As a former barista, I compared five instant coffees from a grocery store to find the best.
I tried instant coffee from Starbucks, Folgers, Maxwell House, Café Bustelo, and Nescafé.
The quality of the coffees ranged, but Café Bustelo had my favorite instant brew.
Working as a barista has made me pretty familiar with making a good cup of coffee.
I worked as a barista at Starbucks in 2019 for about a year. During that time, I really nailed down what makes a good cup of coffee.
But I can still appreciate the convenience instant coffee provides. To find which brand makes the best brew, I put ones from Starbucks, Folgers, Maxwell House, Café Bustelo, and Nescafé to the test.
When it comes to a hot cup of coffee, I prefer it with a bold, dark, and full-body flavor profile and served straight black or lightly sweetened with milk and sugar.
I usually brew coffee using a programmable coffeemaker or Nespresso machine, but was surprised to find some of these instant coffees produced an equally pleasant morning pick-me-up.
Here's how they stacked up.
This was my first time trying Folgers' instant coffee.
Similar to the majority of the brews, I used 1 teaspoon of coffee with 6 ounces of hot water to make a cup.
I certainly wouldn't prefer to drink this coffee black, since I found it to be a bit acidic. After doctoring it up with some light milk and vanilla sweetener, the flavor did improve.
I wouldn't say this is the best instant coffee on the market, but it wasn't bad.
My grocery store only sold the 8-ounce jar for $8.39.
Café Bustelo immediately impressed me.
I was the most excited to try coffee from Café Bustelo as I've heard great things about the brand. I can confirm that those rave reviews are true.
The brand's signature instant brew is technically an espresso, meaning it's an especially concentrated form of coffee. To make a cup, I still only used 1 teaspoon of the mix and 6 ounces of hot water.
It was incredibly smooth and I didn't feel the need to add any milk or sugar. For some, it might not be strong enough — but I definitely enjoyed drinking it black as it had no bitterness.
The 7-ounce jar cost $6.99. I found this to be fairly priced, especially for its impressive quality.
I thought Nescafé tasted similar to Cáfe Bustelo, but a bit more subtle.
In terms of the smell, Nescafé Clásico definitely had a nice aroma and reminded me the most of a traditional coffee you'd brew with a machine or French press.
As with the other cups so far, I used 1 teaspoon for every 6 ounces of hot water.
It had a fairly nice taste that reminded me of Café Bustelo's coffee, just more watered down. I think it tasted best black. When I experimented by adding milk and sweetener, it didn't taste as smooth.
This coffee was the most expensive one I bought, priced at $8.59 for a 7-ounce jar.
I was a bit skeptical about Starbucks Via Instant.
I made it using one packet (about an ounce of mix) and 8 ounces of hot water. It produced the largest serving and had the boldest flavoring of all the instant coffees I tried.
It tasted a bit too strong for me to want to drink it straight black, though.
Of the other instant coffees, this paired the best with sweetener and milk. As I sweetened it, it still maintained its coffee flavor.
Although these packets tasted great and I'd buy them again, they weren't very cost-effective compared to the other instant coffees I tried. The $6.89 box of packets only yielded eight cups of brew.
The other jars I purchased for around the same price yielded dozens of cups. If I was able to find Starbucks' instant coffee in jar form like the others I tried, that may be a more budget-friendly option.
Still, it's cheaper to make this at home than it is to buy it from the coffee shop.
Maxwell House let me down.
This medium-roast coffee was also prepared with 1 teaspoon of the mix and 6 ounces of hot water.
Though the brand's slogan is "Good to the last drop," I found that I didn't enjoy this coffee enough to want to make it the last drop.
It just wasn't anything special. Initially, the first sip was smooth, but the aftertaste left my mouth covered in a bitter layer.
It wasn't the worst coffee I've ever had, but it was not my favorite. Still, I could see those who prefer their coffee especially bitter and strong enjoying this one.
The 8-ounce jar of Maxwell House cost $7.39.
Café Bustelo has now been added to my daily coffee routine.
I would confidently recommend this brand of instant brew to any coffee lover because it's versatile and flavorful.
When made according to the directions, it's perfect for coffee drinkers who don't need a robust and super-strong cup of joe.
Yet, for those that do like the rich flavor of coffee, the water-to-mix ratio can be adjusted to match your preference.
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