The Golden Age of Coffee is so splendid that it extends beyond boutique coffee shops and state-of-the-art home coffee makers. It reaches even into the often-disdained and much-maligned realm of single serve instant coffee. Wut? Yes, dear reader, you heard that right. Whether you’re looking for portable coffee for hiking, a picnic, a beach day or just another Monday at the office, there’s a world of new options out there. Here are our picks for the best quality instant coffee brands in the world.
can instant coffee actually taste good?
Within just the past 5 years, there’s been an explosion in the number of new brands offering what for many of us is the Holy Grail: a reasonably affordable, portable, single-serve packet of good-tasting coffee.
It sounds so simple. And yet, how many truly bad cups of instant coffee have you consumed in your life? If there’s no machine (and on airplane, even if there is one), you’re likely to be looking at a sludgy, odd-smelling, unsatisfying cup of Joe. And life is too short to drink bad coffee.
Happily, we don’t have to put up with terrible instant coffee any longer. For those who want to enjoy flavorful coffee in situations where there’s nowhere to brew it, these 11 brands offer a solution: quality instant coffee.
It may sound too good to be true, but all you have to do is add water. It can be hot or cold in most cases. The result won’t compare to the best coffee shop in town – and also not to what you can produce at home with your fancy brewing machine.
But it’s a lot better than the old stuff – and in some cases, nearly as good as coffee shop offerings. Plus, freeze-dried beans last a good long time – so you can stash them away in case of a java emergency.
These specialty instant coffee options will serve you well at the office, on a plane, in a hotel room or in any other situation when you want a good cup of Joe and there’s no alternative.
But we’re most excited about tossing these in our bag when we head out into the great outdoors. We’ve already shared our picks for best places to hike, and best wine in a box. With some quality instant coffee in the mix, it’s already feeling like an excellent summer.
the best quality instant coffee in the world
Swift Cup Coffee was one of the first to enter the high-quality instant coffee market. They produce products under their own brand name and also in collaboration with other coffee roasters. Their partners have included Ultimo Coffee, ReAnimator Coffee Roasters, Tandem Coffee Roasters, Case Coffee Roasters and Neat Coffee. Last year Swift teamed up with New York based coffee shop Joe on an instant version of its Daily blend. All of these instant coffees are available online at the sites of each coffee roaster.
Whether for its own brand or for its partners, Swift Cup Coffee’s technique is to brew roasted coffee down to a concentrate. Then they slowly dehydrate it via freeze drying. The Swift brand beans are not certified to be fair trade nor organic. The packets work with either hot or cold water. A six-cup box of its Mainstay blend is $11.95. The top-of-the-line blend, Gesha Village, is $21.00 for a six-cup box.
Sudden Coffee was founded in San Francisco in 2015 by barista Kalle Freese and Josh Zloof, a McKinsey & Co associate “with a culinary obsession.” The team writes that they spent years working the coffee’s secret recipe, “combining deep culinary cafe traditions with a little modern science.”
The beans are single-origin from Vancouver, and the brand’s bulk brewing process is engineered to not destroy them. Sudden employs a collection of small freeze dryers rather than one large machine, giving the manufacturer closer control of each batch.
Sudden is Intelligensia’s partner on its instant coffee. There are also a number of smaller craft coffee roasters who have outsourced their instant coffee production to Sudden, including OZO Coffee in Boulder, Colorado. Apparently, the brand is on fire. When we checked the site, we found a notice that Sudden is experiencing “excessive delays.” Orders are currently shipping 60 days after receipt.
Voila, based in Bend, Oregon, describes its product as “specialty instant coffee.” Entrepreneur Kent Sheridan founded the brand in January 2016; it first came to market in the fall of 2017. There are a number of flavor profiles currently available, including Ethiopian Guji from Presta Coffee Roasters; Nicaragua Bella Aurora; and Brazil Espirito Santo Natural. Or you can start with the Discovery Box, which has 5 “all-star” coffees. A six-cup box of any one of these is $16.00.
Kuju Coffee was founded in 2015 by two brothers aiming to bring better coffee to outdoor activities. Their product consists of portable pour over coffee packets, and there are currently six varieties. 10-cup packages are $22.00 for the three entry-level blends and $30.00 for the three higher-end blends. With every purchase, the company donates 1% of sales to the National Park Foundation.
Another alternative for a disposable pour over system for instant coffee is Dripkit. The company is based in Brooklyn, New York, and the coffee is roasted there. Each single-serve packet contains 17g of roasted and ground coffee, and makes a 10-ounce cup. Currently, there’s a light, medium and dark roast available. Online reviews are almost uniformly positive for this brand. A 5-pack costs $15.00. Dripkit is also partnering with Verve Coffee Roasters on instant coffee. A single-serve of their Ethiopia Duromina, which has 15g of roasted coffee, costs $3.50.
6. Canyon Coffee
Canyon Coffee makes a line of instant coffee using beans from the micro-region of Yirgacheffe, which is renowned for its top quality growing practices. It’s made from batch-brewed, freshly-roasted coffee from Celinga, Ethiopia. The brand partnered with Swift Cup on the final product and packaging. $20 for 6 packets.
7. First Ascent
First Ascent is a small coffee roaster in Crested Butte, Colorado that produces instant coffee packets in addition to selling ground coffee and beans. They describe their process for crafting instant coffee as “sourcing specialty-grade coffees that are in season from small farms and co-ops. We roast it . . . striving to highlight natural flavors and sweetness. Finally, we brew for quality and proper extraction, making sure that the final result is balanced.”
The end product gets good reviews online. That may be because the company is focused on the needs of outdoor adventures – the site notes that “our roasters and baristas are passionate climbers, bikers, and skiers.” There are three options currently offered in the instant coffee line: Hero Blend, Ethiopia, and Honduras. Each is priced at $19.99 for an 8-pack.
Steeped Coffee, headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, makes coffee “tea bags” you simply steep in water. The brand focuses on its commitment to sourcing “the best beans . . . produced in special geographic micro-climates from around the world that yield beans with unique flavor profiles.” The company says that its beans are always fairly and directly traded.
In addition to the unique concept of the “tea bag,” Steeped also promotes its “third wave artisan coffee roasting.” The roasted beans are processed using consistent grinding techniques, and the nitro packaging ensures that the ground coffee remains at its peak flavor. There are 5 blends from which to choose: Light, Medium, Dark, Extra Dark, and Decaf. All are $15 for 10 packets.
Treeline Coffee makes a portable instant version of its coffee called “Geo.” It’s also a disposable pour over system. So you’ll need water that’s almost at the boiling point. You pour it through the filter 3-6 times, and after about 2 minutes, you’re good to go. There’s only one blend of single-origin coffee available, made from specialty-grade beans, and the brand says that it changes the blend seasonally. A 10-pack is $20.00.
10. Mount Hagen
Mount Hagen instant coffee is made from only fair trade, organic beans, roasted in Germany. Originally using only beans from Papua New Guinea, the company’s name is taken from a mountain range there. The brand’s mascot, the bird of paradise, is the heraldic symbol of the island nation. The company now also sources bio-dynamic beans from Peru, Mexico, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Ethiopia.
Online reviews are positive about the flavor: its described as “mild and smooth, without bitterness or too much acidity.” If you’re looking for something that will please nearly everyone, this is it. And the is price is lower than many of the other specialty instant coffee brands. A package of 25 single-serve sticks is currently $13.19 on Amazon.
11. Starbucks Via
We know that in the world of coffee, many people have a polarized view of Starbucks. If you love the coffee found in their stores and under their brand name in the supermarket, then you’ll be very satisfied by their instant coffee brand, Via. If your situation is the opposite, though, don’t even bother trying these.
For Starbucks fans, there are seven blends from which to choose in the Via instant coffee line: Veranda, Pike Place, Columbia, House Blend, Italian Roast, French Roast and Decaf. There are also two flavors of iced Via coffee, and four lattes. You can get 96 single-serving sticks of the House Blend for $98.00 on Amazon.
For nearly all of these instant coffees, consumer reviews caveat the taste with the disclaimer that they’re surprisingly good, or pretty good for an instant coffee. So manage your expectations accordingly, and you might find your new caffeine emergency go-to among one of these brands.
Do you already have a favorite specialty instant coffee? Did we miss anything? We’ll see you on the trail.
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