Rise and Shine. It’s Time for the Best Instant Coffee

I’m going to be real here: This was a toughie. If you’re accustomed to starting your day with a cup of coffee freshly brewed from beans (drip, pour-over, what have you), dehydrated coffee granules dissolved in piping hot water don’t really approximate what you think of as “coffee.” But some instant coffees get much closer than others.

First thing’s first: What is instant coffee? It’s brewed coffee that’s had all the water removed, leaving behind crystals. To make it come to life again, you just revive the granules by adding hot water back in. (If you’re into food science, there’s interesting info about the different ways it’s made in this Huffington Post article.) While instant hasn’t achieved critical mass among coffee snobs for a reason, there’s a time and a place for the stuff. It’s an easy solution if you’re going camping and don’t have percolator. If you don’t regularly drink decaf but want to have some on hand for visitors, hey, just throw a jar of instant in the cupboard. Or, my most vivid association from childhood, if a scarred murderer named Freddy Krueger is haunting your dreams and you need to stay awake, you can shovel instant coffee granules into your mouth by the spoonful. (Although, I guess we don’t recommend it.)

For this taste test, the Sporked team set aside their instant coffee preconceptions and tried everything from elevated instant coffees to the most affordable store brands. With some help from Good Mythical Morning‘s Chase Hilt, we found six that’ll give you lift in a pinch.

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starbucks dark roast instant coffee

Best of the Best

Starbucks Dark Roast Premium Instant

Hey, an instant coffee that tastes like coffee! I’ll take it! This one comes in a nice little tin that contains 40 cups worth of dehydrated crystals. It purports to be “bold & roasty,” and that’s about right. Chase thought it tasted like a very well-done s’more. It’s certainly stronger than most of the others we tried, but it doesn’t taste too, too bitter or burnt (personally, I thought Starbucks’ instant French Roast was too bitter to make the list at all). Between the lovely presentation and the pretty decent coffee flavor, this instant is way better than most.

Credit: Merc / Walmart

Rating:

8.5/10

Sporks

starbucks via instant

Best Bold

Starbucks Via Instant Colombia Medium Roast Coffee

If bold coffee aroma is your thing, this one will scratch an itch. This is perhaps the most convenient option on the list. You just dump a pre-portioned packet into a mug, add hot water, and you’re good to go. No measuring necessary. As far as flavor goes, this one definitely has a bit of bitterness but nothing you can’t get past. The roasty notes on the nose help translate into a bold, mostly enjoyable cup of coffee.

Credit: Merc / Amazon

Rating:

8/10

Sporks

cafe bustelo instant coffee

Best Espresso

Café Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee

I have a soft spot for Café Bustelo. When I first got an extremely cheap espresso maker in college, I always brewed Café Bustelo because it’s affordable and reliable. This is definitely more aggressive tasting than the other coffees on the list, but that’s kind of what you want from an espresso, right? “This would get me amped up,” staff writer Danny Palumbo said after he took a sip. “Sometimes I like things that taste borderline too harsh.” If you want a good, quick, concentrated dose of caffeine, this is a good option.

Credit: Merc / Instacart

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

nescafe clasico

Best Classic(o)

Nescafé Clasico Dark Roast

At this point, it’s kind of hard to believe Nespresso and Nescafé share DNA. Both are Nestle products (hence the “Nes”). But Nespresso has become an upscale brand of machines and pods (here in L.A., one of our fancier malls has a whole-ass Nespresso store), while Nescafe’s most popular form is still instant crystals. I guess you could say Necafé walked so Nespresso could run. Anyway, this feels like a pretty classic and standard instant coffee, something that’ll get you through the morning. A word of warning: When you’re in the coffee aisle, definitely go with this one over Nescafé Taster’s Choice, which we all thought was bitter, sour, and had an off-putting smell.

Credit: Merc / Target

Rating:

7/10

Sporks

kroger cafe autentico

Best Generic

Kroger Autentico

This coffee definitely has slightly watered-down, tire-shop-coffee vibes, but don’t write it off completely. It also has a slightly sweet quality, which we really liked given that so many of these dehydrated crystals produced a super bitter cup of coffee. Danny thought it tasted like hotel coffee. Okay, fine. Motel coffee. But you could certainly do worse!

Credit: Merc / Instacart

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

great value instant coffee

Best Decaf

Great Value Classic Decaf

I brought this up earlier, but this seems like exactly what you keep in the pantry if you don’t drink decaf but might have a person with a heart condition drop by every now and then. There are 120 cups in this jar, but I’d recommend adding more crystals to your cup than the instructions indicate to get a more bold flavor from this one. Your decaf-loving visitors might not clamor for another cup, but they won’t avoid coming over either.

Credit: Merc / Walmart

Rating:

7.5/10

Sporks

Other products we tried: Folgers Classic Packets, O Organics Instant Coffee, Starbucks French Roast, Trader Joe’s 100% Columbian Instant Coffee, Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Packets All Dressed Up, Maxwell House Hazelnut Cafe, Beaumont Instant Coffee Classic Decaf, Nescafe Tasters Choice 100% Colombian

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About the Author

Gwynedd Stuart

Gwynedd Stuart, Sporked’s managing editor, is an L.A.-based writer and editor who spends way, way too much time at the grocery store. She’s never met an Old El Paso taco or mozzarella stick she didn’t like.

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  • Kinda creeped out here, guys. I searched Sporked for this just like 1 day ago, wasn’t there … but now it is. Either you’re totally reading my mind or you check search requests. Regardless, I love the reviews you guys do. Keep it up!

    Reply
  • I want to work for you guys.

    Reply
    • Me toooooo

      Reply
  • The best instant coffee is Tasters Choice!!!..

    They have the House Blend, Colombian, and Decaf…

    Which the Colombian being their best…

    I was surprised you didn’t include Tasters Choice coffee!!..

    Reply
    • Starbucks coffee is the worst coffee ever!…

      All of their coffees have no taste at all…

      Even Dunkin Donuts coffee is way better then Starbucks…

      I have no idea where you, or you guys say that Starbucks instant coffee is the best?…

      Think twice before you write “any” articles…

      I’ve been around a very long time, tried out every coffee there is out there, and I tell you this much, Starbucks coffee is definitely not number 1

      Dunkin Donuts regular coffee is way better, then any Starbucks coffee!…

      How much did Starbucks pay you to advertise for them?..

      Reply
      • Hey Luis! We don’t take money from Starbucks or any brand. We were ranking *instant* coffee here; not coffee in general. Dunkin doesn’t even make an instant coffee! We’ll have plenty of coffee rankings in the future; keep an eye out! (Oh and per your previous comment, we tried Tasters Choice and really disliked it! Weird smell and bitter taste.)