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Instant coffee is either a punchline or a lifesaver. There is no in between. The right cup is sent from the coffee gods to provide much-needed sustenance in a pinch. The wrong one could very well taste like damp mulch.
Early iterations of the dissolvable drink date back to 18th century Britain, but the idea really took off around 1910, when instant was first sold commercially. Today there are two primary methods of production: freeze drying, where coffee extract is frozen then broken apart, and spray drying, a faster, cheaper process where the coffee extract is sprayed into a chamber of hot air.
While it’s difficult to find an instant coffee that compares to the real thing, our round-up saves you from rolling the dice. We've collected a number of reliable options for hikers, frequent travelers, and those who simply prefer the convenience. Here are the best instant coffees to buy.
Organic, fair trade, and deliciously smooth, Mount Hagen could top a myriad of coffee categories, which is exactly why we chose it as our best overall brew. (Spoiler: this isn’t their last appearance on the list.)
Mount Hagen has been sourcing their coffee beans in the lush mountains of Papua New Guinea since 1986 and, over the past three decades, they have perfected the instant blend. The reviews for Mount Hagen’s Organic Freeze-Dried Instant Coffee are overwhelmingly positive, with the majority of drinkers giving it five stars. Praise ranges from the product’s reasonable price to its travel convenience to its full-bodied taste.
One 3.53-ounce jar yields approximately 60 cups. Simply stir a teaspoon of coffee grounds with a cup of boiling water and you’ll have ready-to-go joe that many say is even better than the real thing.
Joe Coffee has been a New York favorite since 2003. Customers have gone nuts for these beans, and for good reason. All of Joe’s coffee goes through a rigorous selection process to ensure the highest quality—and their instant coffee is no different. These grounds balance the brightness of a medium roast with the sweetness of milk chocolate and caramel. It’s barista-worthy coffee that you can take anywhere (just grab your travel mug and hit the road) and make any time.
Great taste and convenience come at a price though, as Joe Coffee makes one of the priciest instant blends on the market. One 6-serving box comes out to around $3 per cup—certainly a hefty price, but one that might be worth it for such a delicious jolt of coffee.
Established in 1892, Maxwell House is one of the oldest and most trusted U.S. coffee brands for a reason: it gets the job done. Hot, dependable coffee when you need it.
Like their regular coffee, Maxwell House’s instant coffee is one of the most affordable on the market, comparable to large brands like Folgers and Chock full o’Nuts. Given the lower price, reviews on taste do vary. Some customers swear by Maxwell House’s instant coffee, calling it undervalued and just as good as more expensive blends, while others say that the taste leaves something to be desired. What every coffee drinker can agree on, however, is the price.
Maxwell House is also easy to find in-store and online, and if their classic medium roast doesn’t excite you, they also offer a variety of instant coffee flavors, like French Vanilla, Toasted Hazelnut, Pumpkin Spice Latte, and more.
Many a coffeeholic has faced the debacle of really wanting coffee but also really wanting to sleep at some point. The answer: decaf. And that’s where Mount Hagen comes in, making a second appearance on our list with their freeze-dried instant decaf coffee.
If you’ve ever sipped a cup of decaf and found the taste to be weak and watery, you’re not crazy. The decaffeination process can sap coffee beans of certain chemicals that provide the rich flavors and scents you love. As a result, decaf coffee, like instant, is often maligned. But this product solves both decaf and instant coffee in one. Customers say the beans are strong and tasty, and, like Mount Hagen’s other products, the coffee is organic, fair trade, and reasonably priced.
It’s perfect for a late-night sip without the buzz; for coffee lovers with health difficulties; or for those who want coffee’s many health benefits without all of that caffeine.
“Organic” is a much-touted phrase in the coffeeverse. It sounds nice, but the meaning can be ambiguous. What leads to such uncertainty are the many different requirements for coffee to be considered organic in the U.S.
A baseline definition of organic is that, from start to finish, the coffee is produced without any artificial substances. No added chemicals in the fertilizer, no pesticides on the crop. Just good, clean coffee.
Four Sigmatic checks these boxes, and many more. Their patented mushroom coffee is mixed with dried matsutake mushrooms which pack your morning joe with extra nutrients while still keeping it light and healthy.
As their name suggests, Four Sigmatic makes four varieties of instant coffee, each with their own purpose and benefits. Lion’s Mane aids focus and creativity. Cordyceps is extra energizing. Adaptogen cuts out the jitters for a calmer, more relaxing blend. And Mushroom Mocha is sweet and chocolaty.
Four Sigmatic is pricy for instant coffee, but its beloved taste and many health benefits might make up the extra bucks.
It sounds like an oxymoron: luxury instant coffee. But Canyon Coffee is precisely that. They package one cup’s worth of top-quality grounds into individual packets, ensuring the freshest brew and making for a great travel companion.
The beans are hand-picked and freshly brewed in the Yirgacheffe region of southern Ethiopia—an area that grows some of the most delicious and distinct coffee in the world. Every sip will burst with sweet notes of honey, jasmine, and peach.
Canyon even teamed up with Swift Cup Coffee, a company that specializes in instant coffee, to produce one of the best ready-to-go cups you can buy.
The only downside is that Canyon can roast a hole in your wallet. Each box contains six packets and costs roughly $3 per cup, which is basically the going rate in an actual coffee shop. But customers return to this boutique roaster because of their coffee’s unbeatable taste.
Medium roast is often overlooked. Thought of as simply dependable. A coffee that’s just there.
But Waka Coffee, made of 100 percent Arabica beans, is a smooth and balanced Colombian roast, buzzing with citrus flavors. The beans are also freeze-dried, guaranteeing a fresh cup every morning, afternoon and, for you insomniacs, night.
Waka Coffee’s price on par with competitors, and they also help you manage your coffee budget with a variety of options. You can start out with an 8-pack box or go big with a 24-pack. Both of these options provide individual servings of coffee, making it easy to measure and easy to travel with. You can also choose between Waka’s 3.5-ounce bag and 8-ounce bag for a stash of unwrapped instant coffee grounds.
Depending on your taste buds, Starbucks is either famous or infamous for its strong, distinct coffee. But the signature robustness is exactly what makes Starbucks VIA Instant French Roast so adored. Bold, smoky, and not for the faint of heart, this is one of the most reviewed and most purchased instant coffees on the market.
Even though Starbucks’ in-store prices are on the higher end, their instant coffee is surprisingly affordable, and you can order it in a variety of sizes, from an 8-pack box to a 50-pack.
And if you’re a dark coffee lover but prefer a sweeter undertone to the smokiness of French roast, Starbucks makes an instant Italian roast, rich with notes of sugar and caramel.
Café Altura can not only take pride in their coffee’s taste but in their fair trade certification as well. To receive this certification, companies must meet several requirements, all of which guarantee that no unfair labor practices occur during the coffee-making process. This means every single one of Café Altura’s employees, from the first person to pick the rich Arabica beans to the person who packages the grounds, is happy.
On top of that, this coffee is organic, GMO-free, and downright tasty. Café Altura also freeze-dries their grounds for maximum freshness and taste. Take a spoonful of coffee out of the 3.5-ounce jar, mix it with hot water and enjoy instant caffeinated goodness.