I’d like to start this article with a confession: I have never been a huge fan of instant coffee, and I have actually been quite vocal about my dislike of it. In fact, I spent quite a long time when I was growing up thinking that I didn’t like coffee – until I tried fresh coffee! It turns out that it was instant coffee that I didn’t like…
However, a lot has changed since those days. As coffee has exploded in popularity over the last decade, making really nice coffee at home has become a much more realistic possibility, whether it’s in a filter coffee machine, a pod coffee machine, or even an espresso machine.
Instant coffee, therefore, has had to up it’s game in order to compete, and I was astonished to realise that there are some really good instant coffees now available. When you couple this with the convenience and speed of them (your drink is ready in the time it takes to boil the kettle), then you can see why they have remained so popular in the face of this barrage of competition.
So which ones are the best? The supermarket shelves are absolutely rammed full of the various instant coffees, so the choice can be a little overwhelming. Don’t worry though, because we have trawled through them all, and now we can reveal our list of the 8 best instant coffees available today. Let’s take a look.
Nescafé Azera Americano Instant Coffee
Of course Nescafé were going to be at the forefront of this – their name is synonymous with instant coffee, and has been for decades. The red mug on all their adverts when I was growing up really sticks in my mind when I think of instant coffee!
For those of you that have avoided instant coffee for a long time, the first thing you’ll notice when you look at this product is that it is a powder, rather than the granules that have been the main form instant coffee has taken for so long. Immediately you know that this is a step forward.
What the powder gives you is a really smooth, almost velvet, drink that has a good depth of colour and flavour. Whether you drink it black or with milk, I think you will be pleasantly pleased with the flavour.
The characteristic that really separates it from the traditional instant coffee, however, is the depth of the crema that you get on top of the drink – or rather the fact that it has one at all! I was genuinely shocked about how prominent it was, and how creamy that made the drink. It is just not something I ever expected from an instant coffee.
This is available in huge quantities (500g) which will give you enough for over 250 drinks. That’s great, but I would urge you to consider how quickly you are likely to get through that amount of coffee, as once it is opened it does lose a little freshness. They are great for offices, or places where you get through a lot of coffee, but if you don’t drink a lot, be mindful that a smaller quantity might be better for you in the long run.
I would heartily recommend this if you haven’t had an instant coffee for a long time – I really think it will go a long way to winning you over.
Best for: Your first foray (back) into instant coffee
Kenco Smooth Instant Coffee
From one giant of the instant coffee world to another – now we look at Kenco’s Smooth Instant Coffee. With nearly a century of making coffee behind them, you would fully expect them to be a big part of the coffee revolution, and they do not disappoint here.
This is an incredibly drinkable coffee. Obviously, by the ‘Smooth’ name you would expect it to be, but it has such a pleasant texture to it, coupled with a light, balanced taste, that you will find yourself putting the kettle on for another cup before you’ve even finished the first one!
I think a big factor is the aftertaste. Some of the instant coffees, particularly those from years ago, had a quite unpleasant aftertaste to it – like a metallic harshness. I would often find myself needing a glass of water after each cup, just to get rid of the taste. This one, though, continues to be ‘Smooth’ long after you’ve drunk it.
It’s a very uncomplicated drink. There is no lasting bitterness, and you might not get any delicate flavours in the background – you just get a decent coffee. It’s the perfect coffee to have in your cupboards for when people come round. Not everyone wants an all-singing all-dancing cappuccino or latte, sometimes people just want a ‘normal’ coffee with a bit of milk in it. This is the ideal coffee to serve those people!
It comes in handy refill packs as well, so you can store it in an airtight glass jar and cut down on your waste.
Best for: a store cupboard crowd pleaser
Nescafé Gold Blend Instant Coffee
This was the coffee that really made me re-evaluate the way that I thought about instant coffee. I was over at a friend’s house and they offered me a coffee, and I said yes before they then added “it’s only instant, is that okay?”. My heart sank, but not wanting to cause a fuss and seem ungrateful, I said “sure”.
When they brought me a drink, I think I winced slightly as I brought it to my lips, but I then realised that I had been so wrong to be such a horrific snob. It was a lovely light, smooth drink that slipped down very nicely indeed. In fact, I was so impressed that I asked them what coffee it was. “Nescafé Gold Blend” was the reply.
This really threw me as this was exactly the sort of product that seemed like it was from a bygone age – it was granulated, in a large glass jar and Nescafé… it wouldn’t have looked out of place in my gran’s flat 25 years ago.
But the taste was very ‘modern’. We drink much better coffee these days, and this does not feel out of place amongst the hundreds of other coffee products that you get today. It’s another easy-drinker that you could serve to almost anyone and they would be satisfied.
As one of the cheapest instant coffees around (you can pick up a large jar for about the same price as one coffee in a coffee shop), you could do a lot worse than having a jar of this in your cupboards.
Best for: the traditional instant coffee drinker
Douwe Egberts Pure Indulgence
This one is a little different from the other coffees we’ve looked at so far because it seems to be aimed at coffee lovers, rather than coffee drinkers. What I mean by that is that often instant coffee is aimed at a market that just wants coffee – no frills, just plain coffee made quickly and simply.
It makes perfect sense, really, but there is certainly a gap in the market for a stronger tasting coffee, with a bit more depth of flavour. That’s where Douwe Egberts are targeting with this ‘Pure Indulgence’ offering.
The aroma and flavour is unlike any other instant coffee that I’ve ever tasted – there is so much depth to the taste you will be amazed that this is the result of just adding some hot water to a teaspoon of granules. I have always preferred a strong black coffee, no matter how it is made, and when using this product you get a wonderful strong black coffee with a smooth finish.
Even down to the packaging, an elegant (and crucially air-tight) glass jar, you just know that this is a high end product. Even in a market that is somewhat looked down on by the aficionados in the industry, that does count for quite a lot.
If you are really into your coffee, but sometimes you just haven’t got the time or patience to make a fresh coffee, then this could be the drink for you. In the time it takes for your coffee to boil, you can have a great tasting coffee and then get straight back to whatever it was you were doing. There’s a lot to be said for that.
Best for: fresh coffee fans that don’t always have the time for fresh coffee
Quokka Coffee – Fairtrade Premium 100% Colombian Arabica
Now we really start to blur the lines between instant and the new wave of fresh coffee that is available on the market today with this premium Columbian Arabica coffee from Quokka – “a British company with Aussie vibes”.
Just from the look of the company and the product, you know that they are from a different era of coffee production compared to the other selections on this list so far. They are bright, they are environmentally conscious, they are fun.
Their Columbian instant coffee comes in a simple, yet attractive 100g tin – as a sustainable company you can be sure that the tin will be widely recycled. Their, let’s be honest, adorable Quokka mascot adorns the front of the tin to give off a feeling that you’re about to really enjoy your coffee – you’re not just having a coffee for the sake of having a coffee.
All of this would be irrelevant though, if the coffee wasn’t any good – right? Well, I have good news for you! You get a full bodied, medium roast taste here, just like you would expect from Arabica beans. It’s a rich flavour, which you don’t always get with instant coffees, and you get little hints of chocolate with it.
This depth, and complexity, of flavour really helps it stand out from the crowd in the instant coffee market. It is definitely aimed at the ‘new generation’ of coffee drinkers – those that are used to drinking (much more expensive drinks) in coffee shops.
This is definitely a coffee that you want to have in your cupboards, even if it is just as a backup for when your other means of making coffee lets you down. I think you will be genuinely impressed with the flavour here.
Best for: the coffee connoisseur that wants an instant coffee backup
Presto Barista Quality Instant Coffee
Presto are a company that take coffee very seriously. They specialise in small batch roasting, and have a wide range of fresh coffee available in all different forms; whole beans, grounds, even coffee bags. It is no surprise, then, that when they moved to make an instant coffee, they put a lot of thought into it.
As another Columbian coffee, using 100% Arabica beans, the taste isn’t completely dissimilar to the previous coffee on our list from Quokka. Again, you get a really rich and full-bodied cup of coffee with this one.
Where it differs is the subtle tastes that go along with it. With a coffee as deep and flavoursome like the last two, you get more opportunity for variation – and here you get a wonderful nutty almond flavour, as well as a dark cocoa aftertaste. It really is delicious.
Again, as you would expect from a modern coffee producer, they have a number of ethical pledges concerning sustainability and fair trade, offering 1% of all sales to charity, and they even offer a full refund if you are not fully satisfied with the coffee. Their confidence in their product is fully justified.
The emphasis from this company seems to be style, as opposed to fun from Quokka, and that tends to be reflected in the coffee. It has a sharp first impression and then a smooth finish, with subtle tingles of flavour. It’s cool and sophisticated, and delightfully rich. Give this one a try, the company themselves are convinced that you won’t be disappointed.
Best for: the sophisticated coffee drinker that wants a smooth instant coffee on hand
illy Coffee Classico Instant Coffee
Founded in 1933 by Francesco Illy, the company is still run by the Illy family to this day (the third generation) – and they epitomise the coming together of the classic coffee company and the modern revolution.
You get the simplicity of the last century, even down to the logo of the company, coupled with the complexity of flavours and designs from the current trends. Illy were quick to embrace technology and art, two mainstays of the coffee industry, as they continue to evolve to be at the forefront of everything coffee.
Their instant coffee, another made with 100% Arabica beans, comes in microground form and gives you a stunningly smooth, almost velvet-like, drink. You get hints of caramel, orange blossom and jasmine in there, not particularly bold, but they’re definitely there. There is also a pleasant finish, not bitter at all.
The sweetness to the finish gives it a very broad appeal. You have the depth of flavour that some people gravitate to, but at the same time, the sweetness of that flavour means that it isn’t too harsh for people that don’t enjoy ‘heavy’ coffees. There is very little acidity to the drink – it’s definitely an easy-drinker.
This isn’t the cheapest option on our list, but nor is it the most expensive. It’s just an excellent mid-range option that will please the traditionalists and the modern coffee drinkers alike.
Best for: the traditional coffee drinker that wants a hint of modern, or the modern coffee drinker that wants a hint of tradition!
Final word on Instant Coffee
I started this article by stating that I didn’t like instant coffee. That opinion was outdated, and I should have known that both the giants of the coffee world and the small-batch roasters wouldn’t have ignored the massive instant coffee market – they would always look to improve.
I don’t think we will ever get to a place where I would prefer an instant coffee to a fresh one – that just won’t happen. However, I can concede that there are some excellent alternatives to fresh coffee listed here, and there is so much more choice and variety available now, that there is a good chance that there is a ‘best’ instant coffee out there for everyone.
With the convenience and versatility of instant coffee, you can’t ignore them. Find your best one from this list, and you will always have, at worst, a really decent backup to your fresh coffee, and at best (if you don’t have a means to make fresh coffee at home), your new favourite drink.