There’s arguably no better way to start a morning than with an aromatic, single-origin coffee.
(I’m partial to the roasts from Honduras.)
But sometimes we just need a quick cup of coffee before heading out the door.
Enter instant coffee.
History of Instant Coffee
Though many people associate instant coffee with brands like Nescafé and Folgers, the first patent for coffee compound was actually filed in 1771.
Then in 1930, due to an excess of coffee beans, Nestlé began developing our modern day instant coffee at the behest of the Brazilian government.
By 1938, the first Nescafé instant coffee was launched.
And as of 2012, Nescafé holds 50% and 74% of the ready-to-drink and instant coffee markets, respectively.
Unfortunately, instant coffee has a bit of a PR problem. Many people associate instant coffee with quick, powdery, and terrible caffeine in a cup.
In fact, some have gone so far as to suggest that it be banned.
What Is Instant Coffee?
All instant coffee starts off as regular coffee been brewed in industrial equipment to maximize its flavor. Both the temperature of the water and the pressure applied to the brewing coffee are carefully controlled.
How Is Instant Coffee Made?
After the coffee has been brewed, there are a few ways to separate the the water from the coffee extract.
- The brewed coffee spins around in a centrifuge, where the centrifugal force leaves the heavier coffee extract behind.
- Water is evaporated from the hot coffee extract.
- Water is separated from the cooled coffee extract once it’s turned to ice.
After the coffee extract has been concentrated, it must then be dried and turned into a granule or powder form.
Basically, there are two main ways of doing this. Manufacturers can either use spray drying or freeze drying.
After the water has been separated from the coffee extract, the extract is then sprayed from nozzles at the top of a 75-foot tower. Hot air, which reaches roughly 480°F, is blown through the coffee mist, which results in a fine powder at the bottom of the tower.
In freeze drying, the coffee extract is chilled to about 20°F and then placed onto trays or belts to cool down until it reaches a temperature of around -40°F.
The resulting ice is then broken down into finer particles and dried once more in a chamber, where the ice evaporates.
Volatile oils — the compounds which give coffee its flavor and aroma — are reintroduced to the granules during the packaging process.
10 Best Freeze Dried Coffees
As you can imagine, this long process isn’t very kind to the delicate, volatile aromatics which make our morning coffees such a delight. Unfortunately, this is partially why instant coffee tastes flat when compared to its freshly-brewed counterparts.
But, don’t worry. There is great-tasting instant coffee out there.
Here are the top 10 instant coffee brands to try if you need a quick cup.
At number 10, this Maxwell House medium roast is a great choice for those looking for a rich, medium roast. The 8 oz jar makes 120 cups, making this a great, economical choice.
However, in spite of how convenient it is, the taste may be too mild for those looking for a stronger cup.
Coming in at number nine, this instant espresso from Nescafé is a great choice for those looking for a quick shot or two of espresso.
Made from 100% arabica beans, this instant espresso is balanced in flavor, smooth, and even has a nice layer of crema (by instant coffee standards).
After adjusting the water-to-coffee ratio, this instant espresso is surprisingly full-bodied and rich.
However, even though it is sold in bulk, some may find it a bit expensive, given that each pack is roughly 3 oz.
Still, it’s a great buy for those times when you need a quick, caffeinated pick-me-up.
At number eight, Kava stands out from the pack because it is 90% acid neutralized, meaning that it only contains 50% of the acid found in regular coffee.
Plus, the coffee is made from premium beans, so there’s no compromise on flavor.
This is a great option for those with sensitive stomachs. Even if you occasionally have to drink this in lieu of breakfast, you won’t regret it later in the day.
Kava’s bold flavor is well-balanced and rich. It blends well, and it makes a very decadent mocha, with the addition of hot cocoa and milk.
It’s incredibly easy to overindulge.
And if you’re like me, this extra jolt of caffeine will keep you on top of your deadlines and then some.
However, with all its benefits, it is still rather pricey. But, if you have a sensitive stomach and need an acid-reduced coffee, this is an excellent choice.
At number seven, we have another instant coffee giant. This Folgers Classic Roast is rich, smooth, and blends well, making it a great mix-in for morning shakes.
Since this instant coffee comes in packets, the crystals will stay dry in your purse, suitcase, or office. And, because these are pre-measured, you can adjust the strength of the coffee to your liking, and the flavor will be consistent every time.
On the downside, this instant coffee may be a bit weak for some. Even with two packets, those who like their coffee on the stronger side may find it lacking.
But, if you don’t want to drink it, you can always cook with it.
At number six, we have a classic: Nescafé’s Taster’s Choice House Blend.
Made from 100% premium and ethically-sourced beans, this coffee has been flash frozen to preserve all the flavor you’d expect from a freshly brewed cup.
As far as roasts go, this blend is on the lighter side. Smooth and refined, this house blend would make a great addition to your morning mocha or dirty chai.
It comes packaged in high-quality, glass jars, and it blends well. So, if you want to treat yourself after a long day, stir in some hazelnut creamer with just a touch of chocolate syrup in with this coffee. Your tastebuds will thank you.
In spite of its well-balanced flavor, this coffee can be a little too mild for those looking for a more bold flavor. Also, this can be a bit expensive for some. But, if you want a classic, this one’s a great choice.
Breaking into our top five, this Starbucks Via Instant Colombian roast is made from 100% arabica beans. Each box comes with 26 packets, and it makes a truly quick, well-balanced cup.
Plus, it blends really well in both cold and hot water.
If you’re looking for a nice iced coffee on a 100°F day, this instant coffee will make a great base for your homemade iced coffee drinks or frapés.
Pro Tip: Dissolving in cold water?. Just be sure to shake well.
If you’re looking for a high-quality instant Colombian coffee, this is an excellent choice.
At number four, Douwe Egberts is a Dutch national favorite that has been serving fantastic coffee for 200 years.
This instant coffee is a medium roast with a smooth, well-balanced flavor and not a hint of bitterness. Its creaminess and aroma make this coffee pretty addictive.
For those of you who aren’t typically coffee drinkers, Douwe Egberts may win you over.
As delicious as this coffee is on its own, it blends very well, too. Mochas and iced coffees come out great. And, if you’re looking for something especially decadent, you can make a quick, faux #CoffeeInACone adding some sugar, heavy cream, and a drizzle of bittersweet chocolate syrup.
While the flavor is great, this coffee does come in very nice-looking, glass jars. The entire jar is glass — even the handle — and a rubber seal keeps the coffee fresh.
Yet, once the coffee is all gone, it’s almost painful to throw away such a nice jar.
Coming in at number three, this Douwe Egberts dark roast instant coffee is truly indulgent. Its flavor is rich, bold, and full-bodied.
As with the previous Douwe Egberts, this also comes packaged in a nice 6.7-ounce, glass jar with a rubber seal. This roast also blends well, and is a great addition to homemade lattes, desserts, and main dishes.
For some, the only downside to this coffee may be its price.
Also, because these glass jars are so well-made, it may be difficult to just throw them out once the coffee’s gone.
Fortunately, Douwe Egberts does sell refills for their Pure Indulgence blend, and as of this writing, it is a bit more economical.
At number two, this Mount Hagen instant coffee is made from ethically-sourced, organic beans. Its flavor and aroma are mild, well-balanced, and not at all bitter.
Mount Hagen also works with their coffee growers to produce coffee that is environmentally sustainable. They only partner with growers who place a high premium on their workers’ safety and economic stability.
In spite of its all-around great flavor and responsible sourcing, this coffee is definitely expensive.
If you want a great-tasting, well-balanced, ethically-sourced cup, Mount Hagen is the perfect choice.
Finally, coming in at number one, is Medaglia D’Oro’s instant espresso.
Instead of being one single-origin roast, this espresso is made from a blend and double-roasted to bring out even more flavor.
This instant blend has earned its place at number one because of its rich, bold flavor.
What’s more, the crema on top is thick and not bad at all for an instant espresso. It’s also well-balanced, exceptionally smooth, and blends very well in other drinks.
Though people buy this as an ingredient for their pastries and quick lattes, it’s really easy to overindulge.
On the downside, it may be a bit expensive for some. But, because of its convenience and crema, this is our go-to choice for instant espresso.
Other Uses for Instant Coffee
While these 10 best instant coffees are great in lattes or as a mocha, there are still a ton of delicious desserts, sides, and mains which use instant coffee as a flavoring agent.
If you happen to have some leftover instant coffee but want to experiment with all the different methods of brewing coffee from fresh beans, try your instant coffee in these recipes.
- Pulled Pork Sliders with Coffee and Chipotle
- Coffee Bacon Sandwich with Goat Cheese Spread and Spinach
- Short Ribs Braised in Coffee
Got any other instant coffee recipes to share? Comment below!