There are a few occasions when a quick cup of coffee might come in handy. For the days when your schedule is so packed that you don’t have time to wait for your French press java to steep or drip coffee to, well, drip. For the weekend camping trips where you can’t exactly bring along your pricey espresso machine. For coffee-flavored cakes, smoothies, shakes, and other treats. For the mid-day slump or the after-dinner cup when you don’t feel like brewing a whole pot. Okay, so maybe there are a lot of occasions, but the point is that instant coffee is super useful. We can practically promise you that if you buy a box, you can use it for something.
If you’re not sure what instant coffee even is, basically it’s dehydrated or freeze-dried coffee that’s “reactivated” by water. Instant coffee is easy to make and ready quickly. Generally, you just add the serving size of coffee crystals to cold or hot water and stir or blend to dissolve. But there are new, innovative instant coffee brands that come frozen or liquified—so all you have to do is pour and add water or milk—and others that come in sachets for steeping, similar to your favorite tea. “It’s pretty hard to mess up instant coffee,” Josey Markiewicz, senior director of coffee quality and training at La Colombe, tells SELF. “Just make sure you’re using the tastiest water you can find and that it’s not too, too hot, around 200 degrees. Any coffee is only going to be as good as its water.”
How to find the best instant coffee
If you already generally know the kind of coffee you enjoy, this part is easy. Your go-to brand might even make it! But if you want to explore new varieties or you’re not sure where to start, look into roasts and flavor profiles. “I’d look for the same things I look for in any cup of coffee,” Markiewicz says. “Freshness, aroma, deliciousness, and value. Chances are a brand you trust is not going to disappoint.” He also recommends buying instant coffee that was made using high-quality beans.
High-quality instant coffee comes in the same variety of roasts as traditional coffee beans. Want a low-acidity brew? Opt for a dark roast. Want a brighter, fruit-forward cup? A lighter roast might suit you better. A handful of the brands below have variety bundles so you can try different roasts and flavors without committing. If you solely drink iced coffee or cold brew, brands like Jot and Cometeer are ones to look into as they don’t come in powdered form and thus don’t need to dissolve. “I’d taste around and have some fun with it,” he says.
The best instant coffee
Ahead, we found 12 brands to stock your pantry with, including some you’re probably familiar with, like Folgers and Nescafe, and others you might not know, like Velty, Partners, and Cometeer. Whether you drink coffee purely to stave off a caffeine withdrawal headache or you legitimately like the taste, there’s an instant option on this list for your palate—and budget. And if you want an instant decaf option for your evening digestif—or espresso martini—that exists, too. Keep reading to find your new favorite brew, one that has a coffee shop taste without the coffee shop price (or wait time).
1. Chamberlain Wildcat Instant Coffee Sticks
It’s safe to say that instant coffee is getting the cauliflower, soda, and SPAM treatment. This is to say that it’s finally cool again, as evidenced by the array of new and fun brands to try that don’t taste like liquid burnt rubber. Enter Chamberlain Coffee, founded by popular YouTube star Emma Chamberlain. The Wildcat Instant Coffee comes with 10 single-serve sticks made of medium-roast Arabica coffee beans. It has the highest level of caffeine content on Chamberlain Coffee’s scale of one to five. With notes of dark chocolate and caramel, it’s a warming, dessert-like brew that can be served iced or hot.
2. Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee
Here’s a classic! Folgers’ instant coffee has more than 15,500 five-star reviews on Amazon, many noting how much the brand’s instant coffee tastes like, well, regular coffee. And for the price, it’s certainly hard to beat. So if you’re looking for convenient caffeine content and less about the flavor profile and roast level, go with this budget pick.
3. Velty Uncaffeinated Classic Coffee
Whether you always drink uncaffeinated java for health reasons or you just love the taste, Velty’s decaf coffee is one to keep stocked in your pantry. The brand combines coffee beans with additional ingredients like reishi mushrooms and a prebiotic fiber called inulin. It has flavor notes of chocolate and serves as an excellent evening cup of coffee alongside your favorite dessert. You can also find a spiced version, which has notes of cinnamon and ginger.
4. Cometeer Mixed Roast Box
Calling all serious coffee enthusiasts who typically turn up their nose at instant coffee! Cometeer’s instant coffee is different from most of the others on this list because it’s not powdered. Instead, the brewed coffee comes in single-serve aluminum pods that arrive frozen and are kept in the freezer until you’re ready to drink. This process may make the coffee taste noticeably fresher than traditional instant varieties once it’s ready to drink. Want to sip an iced coffee? Just thaw the pod in warm water until the coffee inside turns to liquid. Prefer a hot cup? Pop the coffee puck out of the pod, turn on your kettle until it boils, then pour the hot water over the frozen puck. You can choose from different caffeine levels and roasts, or you can choose by specific roaster if you’re a more seasoned coffee drinker.
5. Illy Classico Instant Coffee
Illy’s house blend instant coffee has a medium roast that’s subtly sweet, with notes of caramel, orange blossom, and jasmine. All it takes is a few teaspoons in eight to 12 ounces of hot or cold water for a mild but satisfying cup. One reviewer wrote, “It was an accident that I purchased this instant coffee instead of the beans. I tried it, not expecting it to taste good. To my surprise, this instant coffee tastes better than any coffee beans, grounds, etc. that I’ve tried.” Talk about a ringing endorsement.
6. Blue Bottle Craft Instant Espresso
For those with a more picky taste in coffee, opt for Blue Bottle’s new instant espresso. Markiewicz recommends it if you want a latte on the fly (or just a yummy espresso shot during your travels). It has a dark roast with notes of chocolate.
7. Jot Ultra Coffee
Another non-powder option, Jot’s coffee concentrate comes in liquid form, so you can mix it with hot or cold milk for a quick latte, or hot or cold water for a regular cup of coffee. All you need is a tablespoon of the stuff for the strength equivalent of a traditional cup. Choose from three varieties: original, dark, and seasonal.
8. Café Bustelo Espresso Dark Roast Instant Coffee
Budget-friendly brand Café Bustelo has made a resurgence in recent years—and for good reason. This top-rated instant coffee is an espresso-style dark roast that blends easily into hot water, but reviewers note that it works with chilled water or milk, too. “As someone who’s picky about coffee but terrible with espresso machines, this is a lifesaver,” wrote one reviewer. “If someone told me it was a normally brewed latte, I’d believe them.”
9. Four Sigmatic Mushroom Instant Coffee Mix
Pop a sachet of this organic instant coffee in your bag ahead of a long workday, training session, or non-stop errands for an on-the-go energy boost. Each box comes with 10 single servings, and beyond yummy coffee, it’s also mixed with mushrooms and spices that give it an earthy, warming taste.
10. Mount Hagen Organic Instant Coffee
This option from Mount Hagen contains single-origin coffee grounds from Papua New Guinea, conveniently dosed in single-serving packets for portability. Reviewers note that it has a yummy, full-bodied taste, low acidity, and dissolves quickly in hot water (cold brew and iced coffee people might want to opt for another pick on this list).
11. Waka Roast Explorer Instant Coffee Bundle
Do you have a seasoned coffee palate? Look no further than Waka Coffee, a brand entirely devoted to instant coffee and tea options. Each of the three bags in this bundle is filled with single-origin (either from Colombia or Ethiopia) freeze-dried instant coffee with different roast levels: light, medium, and dark. The brand also has instant flavors like vanilla, dark chocolate, and butterscotch.
12. Nescafe Clasico Dark Roast Instant Coffee
Here’s another cost-effective instant coffee to have on hand for baking, whipping up shakes and smoothies, and brewing coffee on the days you realize you’re out of beans and need an energy boost in a pinch. Nescafe’s dark roast tastes rich and bold, and the large jar contains up to 150 servings—for less than $10 bucks.
13. Canyon Instant Coffee
Another pick recommended by Markiewicz, Canyon’s option tastes like a coffee shop americano. It’s a medium roast with notes of peach and cacao. Keep these in tow for long road trips so you never have to succumb to a stale, possibly burnt $3 gas station coffee.