Perfect for a quick cup of coffee at home, in the workplace or on the go, instant coffee offers a convenience that freshly brewed coffee cannot. Available as basic instant coffees to single origin pure arabica instant coffees and all flavors in between, the budget-friendly instant coffee has come a long way from its earliest form.In this article, we take an in-depth look at instant coffee, including how it is made and how the two different types of drying impact upon the aroma and flavor of instant coffee. We also consider the caffeine and acrylamide content of instant coffee compared to regular coffee and, if you haven’t tried instant coffee for a while or are looking for a change from your regular instant coffee then we also review ten of the best instant coffees currently available.
The organic Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee mix is our best pick as it contains 50% less caffeine than regular coffee.
For iced coffee on the go, Starbucks VIA INSTANT iced coffee is our sweetened and smooth budget pick of instant coffees.
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Instant Coffee
1. Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee
The Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee mix is made with shade-grown organic coffee along with Lion’s Mane mushroom, which has been shown to support concentration, focus and memory. This mushroom coffee also contains Chaga mushroom which can help support immunity and Rhodiola root which can help to fight stress.
Certified USDA organic, this instant coffee mix is suitable for a range of diets including keto, paleo, vegan and gluten free and it does not contain any artificial ingredients. The mushrooms are harvested from the producer’s farms or from the wild rather than on grain and it is third party tested to confirm it is mycotoxin free - although it does carry a Prop 65 warning for California residents. This coffee mix contains around half the amount of caffeine as a regular cup of coffee.This ten pack of instant coffee can be consumed as is, with raw dairy or non-dairy alternatives and it has a coffee rather than mushroom taste. Some buyers have been disappointed with the size of the singe serve packets and have found they have had to use two for a ‘decent’ cup of coffee and as it does contain mushroom, not all drinkers have been keen on the hints of mushroom within the coffee.
2. Starbucks VIA Instant Sweetened Iced Coffee
Made with Latin American premium arabica beans, the Starbucks VIA INSTANT iced coffee is sweetened to give a refreshing and smooth iced coffee. Coming as a box of six packets of single serve ice coffee, each packet needs adding to cold water, leaving for ten seconds and then stirring. It is then ready to drink.Although this instant coffee is made without wheat products, it is not certified gluten free. There is a risk of receiving these instant coffees with damaged packaging and the odd buyer considers it still has the slight aftertaste of instant coffee.
3. Maxwell House French Vanilla Coffee International Cafe
The Maxwell House International French vanilla instant coffee is ready to drink as an instant coffee with boiling water or hot milk and it can also be used as a coffee creamer. Coming as a four pack of 8.4 oz resealable cans, this is a smooth instant coffee which has been flavored with natural and artificial vanilla flavoring. There has been some uncertainty around whether this coffee is kosher for Passover and the odd buyer considers that this instant coffee does not taste the same as it has done in the past.
4. Mount Hagen Instant Coffee
Made from high grown pure arabica beans, the Mount Hagen instant coffee is USDA certified organic and Fairtrade. This is a medium roast and milder instant that has been produced without any additives or preservatives. Coming as a 3.53 oz jar, it contains approximately 60 servings if around a teaspoon is used per cup.
This also comes with a Prop 65 warning for residents of California. The odd buyer has been disappointed in the taste of this instant coffee and some also think that the roast of the beans used is a little on the light side.
5. Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee
The Starbucks VIA INSTANT Colombia roast is made with pure microground arabica beans that have been single-sourced from Colombian farms at 6,500 feet elevation to give a smooth coffee with a signature nutty flavor. This instant coffee comes as 50 single serve packets that can be used with hot or cold water and does not contain any sugar, creamer or other ingredients. The odd buyer considers this is not a very strong instant coffee and not all buyers are as keen on the new packaging of this product.
6. Trung Nguyen G7 Instant Coffee
Coming as a 100 pack of single serve packets, the Trung Nguyen G7 instant coffee is a 3 in 1, containing coffee powder, non-dairy creamer and sugar. The coffee is made from beans from Brazil, Jamaica, Ethiopia and Vietnam and is a smooth and fragrant coffee. This 3 in 1 instant coffee is suitable for just brewing with hot or cold water or in coffee machines.There is a risk of receiving the packets damaged and some buyers have not been keen on the taste of this instant coffee; considering it lacks flavor and caffeine.
7. Nescafe Taster’s Choice House Blend Instant Coffee
The Nescafe Taster’s Choice Blend instant coffee is a between a light and a medium roast for a mild, smooth and well-balanced flavor. This comes as a twin pack of 7 oz jars and each jar will make 105, six ounce cups of coffee. This is a premium instant coffee made with responsibly source beans.As a milder instant coffee, some drinkers consider this to be too bland tasting and the odd buyer considers it has a burnt taste to it. As these are larger granules of instant coffee, they may need further grinding before using in baking.
8. Folgers Classic Roast Instant Coffee
The Folgers Classic instant coffee is a crystal instant coffee which is made with pure medium roast coffee in Louisiana. Suitable for drinking hot or iced, or adding to recipes, this instant coffee comes as an 8 oz easy open cannister. Some drinkers have been disappointed with the taste of this instant coffee compared to other instant coffees and the odd drinker considers it on the stronger side of instant coffees.
9. Jacobs Kronung Instant Coffee
Imported from Germany, Jacobs Kronung instant coffee is made with high quality beans from different growing areas and can be used for hot or iced coffee drinks. This instant coffee is available as larger 7 oz jars. Some buyers have not received the correct quantity of jars ordered and because these are glass jars there is a risk of damage to the jars during shipping. The odd buyer also considers that this is more bitter tasting than other instant coffees.
10. Waka Coffee Instant Coffee
Coming as a box of eight single serve packets, the Waka Coffee instant coffee is made with pure freeze dried Colombian arabica beans. The beans have been medium roasted to give a smooth bodied and well balanced brew with hints of citrus.Easy to dissolve, this instant coffee can be used for hot or cold coffee and for baked goods. Some drinkers have commented that this does not taste as good as other instant coffees and the odd buyer has had to use more than one packet to make a stronger cup of coffee.
Things to Consider Before Buying Instant Coffee
In some parts of the world, around 50% of coffee sales are made up from instant coffees and around 15% of coffee consumed in the US is instant. Consumed at home, in the workplace or from vending machines, instant coffee is so convenient as only hot water and a stirrer is required.
From the early days of instant coffee, when it could not dissolve properly in hot water, the processes for producing instant coffee have evolved to give today’s high quality instant coffees.
Many instant coffees are now microground so they appear more like ground coffee, and even when we open a canister or jar of instant coffee, its aroma is often similar to that of freshly ground coffee. Most instant coffees are also much more budget friendly than whole bean or ground bean coffees, as well as being shelf stable. Unlike fresh coffee, instant coffee does not require any particular storage conditions to keep it at its best; it will keep fine in a cool kitchen cabinet or drawer.
Instant coffee can be brewed with hot water, hot milk or cold water for iced coffee. It is also ideal for adding some coffee flavor to hot cocoa to make hot cocoa coffee. As instant coffee is more concentrated than fresh coffee, it is good for baking with and because it does not need dissolving first, it will not affect the liquid ratio in baked goods.
In its instant form, coffee can also be easily added to breads, oatmeals, pancakes, milkshakes, chilis, dry rubs and more.
Instant coffee is also known as soluble coffee, coffee powder or crystal coffee – when the instant coffee has been crystalized.
Many instant coffees just contain coffee beans, although some also come with creamer and sweetener (often known as 3 in 1 coffee) which can be especially useful when on the move if you prefer your coffee with creamer and sweetener.
Instant coffees are also available in many different flavors, but as these usually contain a higher sugar content, it can be worth taking a closer look at the ingredients of instant coffees just to see how much sugar or what other ingredients have been added.
The History of Instant Coffee
The very earliest version of instant coffee developed in the UK in the early 1770s and by 1853, a US product had been developed that was used during the Civil War. In 1890, Strang’s Coffee was marketed by the New Zealander David Strang, who used his patented ‘Dry Hot-Air’ process to make instant coffee.
In 1901, a stable powdered coffee was produced in Japanese chemist working in Chicago and by 1906, a UK chemist living in Guatemala had developed a commercially successful process for producing instant coffee. Known as Red E Coffee, this was popular in the US for around 30 years and eventually fell out of favor when Nestle started producing Nescafe instant coffee in 1938. Nescafe became hugely popular with soldiers during the Second World War who took it home with them after the war and continued to drink it.
By the 1950s onwards, processes for making instant coffee had continued to improve and in 1963, Maxwell House produced freeze-dried granules that when hydrated tasted more like fresh coffee. All major manufacturers then switched to the new technique of freeze-dried processing
How Instant Coffee Is Made
Instant coffee is made from fresh coffee beans, either arabica or robusta. Instant coffees made from pure robusta or a robusta-arabica blend usually cost less than instant coffees made with pure arabica beans.
There is no chemical alteration made to the coffee beans before they are processed into instant coffee.
The beans for instant coffee are roasted in the same way that beans are roasted whole bean or ground bean coffee, apart from they may be left with a slightly higher moisture content than whole beans would be. The beans destined for instant coffee are also coarser ground to assist water flow through the coffee processing system.
There are two main ways of making instant coffee, either freeze-drying or spray-drying. Before the coffee is freeze-dried or spray-dried it will often be concentrated.
This is done through either freeze concentrating, in which water-based ice is removed to leave a concentrated coffee liquid behind. This method of concentrating is also used for making concentrated juices and vinegars.
The second way to concentrate coffee is through vacuum evaporation, a method also used for making powdered milks and ketchups. In this process, the coffee is able to boil at lower temperature.
When coffee is freeze-dried, this allows the instant coffee to retain more of its coffee ‘flavor’. To freeze-dry coffee, the coffee or coffee concentrate is quickly frozen down to around -40°F. The cold coffee is then placed into a drying chamber and a vacuum created in the chamber. This vacuum chamber is then heated and as the coffee warms up, the water in the coffee expands into a gas through a process called sublimation. Once the water is removed through this process, it leaves dry grains of coffee left in the chamber.
The second way to manufacture instant coffee is through spray-drying. Coffee which has been spray-dried usually loses more of its flavor than freeze-dried coffee as it is processed at higher temperatures.
To spray-dry, the coffee, or concentrated coffee is sprayed down into a hot air chamber from a tower which is usually at least 75 feet high. As the coffee falls down in this chamber it allows the water in the coffee to evaporate, leaving dry crystals of coffee at the bottom of the chamber. The heated air circulating in the chamber is also diverted out of the tower near the bottom and as it is filtered, the collected fine particles can then be reintroduced to the dried coffee later on in the processing.
Because freeze-drying coffee requires more processing, freeze-dried coffee is usually more expensive than spray-dried instant coffee. Coffee processed through either form of drying process can also have extra aroma (often the volatile aromas which may have been removed from the coffee during earlier processing) or flavor compounds added to it to better recreate the experience of fresh coffee.
Once an instant coffee has been manufactured, it is be packaged under low-oxygen conditions to allow it to retain as much aroma and flavor as possible. It is also packaged in low humidity to prevent the now hygroscopic coffee particles from absorbing any moisture from the air. This is also why instant coffee is always packaged in airtight considers, jars or cans.
The waste products (coffee grounds) from processing are often re-used as fuel to heat the water needed during the processing, helping make the processing of instant coffee more environmentally friendly.
Caffeine Content of Instant Coffee
A cup of instant coffee will usually contain less caffeine than a cup of freshly brewed coffee. A cup of regular fresh coffee can contain between 70 and 140 milligrams of caffeine, while a cup of instant coffee may contain as less as 30, or as much as 90 milligrams of caffeine.
Drinking instant coffee can be one way to help reduce daily caffeine intake and if you do find a cup of instant coffee to be more on the bitter side than freshly brewed coffee, then adding a little sugar or sweetener will help cut through some of the bitterness.
One side effect of caffeine is that it can decrease the amount of iron absorbed in the body from the diet. Some research also showed that instant coffee was able to cause even less iron to be absorbed in the intestines than freshly brewed coffee. As with drinking any coffee or caffeinated drink, you can reduce some of the impact of instant coffee on iron absorption by avoiding drinking coffee less than an hour before and for several hours after eating.
Concerns Around Acrylamide in Instant Coffee
Although there is less caffeine in instant coffee compared with fresh brewed, there is usually a higher amount of acrylamide – in fact, there may be twice as much acrylamide as there is in freshly brewed coffee.
Acrylamide is a chemical generated when coffee beans are roasted so as well as being found in all roasted coffees, it is in other foods such as cookies, potato chips and breakfast cereals. Acrylamide can also often be in a wide range of personal care and household products.
It is known that prolonged exposure to high levels of acrylamide can cause damage to our nervous system and this exposure may also increase the risk of developing cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorize acrylamide as being a ‘probable human carcinogen’, although the majority of research studies to date have involved animal rather than human data.
Those who are most at risk of exposure to higher levels of acrylamide are those involved in the industrial processes that use acrylamide, although there are regulations in place for levels of acrylamide in the workplace. The EPA also monitor levels of acrylamide in our drinking water supplies.
Acrylamide is one of the reasons that instant coffees often carry a Prop 65 warning for residents of California. As part of the Proposition 65 or ‘Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act’, producers or businesses that sell their products in California have to provide warnings that are clear and reasonable before they knowingly expose people to any of the chemicals included on the Prop 65 list – unless the expected exposure level poses no significant cancer risk.
However, as research suggests that coffee may help to lower the risk of certain cancers such as prostate and skin cancer, it seems that drinking any form of coffee in moderation is generally safe and may actually be beneficial, rather than harmful, to our health.
Instant coffee may also contain higher levels of some antioxidants than freshly brewed coffee – mainly due to how it is processed.
When on the move, or even just at home, the convenience of instant coffee should never be underestimated. With the advances made in processing techniques, there is no reason why committed fresh brew enthusiasts should not be able to find an instant coffee that they can still enjoy.We trust that our review of a wide selection of instant coffees has been helpful and that you feel confident in selecting the best instant coffee, whether for drinking hot, iced or even just for baking and cooking with. And of course, unlike buying small batch single origin whole bean, if you buy instant coffee, it will rarely break the bank!