The Best Instant Coffees (2024): Tested and Reviewed

There is no coffee preparation method more widely maligned than instant coffee. Even its name conjures up memories of bitter, acrid coffee that tastes too thin and too thick all at once. It’s the province of motel lobbies, red-eye flights, and 5 am commutes. But it’s also one of the most popular ways to drink coffee.

There’s more to the world of instant coffee than a packet of Folgers crystals dissolving at the bottom of a Styrofoam cup. About half the world even prefers it to other coffee preparation methods, and there’s a good reason for that: Most of the world is getting pretty good instant coffee. Indonesia, Japan, China, Mexico, Colombia, and Cuba all have instant coffee products on their shelves that can seriously rival the rich, flavorful brew you get from fresh beans. So, to find out which of these crystals actually gives your fresh-roasted, home-ground coffee a run for its money, I’ve been drinking my way across the world to find the best instant coffees.

Be sure to check our other coffee guides, including the Best Espresso Machines, Best Cold-Brew Coffee Makers, Best Coffee Grinders, Best French Presses, and Best Electric Kettles.

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What Is “Good” Instant Coffee?

You will always get more depth and breadth of flavor out of a cup of coffee ground and brewed fresh, the same way a loose-leaf tea will be more flavorful than even the most thoughtfully prepared tea bags. But when testing instant coffees, I wasn’t looking for coffees that reproduced the fresh-brewed flavor profile or drinking experience. That’s a trap coffee lovers fall into when drinking instant coffee. It’s a different medium than fresh-brewed coffee—like comparing a watercolor to an oil painting. Each has things it does well, but they don’t both do the same things well.

The coffees on this list each provided memorable and enjoyable drinking experiences. Instant coffees that are made well shine a spotlight on a coffee’s fruity flavor notes, tartness, and roasty warm flavors like cinnamon and caramel. It can be difficult to find whole-bean coffees that produce these flavors when freshly roasted. Instant coffees that don’t try to be something else are, in my experience, the best-tasting. The ones trying too hard to replicate the fresh-roast experience are what end up tasting weak, too astringent, and full of off flavors. They’re pale imitations because they’re exactly that: imitations.

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