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How to make your instant coffee taste better than espresso

We reveal the brands that taste better than coffee made from fresh beans, plus hacks for making the best instant coffee.

spoon in dalgona coffee instant
Last updated: 04 October 2023

The cost of barista-made coffee is going up, but disposable incomes are going down – what's a coffee lover to do? If your bank balance is diminishing but your caffeine addiction isn't, you might be looking at more affordable ways to get your fix.

While most coffee snobs would never dream of touching instant coffee, desperate times call for desperate measures. And with cafe prices hitting $5.50 for a regular coffee, there are big savings to be made – both in money and time – by DIYing your daily brew. 
Interested? We'll reveal 
the best tasting instant coffees and share some tips and tricks to level up your home-made brew.

How to choose the best instant coffee

To state the obvious, you can't make a good coffee without good coffee. So your first step should be to buy the best tasting instant coffee

Our experts found that six products tasted either the same, or better than coffee from an espresso machine – instant has come a long way! 

Our panel of coffee experts blind taste tested 18 popular instant coffees to find out which ones are the best. Shockingly, they found that six products tasted either the same as, or better than coffee from an espresso machine – clearly instant has come a long way! 

And the best news for bean hunters on a budget? Most of the highly rated products are surprisingly affordable. (One of them is even a supermarket own-brand that costs just $3.70 a jar – that's cheaper than a single cafe coffee.)

The best instant coffees according to our expert panel

bushells classic gourmet instant coffee

Bushell's Classic Gourmet Instant Coffee is the best brew in our test, and at $8.50, a whole tin will cost you less than two cafe coffees.

According to our coffee experts, these instant coffees tasted better than an espresso made from fresh beans.

Bushell's Classic Gourmet Instant Coffee

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 83%
  • Price: $4.25 per 100g

Robert Timms Granulated Coffee, Full Bodied

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 81%
  • Price: $4.00 per 100g
coles classic instant coffee

At just $1.85 per 100g with a score of 80%, Coles' Classic instant coffee is a great buy.

Coles Classic Granulated Coffee

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 80%
  • Price: $1.85 per 100g

Vittoria Mountain Grown, 100% Arabica Instant Coffee Freeze Dried

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 80%
  • Price: $12.50 per 100g
alcafe gold classic

Aldi shoppers, this is the one to pick.

These instants scored exactly the same as coffee made from fresh beans on an espresso machine, so they're also great options:

Alcafe Gold Classic Roast (Aldi)

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 79%
  • Price: $3.90 per 100g

Coles Organic Freeze Dried Coffee

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 79%
  • Price: $4.00 per 100g

Hacks to make your instant coffee taste better

Now you know which products are the best, here are some hacks from CHOICE staff to make your cup of instant taste even better, plus some options for different coffee styles if you want to mix it up. 

instant coffee on spoon

With prices this low, you can shout yourself an extra scoop of instant.

Double it

Adding more coffee will give you a better coffee flavour – makes sense, right? Instant coffee-drinking CHOICE staff universally agree that more is better, so treat yourself to two teaspoons instead of one.

And if you're buying one of the cheaper options that our experts recommend, you can justify the extravagance of a double dose!

Prep it

Another popular technique is to mix the coffee with some sugar and a little bit of  water to make a paste, then top it up with hot water. This gives your instant coffee a layer of crema, so you can pretend you're drinking an espresso. 

 Mix the coffee with some sugar and a little bit of  water to make a paste

CHOICE staffers believe adding cold water instead of hot to make the paste can prevent the boiling water from scalding the coffee. This reportedly makes your coffee taste smoother and less bitter, and gets rid of the chalky consistency common to some instant coffees. Cold milk can work, too, or even cream if you're looking for a more decadent taste. 

Froth it

To get that cafe feeling, buy yourself a milk frother and top up your instant coffee with steamed milk. 

You can pick up a frother for around $30, which is a great investment if it helps you transition from barista-made coffee to home-made. Plus it's way cheaper than buying an entire coffee machine. 

Mix it up: Different drinks you can make out of instant coffee

To break up the monotony of daily at-home coffee, experiment with some different coffee styles to keep things fresh. Here are some CHOICE staff favourites. 

iced coffee with milk instant

Keep your cool with an iced instant coffee.

Iced instant coffee

In a jar, mix two teaspoons of instant coffee with warm water (and sugar, if that's how you drink it) and give it a good shake until the sugar has dissolved and the mix is frothy. Pour over ice and top with milk.

Vietnamese coffee

Sweeten up your iced coffee with a teaspoon or two of condensed milk instead of sugar. 

Greek frappe coffee

Using a jar, shake up 2–3 teaspoons of instant coffee with ¼ of a cup of cold water until it's thick and foamy. Pour over ice then top with cold water. 

If you want a sweeter version, add some sugar before shaking. 

Here's a quick Greek lesson: a Greek frappe with no sugar is called skétos (plain), two sugars is métrios (medium) and four is glykós (sweet).

Dalgona coffee

This Korean coffee hack went viral (no pun intended) during COVID lockdowns. It's made by whipping up equal amounts of instant coffee, sugar and hot water until it forms creamy stiff peaks, then dolloping it over cold or warm milk. 

You can experiment with other flavours like cocoa and Nesquik, too: How to make Dalgona coffee

DIY mocha

Chocolate makes everything better, so try adding some Milo, cocoa or hot chocolate powder into your instant coffee. If you're using frothed milk, you can sprinkle some on top too for the full cafe experience. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.