Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
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Buying guide for Best instant coffee

Instant coffee might not have the best reputation, but it's quick to make and can be a surprisingly tasty way to enjoy coffee. It may never rival espresso brewed with high-end freshly ground beans, but it can give basic coffee made from grocery store grounds a run for its money.

Many variables can affect the taste of instant coffee. Because it's made from coffee beans that have been roasted, ground, and brewed before being dried into a strong extract form, the quality of the beans, how they’re brewed, and the drying method all make a difference.

If you want to avoid the somewhat bitter and weak flavor that this type of coffee is sometimes known for, you should choose a premium brand. Also, pay attention to the drying process and whether the coffee contains added micro grounds for a more complex flavor.

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If you like a shot of syrup in your coffee-shop brew, you might want to try flavored instant coffee. 

How to choose the best instant coffee

Is instant coffee any good?

The reason instant coffee isn't more popular among coffee aficionados comes down to taste. Whether the coffee is good is subjective because some people are more discerning about their coffee than others. Ask someone who only drinks coffee made from the highest-quality coffee beans and has spent thousands of dollars on brewing equipment and they'll probably say the instant variety is trash. 

On the other hand, ask someone who's perfectly content with grocery store ground coffee made in a traditional percolator and they might say they're happy to drink instant. 

It also comes down to quality. Just like any product, you can find some top-notch instant coffees and some that are worth less than the jar they come in. Anyone who is apprehensive about trying it should try a high-end option and let their taste buds decide. 

Everyday vs. premium instant coffee

You can roughly group most brands of instant coffee into everyday or premium, and this is where the big difference comes in. 

Everyday is what most people think of when they consider this type of coffee. It's inexpensive and these brands don't necessarily pay much attention to bean selection or brewing process. 

Premium brands cost more but are made using carefully selected beans and often roasted in small batches for freshness. The difference in flavor between everyday and premium is undeniable. If you tried an everyday brand and didn't like it, it's worth giving a premium option a try. Of course, there's nothing wrong with liking affordable everyday instant coffee. It isn't for everybody, but it's a perfectly valid choice and it will save you money. 

Drying method

Instant coffee can either be freeze-dried or spray-dried. The freeze-drying process generally retains more flavor compared to the spray-drying method, so freeze-dried coffee tends to taste better. 

However, freeze-drying is a more involved and expensive process, so this type of instant coffee can be pricier than its spray-dried counterparts. It isn't always obvious which drying method was used, though spray-dried coffee has a finer consistency, so might come in powdered form, while freeze-dried coffee tends to come in larger granules. 

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Did You Know?
The very first instant coffee dates back to the 1700s in the United Kingdom. A patent was granted for it in 1771. 
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What are the features of instant coffee? 

Single origin vs. blended

Single origin instant coffee is made using beans from a single coffee grower or geographic region. This might not seem all that important, and it isn't necessarily important on its own, but it's an indicator that the producer of the coffee has thought carefully about what unique qualities the grower or region imparts to the brew. 

Blended types can use different types of beans to make up for what one is lacking. For instance, one might be a blend of robusta beans and lesser-quality arabica beans to add more of a punch. 

Microgrounds

While instant coffee is effectively a dried form of brewed coffee that's rehydrated when you add water, some types contain small quantities of extremely finely ground coffee beans, called microgrounds. These add some complexity to the flavor that can be missing from instant coffee. The quantity of the microgrounds is small enough and the grind is fine enough that drinkers aren't left with an excessively gritty cup of coffee. That said, coffee with added microgrounds can still be slightly grainy. 

Single servings

Some instant coffee comes packaged in individual sachets. This makes it convenient to take with you to work, on camping trips, or anywhere else you might need an easy caffeine hit. The downside is that coffee packaged this way costs more, and excess packaging isn't great for the environment. 

Look for coffee that's Fair Trade Certified or that has made a commitment to paying its growers a fair price even if they haven't officially joined the Fair Trade organization. 

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What accessories do I need for instant coffee?

Electric kettle

Coffee that’s “instant” is all about the ease of brewing, so it makes sense to use an electric kettle to boil the water for it. Look for one that comes to a boil quickly and automatically shuts off when it reaches boiling point, so you know when the water's ready to pour. You can find corded and cordless models as well as stainless steel, plastic, and glass options.

Coffee canister

An airtight coffee canister keeps moisture out of your coffee and preserves its flavor for a longer time, which is ideal if you don’t use a lot at a time. There are plenty of options to choose from, including stainless steel and ceramic. Some even include a matching scoop.

How much does instant coffee cost? 

Inexpensive 

Inexpensive brands cost around $5 to $10 for a 7- to 8-ounce container. This is your everyday type and generally prioritizes low cost over exceptional flavor. 

Mid-range

Expect to pay $10 to $20 for around 7 to 8 ounces of mid-priced instant brands. These are generally of premium quality and come in tins or jars rather than individual packages.  

Expensive 

The most expensive types come in individual sachets. Packages cost $10 to $50, but these can contain as many as 50 or as few as 8 sachets, so consider the price per serving to get the best bang for your buck. 

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Staff Tip
It's easy to make iced coffee using instant coffee. Simply dissolve it in a tablespoon or two of warm water, then add cold water and ice. 
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Tips

  • Use water that's just come off the boil. For the best results, make instant joe with water that's just finished boiling. Allow the kettle to come to a boil, then wait roughly 10 seconds after switching it off before pouring the water over the coffee. Waiting much longer can lead to coffee with a weaker flavor.
  • Store your coffee properly. Moisture and direct sunlight can evaporate the essential oils that give coffee its complex flavor, so it's best to store it in an airtight container in a kitchen cabinet.
  • Consider the roast type. Like coffee beans and ground coffee, the instant variety comes in light, medium, or dark roast. If you're a coffee fan, you probably already have a preference, but if you don't, try different types to find your favorite. 
  • Look for arabica coffee. Basic ground coffee is often made with robusta coffee beans, known for their earthy and bitter flavor. Arabica beans have sweet, nutty notes. Most instant coffee is a blend of robusta and arabica beans, but if you're looking for premium quality, it's arabica all the way. 
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Espresso powder is more intense than regular instant coffee, and it dissolves in cold liquid, making it ideal for flavoring frosting, cakes, and other baked goods. 

FAQ

Q. Is instant coffee just ground coffee? 

A. No, it’s different. Instant is made from beans that have been roasted, ground, and brewed. The resulting brewed coffee is then dried into a water-soluble substance. Ground coffee is simply ground, roasted coffee beans and therefore doesn't dissolve when you mix it with hot water. That said, some instant types contain a small amount of coffee that's ground so finely that it adds to the flavor without imparting a significantly grainy texture. 

Q. When might instant coffee be useful? 

A. Sure, it’s convenient when you're in a hurry, but there are other situations in which instant coffee can be the star of the show. It's great to take on camping trips because there's no complex brewing process and no special apparatus needed — just heat water on a camping stove, pour it over the coffee, and you're done. Similarly, it's great for use in RVs, dorms, or other small living spaces where it might not be practical to keep a coffee maker. In the case of dorms, coffee makers sometimes aren't allowed, but an electric kettle should be fine, or you can get a thermos of hot water from the dining hall. 

Q. Is instant stronger than ground coffee? 

A. No. In fact, instant contains less caffeine than ground coffee. A cup of instant contains roughly 30 to 90 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of coffee brewed from ground beans contains around 70 to 140 milligrams. As such, it can make sense to switch to instant coffee when you're trying to cut back on caffeine but don't really want to drink less coffee. 

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