With the majority of households opting for the best instant coffee over ground coffee or beans, which are more fiddly and time-consuming to prepare, it's no wonder that the variety of instant options has soared over the last few years. Improvements in manufacturing have meant a whole menu of different flavours and aromas is now possible to enjoy in mere seconds, without using a coffee machine.
All instant coffee is essentially 'pre-made'. The process starts with whole coffee beans, which are ground up into a fine consistency, then brewed by means of high-pressure, piping-hot steam. This creates a very thick, viscose type of substance which is then dehydrated. The dehydrated product is then broken up into smaller pieces – which we have come to know as instant coffee.
Last chance Black Friday deals on instant coffee
We interrupt the regularly scheduled content to let you know that although Black Friday is over, there's still time to grab some last chance Black Friday deals on instant coffee. These are the retailers that still have deals available or keep scrolling to continue reading our buyer’s guide.
Shop for instant coffee deals on: Amazon UK
Save 49%: Kenco Millicano Intense Instant Coffee 6x95g, WAS £41.34, NOW £21
44% discount: L'OR Intense Instant Coffee 6x100g, WAS £42.54, NOW £24
13% saving: NESCAFÉ Original Instant Coffee 600g Refill Pouch, WAS £18.99, NOW £16.53
12% off: Douwe Egberts Pure Gold Medium Roast Instant Coffee 6x95g, WAS £31.74, NOW £27.90
There are two main types of instant coffee: freeze-dried and spray-dried. Freeze-dried instant coffee is made from higher-quality coffee beans, such as your Arabica variety. The key difference between instant coffee and ground coffee that you'll find in the pods for your coffee pod machine, is that instant coffee has already been brewed.
Even the coffee connoisseurs will be impressed by the instant coffee blends that have made our list below, from speciality coffees such as latte blends, to decaf options. We've also included a guide on how to make your instant coffee taste even better, and a breakdown of what to look out for, so you'll never be stumped again when your favourite coffee brand is out of stock at your local supermarket.
Best instant coffee at a glance:
• Best overall: NESCAFE Gold Blend Alta Rica Instant Coffee 500g Tin - view on Ocado
• Best for value: Kenco Smooth Instant Coffee Granules - view on Amazon UK
• Best decaf instant coffee: L'Or Decaffeinated Instant Coffee - view on Sainsbury's
Best instant coffee UK
Best instant coffee for value
Whether you are stocking up on the coffee stash for the office or have a household filled with
- Mild flavours of fruit
- Sustainable option
- Great value
- It can be too dark and bitter for some
Best overall instant coffee
This deliciously dark roast premium instant coffee has been made with 100 per cent Arabica coffee
- Full-bodied dark roast
- Excellent value
- Highly rated
- Some drinkers have complained that its flavour changed after being rebranded
Best instant coffee for Americano taste
Lavazza is a household name when it comes to coffee brands and is one of the longest-standing
- Great for black coffee lovers
- Rich, full-bodied taste
- Some reviews found it had an aftertaste
Best independent instant coffee brand
If you are looking for a delicious, sustainable and ethically sourced coffee brand, then Quokka is
- Sustainably and ethically sourced
- Well-balanced flavour
- Not as much in the pot as there should be
Best instant coffee from a cafe chain
Every town, village and city corner has a Costa Coffee kicking about, and although it may not
- Well-known cafe chain
- Good value and taste
- Some people may prefer to buy from more independent sellers
Best flavoured instant coffee
Beanies flavoured instant coffees are a great sweet treat at only two calories per cup and contain
- Six flavours
- Good value
- Maybe on the sweeter side for some taste pallets
Best decaf instant coffee
L’Or has done a good job of keeping its decaf blend close to the original coffee flavour. It has a
- Many reviews say it is the closest taste to caffeinated coffee
- Some reviews found it more bitter than the original version
Best healthy instant coffee with a mushroom blend
This superfood mushroom coffee blend is made of delicious Arabica coffee. Sourced from Central
- Medicinal mushrooms have incredible health benefits.
- A superfood drink and caffeinated beverage in one
- High-quality ingredients
- Some may find the taste too earthy
Best instant coffee latte blend
Made with fresh milk sourced from British dairy farmers, this instant latte mix allows you to whip
- Great for latte drinkers
- also available in sachets
- It can be a bit clumpy if not stirred properly
Best instant coffee alternative
Whether you don't drink coffee for religious reasons or are sensitive to caffeine, this Whole
- Healthy coffee alternative
- Good low-caffeine alternative
- It does contain caffeine if you are looking to avoid it.
Coffee strength and roast levels explained
Coffee brands don't have a standardised system for rating strength, but understanding typical types and terms can help you discover the right instant coffee for your tastes.
Terms such as ‘rich’, ‘smooth’, ‘balanced’ and ‘golden’ simply give an indication of the style of coffee. The level of roast (ranging from light to dark) is important to consider as this affects the coffee’s flavour profile.
There is no consistent scale for coffee strength from brand to brand. Some labels will use a 10-point system (with a 'level 10' being strong and a 'level 1' being mild), but this is compared to other coffees within their own range so can be confusing.
Strength refers to the level of roast the beans were subjected to, not how much caffeine is in it.
A medium roast will typically be lighter and smoother tasting compared to a heavier 'continental' or Italian roast. High roasts should not be burned, although you'll notice some high roast beans do look darker in colour. This is the essential oils escaping to the surface of the bean.
How to make the best instant coffee
1. Don't use boiling water
Don’t pour freshly boiled water straight onto your coffee, as it can lead to a harsh, bitter flavour.
You don't need to wait ages, or buy a fancy multi-temperature kettle for the best results. Instead, just wait 10 seconds or so after boiling before you pour. When our coffee expert tried this out, he found this amount of time gives a rich, smooth style – but warns against waiting too much longer as you could end up with a thin taste.
2. Choose the right milk
The choice of milk these days can seem endless. Our coffee expert experimented with dairy and plant-based options, and found all of them will sweeten and soften your coffee, but some will cause subtle changes in flavour.
Semi-skimmed cow’s milk worked better with coffee than plant-based milks, adding smoothness without swamping the character of the coffee. Of the plant-based milks, oat went down best.
Our coffee expert says: "Full cream is the richest option and creates a heavier, creamy note, while semi-skimmed milk is good as it's smooth and doesn't dominate the coffee."
3. Store your coffee properly
Store all types of coffee in an airtight container, in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight. This will help to prevent the flavourful essential oils from evaporating.
Contrary to popular opinion, don’t keep your coffee in the fridge or freezer - the moisture can cause it to absorb other smells, and dampen the flavour.
Instant coffee FAQs
How many cups of instant coffee can I have a day?
According to the NHS's caffeine recommendations, non-pregnant adults can have up to 400mg of caffeine per day. This equates to four mugs of instant coffee (at 100mg per mug), or around three cups of filter coffee (at 140mg per cup). In terms of tea, just over five cups of tea (at 75mg per mug) is the recommended limit.
What coffee roast do I choose?
A light roast coffee does not get roasted for long enough to caramelise. Therefore, it retains more of the original flavour of the coffee bean. Single-origin coffees are generally medium roast as it brings out the flavour and preserves it. After the second crack, coffee beans start to get dark and oily. The roast character comes through as darker, burnt and intense. However, dark roast coffee is not stronger than light or medium coffees. Dark is more intense, generally cheaper to buy and accounts for the majority of coffee on the market.
Why is instant coffee bitter?
Good instant coffee should not taste bitter. If you have bad luck with choosing a good-tasting coffee brand, try and opt for instant coffee that is made using 100 per cent freeze-dried premium Arabica beans. Another tip is to not use boiling water when making coffee, as that is often what makes it bitter. Just off the boil is best.
Stephanie Anthony is the Deputy Digital Editor of Yours.co.uk. Having worked across a variety of topics, from travel and food to pharmaceuticals, she also has a particular interest in mental health and wellness. She has a house full of pets with two dogs and two cats.