It's fair to say we're a nation of coffee lovers. Some of you may even be better acquainted with your local barista than your neighbour. But even though the grocery value of pure coffee (coffee beans and ground coffee) and coffee capsules in supermarkets continues to grow, the value of the instant coffee segment is still triple that of pure coffee.
So which instant coffee tastes best? It's time to pop the kettle on and read our review of 14 supermarket instant coffees, from brands including Nescafe, Moccona and Lavazza, to see which tantalises the tastebuds.
The top five products received an overall score of 70% or more in our blind home taste test of 14 instant coffees.
- Coles Fairtrade Organic Freeze Dried Coffee 74% (also the cheapest coffee in the top 5)
- Moccona Barista Reserve Smooth Espresso 72%
- Nature's Cuppa Organic Coffee 70%
- Nescafe Gold Original 5 70%
- Caffe Aurora Medaglia D'oro Italian Style Freeze Dried Coffee 70%
Coles Fairtrade Organic Freeze Dried Coffee and Nature's Cuppa Organic Coffee are both made from Arabica beans, the more desirable beans used in coffee production, and are two of just three products in our test that are 100% Arabica (the third, Lavazza Prontissimo, scored 67%). The Coles coffee has the added selling point of being both organic and Fairtrade.
Ground coffee – the magic ingredient?
Interestingly, three instant coffees in our test have ground coffee added to their freeze-dried instant coffee ingredient, presumably giving them extra oomph, and two of these – Moccona Barista Reserve and Nescafe Gold Original 5 – were among our highest scorers (the third, Moccona Classic Medium Roast 5, scored 67%).
Strike it rich
And in a test where 'too weak' was a frequent complaint (standout offenders being Bushells Coffee Classic Gourmet Instant Coffee and Black & Gold Granulated Coffee), it perhaps makes sense that Caffe Aurora Medaglia D'oro Italian Style Freeze Dried Coffee – the coffee most frequently described as 'rich' and 'robust' by tasters – made it into our top five.
Coles Fairtrade Organic Freeze Dried Coffee
- Overall score: 74%
- Price per 100g: $4.00
- Taster comments: "Full-flavoured. Full-bodied and satisfying. I would confidently serve to friends and visitors."
- Good to know: It's Fairtrade, and made from 100% organic Arabica beans.
Moccona Barista Reserve Smooth Espresso
- Overall score: 72%
- Price per 100g: $10.29
- Taster comments: "This is delicious coffee. It is aromatic, with a full-bodied, intense coffee flavour that is not overbearing."
- Good to know: It contains 15% finely ground roasted Arabica coffee beans and is the second most expensive coffee in our test.
Nature's Cuppa Organic Coffee
- Overall score: 70%
- Price per 100g: $8.00
- Taster comments: "Mild in flavour. Medium-bodied."
- Good to know: Made from 100% organic Arabica beans, this is the coffee most frequently described as 'creamy' by tasters.
Nescafe Gold Original 5
- Overall score: 70%
- Price per 100g: $9.50
- Taster comments: "Tastes like coffee – strong and hearty with a nice aftertaste of actual coffee."
- Good to know: It contains 3% finely ground roasted coffee.
Caffe Aurora Medaglia D'oro Italian Style Freeze Dried Coffee
- Overall score: 70%
- Price per 100g: $5.00
- Taster comments: "More than just a hot drink – some interesting flavours."
- Good to know: The coffee most frequently described as 'rich' and 'robust' by tasters.
Looking for a particular flavour or mouthfeel for your coffee? The following coffees came top for the listed descriptors:
- 'smooth': Woolworths Freeze Dried Classic Coffee
- 'mild': International Roast Instant Coffee
- 'rich': Caffe Aurora Medaglia D'oro Italian Style Freeze Dried Coffee
- 'robust': Caffe Aurora Medaglia D'oro Italian Style Freeze Dried Coffee
- 'clean': Bushells Coffee Classic Gourmet Instant Coffee
- 'creamy': Nature's Cuppa Organic Coffee
Foods containing added caffeine and guarana (a South American plant with high levels of natural caffeine) must be labelled as such, but other natural sources of caffeine (such as coffee) aren't required to label the presence or quantity of caffeine.
So we asked manufacturers for the caffeine content of their instant coffee. Caffeine content obviously varies depending on the brand, but those that replied gave figures ranging from 2500mg to 6000mg per 100g. That's about 63mg to 150mg based on one rounded teaspoon in a 250mL cup. The average is about 78mg per 250mL cup, according to the Australian Food Composition Database. The table, below, shows how this compares with other caffeine-containing drinks.
For most healthy adults, a moderate intake of caffeine (the definition of which varies from source to source, but 300mg to 400mg a day is commonly cited) won't pose a problem, but it's worth knowing what's in your cuppa if you want to keep track of how much caffeine you're consuming, especially if you need to limit your intake.
Preparing coffee samples ready for posting
We tested 14 instant coffee products that are available nationally in major supermarket chains. Where a brand has more than one product we've included its bestseller (according to manufacturer or Retail World Annual Report). We did not test latte, cappuccino or mocha styles, flavoured varieties, decaffeinated coffee or coffee bags. Price per 100g is based on price for a 100g jar or closest (not on special) in March 2019.
A selection of prepared samples
This taste test was conducted among Voice Your Choice members who regularly drink instant coffee. This was a blind taste test where each participant is randomly assigned coffee samples that have been de-identified. They're instructed to prepare each sample in the same way as they would normally drink their coffee and complete a short taste test survey. Each product was tasted by at least 46 testers.
A bowl of coffee granules
Participants are asked to give an overall rating for each coffee sample on a 7-point scale ranging from 'excellent' to 'terrible', and then we convert these numbers to an overall percentage score. We also ask them to rate the intensity of the coffee flavour, and to select from a range of 17 descriptors those that best describe the coffee. We recommend products with an overall score of 70% or more.