Six instant coffees to look for
The “instant” descriptor associated with coffee conjures up footage of vacation mornings at home and restaurant scenes with hidden cameras – a marketing trick for a product so obnoxious it is best suited to soldiers in a war zone where its duration. shelf life rivals that of their meal, ready to eat (MRE). It has a long history, separately invented by a French, New Zealander, and Japanese scientist in Chicago, all before the Wright brothers’ flight to Kittyhawk in 1903. It’s a story that goes back almost 140 years, and today it still accounts for almost half of the production of green coffee. Finally, over the last decade or so, the quality has increased enough to make it a possible alternative to coffee, in-room pods, or travel kits.
Instant coffee is typically formed by spray drying brewed coffee at high temperatures above 400 degrees to quickly evaporate the water and leave clumps of concentrated dried crystals. This can be applied to large batches, forming very small granules, and therefore potentially well suited for high volume production. However, the high heat alters the chemical composition, altering the flavor, making it undrinkable by those familiar with specialty coffee.
None of the instant coffees until the last decade were worth drinking as a replacement for a freshly brewed cup unless the time was so short – like on the bus going down the road – that a sip, n ‘ any sip, was better than nothing. Starbucks Via, launched just over a decade ago, was touted as nearly indistinguishable from its freshly ground coffee (it wasn’t, at least not for this writer). Starbucks, however, should be given some credit for its efforts, as Via’s success may have pioneered a concept that startups and specialty roasters are now bringing into Wave Three.
However, the term “snapshot” should be broadened, thanks to companies like Steeped. Counter Culture’s quest for “simplicity, flexibility and convenience” has guided the development of single-serve coffee in partnership with Steeped (see below for more on both). Technically, it’s not instant coffee, as it requires steeping for 5 minutes. In reality, however, this clear difference between traditional instant coffee and brewed coffee is a sharp two minutes, after the former has cooled to drinking temperature for a few minutes. But it should taste better.
So the search here is for a tasty cup out of the house and the coffee shop, where a combination of speed, portability and convenience is maximized. This would be ideal for camping and traveling abroad, where space, weight and the availability of alternatives call for a simple solution. Of course, two other equally important considerations must be taken into account: durability and cost. Perhaps the most promising development in this product category is that neither should be compromised.
Below are six “instant” coffee products.
Pack of 10 for $ 15 or $ 1.50 per cup
The Santa Cruz-based company launched via Kickstarter in 2017, claims that making coffee has become too complicated. Steeped offers five choices of their own specialty coffee blends, including a decaffeinated option, at different roast levels, sourced, from this post, from Colombia and Ethiopia. These options are also available in starter kits or through a flexible subscription service, which can drop the price per cup down to $ 1.00 / cup. Santa Cruz infused roasts and processes, using compostable and renewable materials for its products.
Package of 5 single servings for $ 9.99 (package of 10 for $ 19.99) or $ 2 per cup
Counter Culture has looked at instant coffee products for the past decade and has gone a different route, partnering with Steeped to produce a single-serve dehydrated bag. As one of the most outward-looking and sustainability-conscious coffee companies, Counter Culture took this factor into account in their design as well. The tea-like bags are 100% biodegradable and the hermetically sealed packaging is renewable and compostable. Three proprietary blends are available, including a decaffeinated option.
Pack of 8 for $ 20 or $ 2.5 per cup
Focused solely on instant products, the aptly named Sudden was launched in 2015 in San Francisco by a barista competition and former management consultant McKinsey. Sudden touts their sourcing, freeze-drying process and emphasis on sustainability as differentiators. They use specialty single-origin coffees roasted by a partner roaster, from a list of more than 25 people, including Intelligentsia. Ritual and Phil & Sebastian.
Sudden differs from almost everyone else. It packs single servings of instant coffee in recyclable PLA plastic bottles that offer a 9 month shelf life. Suddenly claims they have reduced their water, plastic and energy consumption by 80% over a two-year period. Perhaps these tubes will be replaced by their next innovation in packaging.
The 6-pack starts at $ 14 or $ 2.33 a cup. 48-pack starts at $ 1.75 per cup
This Lancaster, PA-based company specializes in instant coffee, offering at least 10 different sources, including decaffeinated, blends, and several Latin American and African selections. These sources alternate and may even include samples of the winners of the Cup of Excellence, the world’s most prestigious annual awards for the best specialty coffees. Swift quickly established itself as a leader in the industry segment, partnering with around 50 roasters in the United States, including Sightglass, Joe and Verve. Their main offering is a subscription service of 10, 20 or 30 cups per shipment.
Pack of 5 starting at $ 16 or $ 3.20 per cup (less if by subscription)
Another instant coffee-focused company, Voila has only been in business since 2016. Founded in Bend, Oregon, the company has spent nearly two years developing its processing method. This is a much smaller-scale operation than Swift or Sudden, but it also focuses on the quality of its supply. The instructions are a little unusual: They call for immediately pouring 155-degree Fahrenheit drinking water over the granules, which would theoretically make it the fastest available coffee of any type in the world. The packaging is primarily recyclable and compostable – the boxes are made of 80% post-consumer recycled paper which is carbon neutral and the individual packaging is compostable.
8-pack for $ 19.99 or $ 2.50 per cup, subscription cost less for $ 2.25 per cup
Crested Butte’s First Ascent Instant Coffee is well located for the Colorado outdoor lifestyle. Indeed, the company has received praise from several publications on outdoor living. For its sustainability efforts, First Ascent was recognized as one of 13 finalists, out of over 100 companies, for the 2019 Something Independents Wright Award for Outdoors-Focused Businesses.
Developments in the instant coffee segment are good news for coffee drinkers. Producers in this niche are solving the challenge of providing single-serve beverages with minimal waste at a reasonable price. The goal is, ironically, not the best cup, but a good cup while accomplishing the paradox – putting sustainability into practice.