brainchild of Kalle Freese, a two-time Finland barista champion and ranked as the 9th best barista in the world in 2015.
The story goes that Kalle was drinking a cup of average instant coffee while on an airplane and wondered if it was possible to make a better-tasting instant coffee that was still convenient.
Being a barista champion, Kalle knows a thing or two about good-tasting coffee, so he was able to create Sudden Coffee by tapping into his vast barista knowledge base. Sudden excels where others have failed and ticks all the boxes for choosing the best instant coffee.
If you haven’t tried Sudden, I strongly suggest you try it – if only once. It might even change your complete thinking of instant coffee. Make sure to read my full Sudden Coffee review.
Kona Instant Coffee
My second recommendation is Kona Instant Coffee. If you haven’t heard of Kona Coffee, you should definitely check out my article on this popular Hawaiian Coffee to understand what makes this coffee so unique.
This instant gourmet coffee comes packed with flavor, incredible smoothness, and a refreshing aroma which is surprising for freeze-dried granules. I found that this Kona coffee brand had a heavenly aroma and no bitter aftertaste. There’s no easier way to get good Kona coffee purchase whole beans.
Great flavor wish the jar was larger!
Starbucks VIA Instant Medium Roast Colombia Coffee
I’m not a fan of Starbucks (still having nightmares about unicorn frappuccinos), damn, I’m not even a fan of instant coffee, but here I am writing about it – and tasting it!
Coming in at number three is this instant gourmet coffee offering from Starbucks. Each of the VIA packets contains premium Arabica instant Colombia coffee (medium roast).
What I liked about this Starbucks instant coffee is the option of using cold water. Yes, these granules mix in both hot and cold water, which makes getting a quick caffeine fix wherever you are super easy. I even added some to my vanilla protein shake while at the gym!
Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence Instant Coffee
Douwe Egberts was a pleasant surprise for aroma, flavor, balance, and body – it ticked all the boxes.
This brand of coffee has a long history which can be traced back to 1753 – that’s over 250 years of coffee knowledge! Douwe Egberts instant is a premium gourmet blend of good-quality coffee beans that have been expertly roasted to unlock the rich and aromatic flavor found in each bean.
The jar the coffee comes in is not too shabby either. The jar is too lovely to throw in the trash once the coffee has been consumed. It’s a heavy, thick glass jar that has an airtight rubber seal – it could even double up as a coffee container for some of your other coffees.
Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee
I’ve previously highlighted the many benefits of mushroom coffee so that I won’t go into detail. The Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee is a nice little twist on the regular instant. Along with organic Arabica coffee beans, it comes packed with various mushrooms to help support the immune system, productivity, and focus.
The Arabica beans are 100% organic (USDA certified) and have grown in mineral-rich volcanic soil in Mexico’s Sierra Madre de Chiapas highlands.
Not a mushroom kind of person? Trust me, there is no mushroomy taste to this coffee. Kick start your day with this, and I guarantee you’ll be back here in the comment section singing its praises!
Medaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso Coffee
This is the strongest instant coffee I tasted!
Rather than being a single-origin roast, Medaglia D’Oro Instant Espresso Coffee is a blend of imported Italian espresso coffees that have been double-roasted for traditional espresso flavor.
I was surprised by a thick Crema on the top of this instant coffee, which is typically only reserved for the high pressure of an espresso machine.
This strong instant coffee comes packed with flavor – it’s rich, well-balanced, exceptionally smooth, and aromatic!
It may be a bit expensive for an instant coffee but, because of its convenience, strong taste, and not forgetting the Crema, it’s one to have in your kitchen cupboard for the days when you need instantaneous coffee!
How I Chose My Instant Selection
All instant coffee isn’t equal, and some tasteless, overpriced, and over-marketed crap is out there. So to weed out the crap and showcase the best, I set myself a few simple rules when looking at each coffee.
Simply put, if the coffee didn’t smell nice, it was destined for the garbage bin. I stuck my nose into the instant coffee packets, and I also had a good smell of the coffee after the hot water was added.
Most probably my number one deciding factor whether coffee made it to my list of recommendations was based on the flavor. We drink coffee because we enjoy the taste; and the caffeine. It didn’t make the list if the instant wasn’t up to par in the flavor department. Flavor preferences can be subjective and vary for each of us, but I think I know a good tasting cup of coffee when I try one – all the instants on my list tasted good to me (well, good enough for an instant brewed coffee).
What does balance mean? Basically, it’s a combination of acidity, body, aftertaste, and how well they work together, no single element should stick out too strongly – “a good balance.”
Also, If the Coffee also had a distinct or notable bitter or harsh aftertaste, it lost points.
After considering the balance, I paid particular attention to the body of each cup of instant. The body measures the mouth-feel of the coffee and its overall thickness – let’s be honest, nobody likes a watery, tasteless coffee! Unfortunately, many of the instant coffee brands I sampled were just that – the ones on my list had a good mouth-feel for freeze-dried coffee.
Availability And Price
Finally, instant has to be cheap. If it isn’t, you’re better off spending your money on a bag or real whole coffee beans. Freeze-dried instant coffee is something you take with you when you go on your travels or as a backup when you need a fix of caffeine – the quality isn’t the same as a regular whole bean, so the price has to reflect that.
Finding your favorite best instant coffee brand every time you walk into your supermarket is another essential factor. It’s no good settling for one brand only for the stock to be limited, or it’s simply too hard to find.
All of my picks are easy to find (online or supermarket chains), and I guarantee they won’t break the bank!
How To Make Good Tasting Instant Coffee?
Believe it or not, there is a knack for making the best tasting instant coffee, and it all boils down to a few simple steps.
What You Need
An excellent instant coffee – any of the above brands will do, a coffee mug and hot and cold water. This might go against everything they have taught you about making coffee but trust me, try it.
Add one tablespoon of cold water into your coffee mug, next add your instant coffee grounds and stir until the grounds are completely dissolved in the water. Fill your coffee mug with hot water and stir once again.
Why This Works?
There is a very good reason to use cold water first. When you dissolve instant coffee directly into hot water, the amylum found in the instant granules hardens, creating a powdery taste.
When you use cold water first to dissolve the coffee granules, they won’t become scorched when you instantly add the boiling hot water. The hot and cold water is incorporated much more gently, allowing the granules to mix and keep their flavor.