Instant Coffee Is Everywhere (Again!), So We Tested 7 Brands to Find the Best-Tasting Brew

Yes, freeze-dried powder that tastes like the real thing.

By Caitlin Clark

After embracing a work-from-home lifestyle for a year (and some), I’ve done the work to make my setup feel a bit more office-like. My long-neglected desk is now fully reorganized and functional. I also invested in houseplants just to be surrounded by more living things. The one area I couldn’t quite figure out, however, was my coffee situation. My counter space is spare, so a tiny Nespresso machine is all I’ll allow. But a girl cannot (and should not) live on espresso shots alone, so I decided to look into an alternative that wouldn’t require a bulky coffee maker. And thus, my hunt for the best instant coffee brands began.

Fortunately, that search was made a bit simpler—instant coffee is having a moment. Thanks to brands like Swift Cup and other specialty roasters embracing the super quick fix, instant coffee is finally shedding the ick factor earned by the chalky powders of yore (stir and drink, anyone?). More innovative delivery systems (think tea bags, freeze-dried, concentrates), sustainable packaging, and eco-friendly processes also add to the coffee category’s allure.

To discover the best, I did copious online research to try to find a good quick fix for everyone, then followed each brand’s provided instructions to conduct a fair test. I tasted a few bitter frogs along the way, but eventually, I was able to narrow down eight incredible instant coffee options I would stake my reputation and very limited counter space on.

Whether you’re looking for a go-to for traveling, camping, or just to supplement your at-home caffeine supply, I hope you discover your perfect instant coffee match below.

neutral living room_liana levi

Joe Coffee

The Price: $19.99 for 6 servings

The Story: The family-owned shop is a New York staple, but thanks to their Specialty Instant product, you can enjoy the comforting roast on the go.  

The Taste: Yes, The Daily house blend has notes of caramel, chocolate, and marzipan, but there was still a richness to this freeze-dried coffee powder that took me by surprise. I also felt Joe Coffee worked equally well hot or cold.

Jot Ultra Coffee

The Price: $24 for 14 servings

The Story: With a mindful extraction process and organic coffee beans, Jot’s potent elixir can go a long way—hot or cold.

The Taste: Packaging-wise, Jot absolutely crushes the game. It’s a beautiful product, but the taste really does live up to the aesthetic. And having experienced first hand what happens when a coffee concentrate goes wrong (hint: extreme bitterness), I appreciate Jot (which I’ve also heard is better than rival Lucky Jack) all the more. Just one tablespoon is seriously all you need.

I enjoyed the tonic equally served hot or cold, but swap the water with oat milk for a smooth café-style treat.

Homemade Golden Milk // Iced Coffee // Golden Eye Recipe

Golden Ratio

The Price: $14.99 for 7 servings

The Story: Golden Ratio roasts their sustainably sourced beans at lower temperatures to achieve a smooth, low acid brew that drinks more like tea, but has the caffeine of coffee. Tea pouches are made from organic cotton.

The Taste: This is certainly our most out-of-the-box instant coffee suggestion. With a touch of turmeric, added antioxidants, and zero acidity, the mellow golden concoction goes down smooth. I wouldn’t necessarily enlist Golden Ratio to jolt me awake first thing in the morning (I actually tried—it wasn’t hardcore enough for me), but when you’re looking for a gentle-but-potent mid-afternoon caffeine boost, this unique brand is your friend. For a cold brew, mix a batch to seep in the fridge while you sleep.

Bonus: this low-acid brew goes easy on your teeth.

Waka Quality Instant Coffee

The Price: $11.99 for 8 servings

The Story: Dedicated exclusively to creating instant coffees and teas, Cali-based Waka set out to provide a simpler, cheaper, and ethical way to fuel your day.  

The Taste: Thanks to the brand’s 100% Colombian Arabica beans (a coffee shop favorite), Waka goes down smooth—there is nothing bitter about it. In fact, this affordable Cali brand was my favorite of the freeze-dried brands, though not as versatile as Joe Coffee.

Bonus: Waka donates a portion of their profits to charity:water, which helps bring clean drinking water to underserved countries, so you can feel a little better about all that coffee wastewater.

morning routine

Steeped Coffee

The Price: $15 for 10 servings

The Story: Another brand from California, Seeled offers a more environmentally-friendly coffee option using innovative tea bags and sleek branding geared at the no-fuss travel set.

The Taste: For a medium roast, this one is really light and lovely. There’s a freshness (and a bit of a tanginess) to it. The fresh taste can probably be credited to Steeped’s patent-pending nitro sealing process, which also allows the single-serving bags to be compostable.

Steeped Coffee

Specialty coffee you can brew and compost on the go.

Steeped California Blend Medium Roast, $15

Kimberly Snyder's morning routine, meditation, coffee, drink, books

Starbucks Via Instant

The Price: $13 for 13 servings

The Story: It all started in the 1970s at the historic Pike Place Market in Seattle, but Starbucks launched their Via brand in 2009—an ahead-of-the-curve move that was a big deal at the time.  

The Taste: I often use Starbucks capsules in my Nespresso machine, and was pleasantly satisfied with how similar this little packet of ground Arabica powder tasted. It wasn’t my favorite of the group, but the convenience (and low cost) of those Crystal Light-style pouches cannot be denied.

Starbucks Via Instant

The classic you love in a container you can take anywhere.

Starbucks Via Instant Colombia, $13

nicole trunfio making coffee at home in texas

Swift Cup

The Price: $10.95 for 6 servings

The Story: Another brand dedicated specifically to instant coffee, the Pennsylvania-based Swift Cup has mastered the freeze-dried art and offers a wide variety of well-priced roasts (including a decaf option).

The Taste: If you’re new and wary of instant coffee, Swift Cup could easily convince you. There’s a reason so many of your favorite local coffee shop brands seek the company as a production partner. The slightly sweet Mainstay blend would be a perfect fit for most palates.

Honorable Mention: Voilà

I’m a sucker for thoughtful packaging (see: Jot), so I really wanted to try the aesthetically stunning Voilà. Alas, the pretty brand has been completely sold out recently. (This apparently happens from time to time.) I’m also a sucker for hard-to-get things, so I’m hopeful they’ll solve their out-of-stock problem soon.