Best instant coffee for a caffeine fix

best instant coffee

by Stephanie Spencer |
Updated on

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.

Best instant coffee at a glance:

Best overall: NESCAFE Gold Blend Alta Rica Instant Coffee 500g Tin - Buy now on Ocado
Best for value: Kenco Smooth Instant Coffee Granules - Buy now on Amazon UK
Best decaf instant coffee: L'Or Decaffeinated Instant Coffee - Buy now on Sainsbury's

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 UK

Best instant coffee for value

Whether you are stocking up on the coffee stash for the office or have a household filled with coffee drinkers, these Kenco Smooth Instant Coffee Refill bags come in a packet rather than the glass jar, which Kenco says reduces packaging by 97 per cent. The relatively low cost of Kenco Smooth Instant Coffee, combined with the balanced smooth and enjoyable flavour, makes it one of the best instant coffee in the UK in terms of value and taste.

Customer review: "I have tried many instant coffees over the years, and I do think that Kenco smooth is the best on the market. It has a beautiful aroma; it is flavourful, it is not at all bitter tasting, and it seems impossible to make a bad cup of coffee with this brand. It is not too expensive a mid-range priced coffee."

Pros

  • Mild flavours of fruit
  • Sustainable option
  • Great value

Cons

  • 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 beans from Latin America. The Gold Blend Alta Rica may be a little pricier than the original Gold Blend brand, but it is still reasonably priced for a deluxe instant coffee. If you enjoy full-bodied, rich coffee with notes of chocolate and caramel, this will be a good pick for you. The 500g tin is an excellent value if you already know and love this brand, but if you would prefer the smaller version, you can also purchase the 95g Alta Rica coffee too.

Customer review: "I only buy this coffee as it's the best. We love it. Plus, it is an excellent value as well."

Another review said: "This is the best instant coffee around in my opinion, I am a coffee-aholic and I just love this coffee. The taste is superb, it's never let me down."

Pros

  • Full-bodied dark roast
  • Excellent value
  • Highly rated

Cons

  • 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 Italian-style coffee companies around. The Prontissimo Americano is an extremely fine instant coffee, made with a blend of five per cent roasted ground coffee with instant powder - making it the closest to an espresso americano you can find without an espresso machine. If you enjoy rich black coffee that doesn’t taste too strong, this would be a good choice for you. If you know and love this product, you can get a collection of six 95g tins, or if this is your first time trying it, you can get a single Lavazza Prontissimo Americano Instant Coffee tin here.

Customer review: "I've tried most instant coffees and this in my opinion is by far the nicest of them all."

One review said: "This is the best instant coffee I have tasted. Good flavour without bitterness and a nice creme on the top."

Pros

  • Great for black coffee lovers
  • Rich, full-bodied taste

Cons

  • 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 a good choice. It uses Fairtrade and FNC-certified 100 per cent Colombian Arabica freeze-dried coffee that comes in a red recyclable aluminium tin. The light-in-colour dry chunky granules have a subtle aroma that tastes like smooth filter coffee; you don't need too many granules to make a rich and satiating cup of joe.

Customer review: "As a long-time filter and drip coffee fanatic, I recently decided to test out a few of the premium instant coffees and have to say this is the best I've found so far! It tastes like a good filter coffee, and would happily buy it again. Just wish it was a little bit cheaper."

Pros

  • Sustainably and ethically sourced
  • Well-balanced flavour

Cons

  • 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 always have the same atmosphere as an independent cafe, it is certainly reliable. The same goes for their instant coffee - with all the same flavour notes and balance you can expect from your local Costa, this coffee is a great replacement for your morning coffee run.

Customer review: "Very good quality flavour and excellent value for money."

Another said: "Great coffee doesn’t cost a lot compared to the retail machines in garages etc and very nice with frothy milk if you have a whisk."

Pros

  • Well-known cafe chain
  • Good value and taste

Cons

  • Some people may prefer to buy from more independent sellers

Best flavoured instant coffee

beanies copy
Price: $4.99

Beanies flavoured instant coffees are a great sweet treat at only two calories per cup and contain no added sugar. With 12 flavours and three decaf options, the range of Beanies flavours eliminates the need to add sugar or sweeteners, making them the perfect sweet-tooth drink. You can even get your pumpkin spice latte fix with this PSL flavour coffee.

Customer review: "Amazing flavour. Finally, I've tried all the Beanies flavours available in India & come to the conclusion that Double Chocolate, Irish Cream, Creamy Caramel & Chocolate Orange are my top four flavours from this brand. If you like flavoured coffee, you should totally try Beanies."

Pros

  • Six flavours 
  • Good value

Cons

  • 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 well-balanced taste, and because it is caffeine-free, it is ideal for those with caffeine sensitivities or those who want a warm drink at night.

Customer review: "This is the best decaff I have ever had. More flavour than most non-decaff coffees."

Pros

  • Many reviews say it is the closest taste to caffeinated coffee 
  • Decaffeinated 
  • Affordable 

Cons

  • 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 America using the highest quality organic ingredients and 1,200mg of pure and potent mushrooms, including Chaga, Cordyceps, Lion's Mane, Maca and Ashwagandha. This is a fantastic coffee blend for those looking to add some extra health benefits to their routine morning brew.

In terms of taste, the beans have been carefully roasted to maintain the full-bodied round taste and delicate tones. The mushrooms have powerful health benefits such as improving memory, mood and focus and gut health and help with skin and immunity. It is nutrient-dense containing Vitamin D, Potassium, Amino Acids, Zinc, Iron, Magnesium, and Calcium, so this blend really packs a punch.

Tried and tested by Yours writer Ellen Kinsey: "I am very sensitive to caffeine and find espresso quite strong for my digestive system. This filter coffee from DIRTEA is the best of both worlds; it has a bright yet earthy flavour profile made with a powerful fusion of pure mushrooms, maca and ashwagandha, which helps reduce the coffee shakes and calms me down. I would highly recommend it for occasional coffee drinkers looking for something a little more gentle yet caffeinated."

Pros

  • Medicinal mushrooms have incredible health benefits.
  • A superfood drink and caffeinated beverage in one
  • High-quality ingredients

Cons

  • Some may find the taste too earthy

Best instant coffee latte blend

Latte copy
Price: $62.50

Made with fresh milk sourced from British dairy farmers, this instant latte mix allows you to whip up velvety and frothy lattes in a matter of seconds. This tin comes with 40 latte sachets inside, perfect for your next camping trip or for your office stash.

Customer review: "Very good value for money and tastes good too."

Another said: "My husband loves this range of coffee so when I found the tin I thought I was on to something great!
The tin worked out to be great value, lasted a fair while and much better for the environment than all the packets."

Pros

  • Great for latte drinkers
  • also available in sachets

Cons

  • It can be a bit clumpy if not stirred properly

Best instant coffee alternative 

Coffee-alternative copy
Price: £13.62

Whether you don't drink coffee for religious reasons or are sensitive to caffeine, this Whole Earth Wake Up coffee alternative is delicious and made with natural ingredients, including barley, figs, chicory and a dash of guarana - an Amazonian plant with amazing pick-me-up properties.

Customer review: "I cannot drink coffee for religious reasons, but it doesn't technically ban caffeine. This coffee substitute is amazing. It looks like coffee, so my coworkers don't think I'm a crazy person for not drinking coffee. It tastes exactly like coffee, so I can know the joy of an iced latte in the summer."

Pros

  • Healthy coffee alternative
  • Good low-caffeine alternative 

Cons

  • 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.

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