The Greatest Instantaneous Espresso, Ranked

To narrow our list of brands to test, we’ve included instant coffee, which is only sold in two ways: loose in jars and single-serving packets with at least six or more packets per carton. We thought that getting fewer than six packets wouldn’t be very convenient for most people, especially if you’re drinking at least two cups per session.

We also haven’t added single-serving sachets or disposable pour-over options, which are brewed in a more traditional way by soaking pre-ground coffee. We thought it was an unfair comparison to real instant coffee made from spray or freeze dried coffee concentrate. It’s also more complicated trying to make an icing than simply making instant coffee in water, especially when you’re on the go.

We avoided decaffeinated instant coffee and options that had added sugar, milk jugs, and other flavors. And we stuck to medium roasts because we learned in our previous tests that dark and light roasts are too polarizing. We were also limited by what was available at the time of our testing as some brands like Sudden Coffee stopped manufacturing due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Other brands were completely sold out so we couldn’t test them.

After researching over 50 types of instant coffee, I decided to try 10. I was joined by two editors from the Wirecutter kitchen team, Marguerite Preston and Marilyn Ong. Since we are currently working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we tried the coffees separately and discussed the results via Zoom. We also invited all family members we were quarantined with to take our taste test and share their thoughts.

We brewed all of the instant coffees according to the directions in the pack and tried them black to evaluate their aroma, taste, balance and body. We took note of undissolved granules and noticed how easy it is to open the packaging or containers, which is especially important for outdoor excursions. After eliminating the worst offenders, the next day we tried our favorites a second time with a fresh palate, this time black and with added milk. While there have been some polarizing brands, we agreed on our favorites and the least favorite.

As inventory may be low right now, we have other coffee tasting notes that we have tested in the past that may be of interest to you. In 2019 we tried four new instant coffees from different roast specialties and shot another tasting video in real time. For our original guide to instant coffee, Wirecutter employees in Los Angeles and New York City tested multiple brands in 2017. For this summary, we tested three types of coffee: single-serving packs of instant coffee, pre-ground coffee in bags, and pre-ground coffee with disposable pouring devices. Here’s what we tried in our original roundup, listed from best to worst in each category:

Other instant coffees:

  • The Café Bustelo Espresso Instant Coffee was weak and watery. While no one thought this coffee was superb given that it was so cheap, we think it is a viable option when our picks are not available.
  • Alpine Start Instant Coffee was incredibly polarizing in our tests, so we had to turn it down.
  • Nescafé Taster’s Choice 100% Colombian was another splitting coffee that one of our testers described as “sour, hot and gross”.
  • Jiva Black Coffee Cubes dissolve in hot water. We liked the low-waste packaging of this coffee, but since the cubes are held together with sugar, the resulting coffee was too sweet.
  • The Nescafé Clásico tasted of chlorine and metal. It was also too watery with low acidity.
  • The Four Sigmatic Mushroom Coffee Mix performed very well in our tests, but since it’s not all instant coffee (it’s half instant coffee, half mushroom powder) and has a number of suspicious reviews and questionable health claims, we can not good recommend trust.

Not quite instant coffee:

  • The Treeline Coffee Roasters Geo was our upgrade choice in the previous version of this guide, even though it is actually pre-ground pour over coffee. The bag-in-hand brewing device produced great freshly brewed coffee. But like others in this category, we felt it was unfair to test it against instant coffee. We think it’s still a great option, but it just doesn’t fit the stricter guidelines we put in place for our 2020 update.
  • Libra Coffee Pourtables had a satisfactory aroma and taste, but were a little faint and the bottom didn’t seem as fresh as some of the other single-use pour-over kits we tested.
  • Nature’s Coffee Kettle 100% Colombian makes 32 ounces of coffee at a time, so it’s only useful for groups. The taste was also weak and we found the in-bag system difficult to use.

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