Instant Coffee May Have Even *More* Antioxidants Than Ground—These Are the 7 Best We Tried and Tested

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Let’s be honest: instant coffee gets a bad rap. In a world where drip, pour over, French press, and cold brew coffees reign supreme, the freeze-dried dissolvable coffee drink is rarely anyone’s first choice—until now, maybe. According to Sahra Nguyen, coffee expert and founder of Nguyen Coffee Supply, instant coffee is getting a much needed rebrand. And, as it turns out, the best instant coffees are full of health benefits, just like their freshly brewed counterparts. Better yet, they actually taste good, too.

"Instant coffee is making a comeback within the specialty coffee world,” she tells us. “[It’s being] presented in new ways [that] include product innovation and coffee transparency.” And she’s not wrong, an increasing number of coffee companies have released their own versions over the past few years that’ll change your mind about instant coffee at first sip. We tapped the experts—and drank lots of coffee—to find the best instant coffees money can buy.

assortment of the best instant coffees
Photo: Alexa Casanova

Best instant coffees at a glance:

What is instant coffee anyway?

Think of instant coffee as a once-brewed cup of joe waiting to be reincarnated. That sounds weird, we know—but the process of making instant coffee involves brewing coffee, then dehydrating the brew to remove the water. What's left is a powdery version of the brewed coffee that will spring back to life when rehydrated with hot water. See? Reincarnation!

Why drink instant coffee

Instant coffee has the same benefits as ground coffee

While you might think of instant coffee as the inferior alternative you’d only drink when brewed coffee isn’t an option, you’d be surprised to learn that instant coffee actually has the same benefits of your usual cup of joe. “Although the manufacturing process is heavier, instant coffee still contains vitamins and nutrients including potassium, manganese, and vitamin B3,” explains Alex Mastin, Founder and CEO of Home Grounds. “It also retains the majority of naturally occurring antioxidants, and some even become more concentrated.

Instant coffee also has less caffeine than regular ground coffee, which is good if you’re trying to cut back, but less so if you depend on that jolt of energy in the morning. “Many people need to drink more instant coffee to get their required boost,” explains Mastin. One thing to note is that instant coffee contains double the amount of acrylamide—a compound found in coffee—than its ground counterparts, which could be harmful if consumed in excess. “Be moderate with your consumption and stick to a maximum of 3-4 cups a day,” Mastin cautions.

Instant coffee is just plain convenient

While freshly brewed coffee is admittedly hard to beat, there’s simply no arguing against the ease and convenience of instant coffee. And Mastin agrees, “there are situations where instant is preferable, and that’s totally fine!” Instant coffee has a longer shelf life than traditional grounds, and can be made with basically zero equipment. All you need is hot water and something to stir it with. So if you don’t have the counter space (or the funds) for that $600+ coffee maker you’re seeing all over TikTok, instant coffee will always be an acceptable—and tasty—substitute. It also makes for a great addition to baked goods or protein shakes!

Shop the best instant coffees

partners brooklyn instant coffee next to coffee mug and sachet
Best overall: Partners Coffee, Brooklyn Specialty Instant Coffee — $16.00

This Brooklyn-based coffee roaster makes a darn good cup of instant coffee. The company’s daily brew has a classic, subtle sweet flavor that tastes barista-brewed—and is equally delicious with or without milk/creamer.

“Partners makes a great specialty instant coffee with lots of transparency about their product and process,” says Nguyen. Just like the brand’s ground and whole bean coffees, the Brooklyn instant coffee beans are sustainably sourced and hand-roasted, but then they’re brewed and slowly dehydrated into instant coffee form—so the end result has all of the nuanced flavor as the coffee you’d get in-store. And unlike other instant coffees I’ve tried, this one dissolved in hot water with zero issues. Plus, the sachet is biodegradable and the box is recyclable!

Tasting notes: Milk chocolate, toffee, dried fruit

Roast level: Medium

Variety: Various

Origins: Antioquioa, Colombia, Santa Barbara, Honduras and Santa Rosa, Guatemala

verve instant coffee on a stack of apples
Best balance: Verve Coffee Roasters, Streetlevel Craft Instant Coffee Blend — $17.00

I had high hopes for Verve’s best-selling flagship blend, and it didn’t disappoint. The Streetlevel Blend contains coffees from Honduras, Guatemala, and Colombia, and touts a nuanced, fruity flavor that just works. Tasting notes of tart clementine, juicy red apple, and sweet honeycomb give this instant coffee a balanced flavor that’s easy for both coffee enthusiasts and regular old coffee drinkers like me, to love. What’s more, the Verve instant coffee has more of a thick, flaky form (think solid coffee shards), that immediately melted down when poured into hot water.

Tasting notes: Clementine, red apple, honeycomb

Roast level: Medium

Variety: Various

Origins: Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia

waka medium roast instant coffee box and pouches, one of the best instant coffees
Best medium roast: Waka Coffee, Medium Roast Colombian Instant Coffee — $10.00

“[Waka’s] medium roast Colombian coffee is a particular favorite,” says Mastin. “It’s a well-balanced and smooth beverage, with tones of citrus and toasted nuts.” The 100 percent arabica instant coffee is the perfect medium roast option—the combination of citrus and nutty notes give it an approachable, full bodied taste that packs tons of flavor with barely any acid (so sensitive tummies will enjoy this one too!). “Waka also supports local economies and focuses on sustainable practices,” Mastin explains. The box and single serve sachets are made of post-consumer recycled paper that’s fully recyclable. And they come in larger, 3.5 oz pouches.

Tasting notes: Citrus, nuts

Roast level: Medium

Variety: 100% Arabica

Origin: Colombia

death wish instant coffee packet and the box, one of the best instant coffees
Best dark roast: Death Wish Coffee Co., Dark Roast Instant Coffee — $12.00

Dubbed “the world’s strongest coffee,” each single-serve sachet of Death Wish’s fair-trade, certified organic coffee contains 300 mg of caffeine (the average cup of coffee has around 95 mg). To my surprise, though, the coffee has a smooth, rich flavor that has zero bitterness. “It has notes of browned butter, chestnut, and pecan,” says Mastin.

What’s more, the caffeine loaded recipe kept me wide awake and for hours—making it a new go-to if I need a serious energy boost. “If you like caffeine, this is for you,” says Mastin. “However, it is very strong, so proceed with caution.”

Tasting notes: Browned butter, chestnut, pecan, dark chocolate, black cherry

Roast level: Dark

Variety: Unknown

Origins: India, Peru

velty instant decaf coffee, one of the best instant coffees, next to a coffee mug
Best decaf: Velty, Uncaffeinated Classic Instant Coffee — $24.00

Velty’s gut-friendly coffee is a Well + Good favorite for good reason. The brand’s instant decaf coffee contains antioxidant-rich mesquite powder (which also helps give the coffee a mildly sweet flavor), brain-boosting lion’s mane and reishi mushrooms, and inulin, a prebiotic fiber derived from Jerusalem artichokes. So you’re basically getting the indulgent, yummy flavor of freshly brewed coffee in way less time—all without the caffeine or the gut irritation. This is my new 6 p.m. drink, when it’s too late for caffeine but I’m still craving the comforting flavor of coffee.

Tasting notes: Buttery, smooth, sweet chocolate

Roast level: Medium

Variety: Unknown

Origins: Mexico, Colombia

blue bottle craft instant espresso jar with a spoon and a small dish full of the instant coffee
Best espresso: Blue Bottle Coffee, Craft Instant Espresso — $25.00

My husband and I are habitual espresso drinkers at home, so I was psyched to get my hands on Blue Bottle’s new instant espresso—which was designed to deliver the same experience as regular ground espresso. Each jar contains 12 servings of organic instant espresso, so you’re definitely saving cash vs. making a run to the coffee shop every morning. But the best part is, it has all of the richness and intensity as freshly brewed espresso. With tasting notes of dark chocolate, toasted malt, and molasses, it’s the perfect sweet kick of caffeine for morning and mid-day. What’s more, it can be used to make hot and iced espresso drinks with zero fuss.

Tasting notes: Dark chocolate, toasted malt, molasses

Roast level: Medium-dark

Variety: Unknown

Origins: Unknown

a box of thrive market organic fair trade instant coffee, one of the best instant coffees
Best budget-friendly: Thrive Market, Organic Instant Coffee — $6.00

W+G contributing writer Jamey Powell stumbled upon this instant brew while traveling. She says, “I saw this coffee in my hotel room recently and thought, ‘eh, I guess I’ll try it.’ I’m no instant coffee connoisseur, but it was pretty great. Like, I’d-drink-this-again great.” Made with 100% Arabica coffee beans, Thrive Market’s instant coffee is Fair Trade and USDA Organic certified. Best of all, because a box contains 25 sachets, each cup of coffee comes out to 24 cents per cup. Score.

Tasting notes: Citrus, nuts

Roast level: Medium

Variety: 100% Arabica

Origins: Unknown

What to look for when shopping for the instant coffee

Better instant coffee usually costs more

A quick Google search and grocery aisle browse will prove that when it comes to instant coffee, the pickings are aplenty. “The options available have greatly improved over the years, with organic, fair trade, and gourmet choices on the market,” explains Mastin. This is, of course, great news, but it also means you’ll have to be more discerning to find what’s really good. “You usually need to spend a little extra to get the best experience,” says Mastin.

Go plain

Instead of the cloyingly sweet flavored options out there (spoiler alert: French vanilla instant coffee rarely contains *real* vanilla), Mastin recommends opting for plain varieties. “Flavored coffees often contain additives which can be harmful to health, and the environment, such as palm oil and artificial flavorings,” he tells us.

Check the stats

Instant coffees undergo more manufacturing than traditional, ready-to-brew beans, so being extra scrupulous about what you’re buying is key—the more you know about it, the better. “As with all things we consume, seeking transparency about the product, coffee variety, how it's roasted, how it's made, and the coffee's origin can help us appreciate the coffee behind the instant,” says Nguyen. “I always check the ingredients label to see if there are any additives to the instant coffee, or if it's a 100 percent coffee product.”

Everything from the coffee variety and the origin, to the roast style and processing can affect the taste and flavor of instant coffee, according to Nguyen, so you’ll want to rake in all of the facts you can to make the best choice. To help make finding the best instant coffee easy, we did all of the tasty research for you.

Frequently asked questions

Is instant coffee better than ground coffee?

Whether you prefer instant coffee over ground coffee is a matter of personal preference. Instant coffee does retain the health benefits of ground coffee (and might even retain more antioxidants!), but some people still prefer the taste of coffee brewed from freshly ground beans. Luckily, there are plenty of high-quality instant brands that might just challenge your preferences.

Is Maxwell House instant coffee real coffee?

Yes, Maxwell House instant coffee is made from brewed coffee that has been dehydrated. However, the Kraft Heinz-owned brand doesn't share much information about where they source their beans.

What is the secret to good instant coffee?

Because instant coffee is brewed coffee that's been dehydrated, you'll likely prefer the instant options from a brand whose ground coffee you know you like! And, while high-quality beans will help make instant coffee taste great, it still might take a little trial and error until you nail the water-to-coffee ratio for that perfect cup—just like with ground coffee.

Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.
  1. Niseteo, T., Komes, D., Belščak-Cvitanović, A., Horžić, D., & Budeč, M. (2012). Bioactive composition and antioxidant potential of different commonly consumed coffee brews affected by their preparation technique and milk addition. Food chemistry134(4), 1870–1877.

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