If you’ve looked around our coffee cover, you know we take our brews pretty seriously. From pouring over to espresso machines and from roast beans to brewing strength, we have a strong opinion on this. This week, Wirecutter is all about coffee.
Instant coffee, the lowest in the caffeine-water pecking order, has gotten a lot more interesting lately. Popular roasters like Stumptown, Verve and Tandem are now partnering with instant coffee startups to offer their beans in an Instagram-style and convenient package. The new wave of instant coffee is fascinating, albeit expensive ($ 3 a cup!), And I was wondering: can these fancy coffees – dehydrated to powder and reconstituted with hot water – really be better than my beloved Nescafé Gold- Instant coffee (by the way, it only comes at 15 ¢ per cup)? To find out, two Wirecutter employees tried seven coffees from four companies brewed with 9 ounces of water. Spoiler: The packaging looks nice, but we would probably still go for our Nescafé.
Note: While the two panelists ranked the instant coffees in this order for this article, another group of Wirecutter employees preferred the dripkit and didn’t like our favorite coffee from Tandem at all. The taste is subjective and of course variables such as temperature, preparation and personal palate can influence the taste of a coffee. Our ranking below shows how we rated these instant coffees when we tested them that day.
1. Tandem Coffee Time and Temperature Instant Coffee ($ 15 for a six-pack at time of publication)
Tandems instant coffee was our favorite and the one that most closely resembled an interesting coffee. We tried two different types of coffee: the time and temperature roast was a bit tart, with vanilla notes on the front and a sour finish, but it was also the least watery instant coffee we tried. The Ethiopian Dalecho instant coffee blend was good too and we found that its flavor had a little more depth and more dimensionality.
Photo: Sarah Kobos
Photo: Sarah Kobos
Photo: Sarah Kobos
2. El Mirador Dripkit ($ 15 for a 5-pack at time of publication)
In a bag slightly larger than the largest iPhone is a triangular cardboard dripkit coffee dropper with a perfectly sized mini filter and pre-ground beans. It’s not just instant coffee, it’s also a whole disposable pouring set: Undoing the packaging and placing the disposable dropper on my cup was wonderful. Unfortunately, the coffee itself didn’t quite go along with it. The El Mirador had the acidity of gas station coffee, although technically better than others we tried. The waste of packaging is also a move away.
3. Voilà Discovery Box ($ 16 for a 5-pack at time of publication)
Voilà has managed to pack five packets of instant coffee from five different small roasters into a “discovery box” that is slightly smaller than a pack of cigarettes. However, the packaging was almost too compact – bean dust was spilled all over the place when I opened the first packet of Voilà. We tried both the Presta Colombian blend and the 1000 Faces Brazilian blend. The coffees were okay, but tasted like diner coffee: watery and simple, and the depth of taste of the tandem and dripkit packages was lacking.
4. Swift Cup Coffee Mainstay Blend ($ 12 for a pack of six at time of publication)
Hidden within the simple, minimalist branding of this package was the worst instant energy moment we tried. Swift Cup’s main prop mix resembled coffee on the surface, but had no depth. My colleague noted that it was like this coffee had been “brewed through the ground a second time,” similar to some kind of watery mud. The Colombia blend we tried was similarly unattractive. We wouldn’t recommend it.