My wife loves coffee, and she's a harsh critic of a bad cup. The first time she took a sip of Waka Coffee's Quality Instant Coffee, she did that thing where you look at the object you're holding as if just seeing it for the first time, pleasantly surprised to find it actually, well, pleasant.
I'm paraphrasing, but she said something like: "Whoa, this is actually really good." I made myself a cup and confirmed the "whoa." This instant coffee is actually really good.
Waka Coffee's medium roast instant has a smooth, low-acidity taste that's got a slight citrus hint and a genuine roasted flavor without any hint of burning. Its rich, fresh taste comes from the large freeze dried crystals contained in each of the eight 0.1-ounce packets in a box of Waka. Freeze drying preserves the flavor of coffee better than air drying, which can produce those burnt off notes.
Furthermore, Waka Coffee crystals dissolve remarkably quickly and completely, leaving no sludgy residue at the bottom of the cup and delivering full flavor. Long story short, if you want the taste of a fresh brewed cup of quality Arabica coffee, a packet of Waka and eight ounces of hot water is all you need. Oh, and a some sort of cup.
One Amazon customer describes this coffee as "bursting with flavor," while another said it "tastes just like slow drip coffee" and also appreciated the company's "very eco friendly" packaging. The experts from CoffeeReview called Waka's instant "crisply sweet ... with lingering notes of caramel and apricot" and an overall "appealing 100% Colombian coffee in [an] instant format."
Even the best instant coffee isn't exactly delicious when stirred into a cup of cold water, except when it is. Starbucks VIA Sweetened Iced Coffee is great when prepared using cold water because that's precisely how it was intended to be prepared. It's lightly sweetened with natural sugar cane and enjoys a mild, refreshing flavor thanks to medium roast Arabica beans sourced from South and Central America.
I will say that this coffee has a bit of that bitter, burnt taste you know from many instant coffees and with which you may well already associate Starbucks in general. The instant coffees are made using both sprayed and air-dried particles as well as blended in super finely ground coffee beans. This arrangement delivers plenty of flavor, but some drinkers will find off notes.
That said, when served with plenty of ice, this stuff is so refreshing you'll probably slurp down a big glass so fast you'll hardly notice. And I do mean big: Each packet contains enough instant coffee for two technical servings, or 16 ounces of coffee in total.
A shopper named Roy called Starbucks VIA Instant Sweetened Iced Coffee "easy to make" and "the best [choice] for those of us who like instant iced coffee," while a coffee drinker named Marianne agreed that it was "so easy" and "tastes great!"
Another called it "convenient for on the go coffee drinkers" but just found it "too bitter" for her palate.
Pros: No hot water required, large 16-ounce serving per packet, natural sweetening
Second, it's Fair trade certified, meaning that while the people producing the coffee are from developing nations, they are guaranteed to receive payment and to work in conditions comparable to those found in the developed countries.
And third, the stuff is pretty affordable even given those stipulations: A 3.53-ounce glass jar of Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Coffee will produce about 30 proper cups, meaning each serving costs only 42 cents (at current pricing).
Now, how does that affordable cup of organic, fair trade coffee tastes? While I've been a Mount Hagen fan for years, when someone says it better than you, you should let them say it.
A Mount Hagen fan named Michael left an Amazon review that says it perfectly. He writes: "I couldn’t care less if this coffee is organic, fair trade or created in a lab from old tires, road kill and toxic waste. All I want is a decent cup of coffee [and this is] really excellent coffee."
The flavor profile is rather mild and might even be too light for some coffee drinkers who want a robust cup, but the organic and fair trade certifications should help sway those on the fence here. The writers from DrippedCoffee agree, calling Mount Hagen Organic Fairtrade Coffee "a milder and smoother instant cup of joe" that's a "reasonably close alternative" to fresh brew.
Pros: Organic and fair trade, good price point, good hot or over ice
Why you'll love it: A mug of Nescafe Taster's Choice Decaf tastes about as good as any regular instant coffee out there, and almost as good as any fresh pot of decaf.
There's nothing mind-blowing about the flavor of Nescafe Taster's Choice Decaf instant coffee. It's a light-to-medium slow roasted house blend that wouldn't be out of place at a diner, in the break room, or in your own kitchen.
There aren't fruity notes that call to mind a fresh plate of berries or a toffee/caramel sweetness that inspires thoughts of holiday cheer. It just tastes like a basic cup of decent coffee. But with so many instant coffees tasting decidedly less than decent, that's not a putdown, it's a nod of approval.
The Nescafe Taster's Choice Decaf instant coffee actually deserves better than decent — it deserves to be called good. The fact that you get 80 packets of the stuff for $14.95, which equals 18 cents per serving, certainly helps, too. Beyond the flavor and price, you'll also appreciate that Nescafe has donated nearly 75 million coffee trees to farmers in developing regions, helping thousands of families establish financial independence and security.
With around 400 reviews posted at the time of this writing, Nescafe Taster's Choice Decaf instant coffee currently enjoys a 4.3-star overall rating. A customer named Dave put it well, speaking for many when he said it tasted just how he "thought coffee should taste" and in addition to being "excellent" was "very easy to make."
A few reviewers did decry the small portion of the rather mild coffee contained in each packet, with one saying she had to "use three of them" to make a strong enough cup.
Pros: Great low price, naturally decaffeinated, brand supports independent farmers
OK, to be honest, the 130 cups of coffee Folgers claims you'll get out of an eight-ounce jar of Folgers Classic Roast instant? That's something of an exaggeration. The brand's serving size is just six ounces, so not even a whole cup, and even at that six-ounce size, if you use the "rounded teaspoon" of coffee crystals they recommend, you're going to get a pretty weak cuppa. That said, an eight-ounce serving prepared with about 150% that much coffee means a mug of coffee that still costs you less than dime. And it's pretty good stuff, too.
Folgers Classic Roast instant doesn't make great coffee, but it's almost as good as fresh brewed Folgers, a taste many people around the world appreciate as a sort of baseline for decent joe. Beyond the great price and decent flavor when used to make coffee, this stuff is a great choice for use in other culinary practices.
When mixed into cakes, cookies, or pastries, used in sauces or rubs, or even in the homebrew process as you make beer, the quick-dissolving crystals and generic coffee flavor are perfect. Of course, that low price means you can scoop in as much coffee as your recipe calls for an then some.
With dozens of reviews posted online, Folgers Classic Roast instant coffee has a solid 4.2-star averaged rating from shoppers. One reviewer said this affordable coffee "was the best but [that he] found" when browsing instant coffee options. Another said it "tastes like the real thing" and "wakes [her] up in the morning."
While several buyers did call the coffee bitter, still others loved that it was "great for baking and cooking" and praised its "surprisingly versatile culinary use."
Pros: Very low price, great for cooking and baking, dissolves quickly in hot water
Why you'll love it: Instant black coffee is great and all, but for when you need a burst of sweetness and flavor in the next few seconds, a packet of Alpine Start Coconut Creamer Latte has you covered.
Black coffee is not only a fine beverage in and of itself, but it's also the starting point for all sorts of beloved drinks, from the latte to the cappuccino to the dirty chai and beyond. So with great instant coffee, you can quickly make your favorite fancy coffee treat. Or you can cut out all the steps beyond stirring powder into hot water and make a tasty latte in one step with Alpine Start Coconut Creamer Latte instant coffee.
The coffee crystals and sweetened creamer powder found in a packet of Alpine Start Coconut Creamer Latte produce a rich, smooth drink that might not taste like it was just whipped up by Brooklyn's hippest Barista, but is plenty good for instant and will satisfy your sweet tooth and caffeine craving at the same time.
Because the stuff is made with a non-dairy coconut based creamer, it's safe for people who avoid milk. Don't worry if you don't much care for coconut, you'll hardly taste that flavor at all, but instead will enjoy a taste more akin to actual creamer.
Each serving of Alpine Start Coconut Creamer Latte costs $1.79, making it the priciest instant coffee on the list by a long shot, but it's also the only one that whips up more than mere black coffee, of course.
With nearly 200 reviews posted and counting, Alpine Start Coconut Creamer Latte has a four-star overall rating at present. A reviewer named Cynthia called it "the best instant type coffee [she'd] had yet," while a buyer named Paully was quite direct when said it "really is instant coffee that doesn't suck," praising its "smoothness" and the fact that it had "no bitterness."
Do note that the writers from OutdoorGearLab were less taken with the brand, saying that although "Alpine Start is a way to get your fix anywhere and anytime," they said it was "not the best flavor compared to fresh brewed" and that the "price adds up."