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What makes the best instant coffee?

Coffee beans, roast strength, caffeine content and more.

jar of instant coffee with spoon and empty coffee mug
Last updated: 20 January 2022

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 what makes the best instant coffee?

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What makes the best instant coffee?

In 2019 we taste tested 14 supermarket instant coffees, from brands including Nescafé, Moccona and Lavazza. When reviewing the results, we noticed a few features that some of the best tasting instant coffees have in common which perhaps gave them an edge over the rest.

Better beans

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 were 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. 

Added ground coffee

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 Nescafé Gold Original 5 – were among our highest scorers (the third, Moccona Classic Medium Roast 5, scored 67%). 

Rich and robust

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.

Which instant coffee tastes best?

The following products received an overall score of 70% or more in our 2019 blind home taste test of 14 instant coffees.

coles fair trade instant coffee

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.
nature's cuppa organic coffee

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

Nescafé 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

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.

Flavour profiles

Looking for a particular flavour or mouthfeel for your coffee? The following coffees came out on 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 

How much caffeine is in instant 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.

The caffeine content of instant coffee varies depending on the brand. Where we were able to ascertain caffeine content details from the manufacturers of the products we tested in 2019 they ranged 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 300–400mg 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.

caffeine-in-drinks-2

How to make iced coffee with instant coffee

With instant coffee you can make iced coffee, well, in an instant. Here's how.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons warm water
  • 200mL cold milk
  • Ice for serving

Method

Combine coffee, sugar (if including) and water in a clean jar. Screw the lid on the jar and shake until frothy and granules have dissolved. Pour into a glass full of ice and fill with milk. Makes one serving.

How we test

preparing the coffee samples

Preparing coffee samples ready for posting.

Products

In 2019 we tested 14 instant coffee products that were available nationally in major supermarket chains. Where a brand had more than one product we 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). 

bags of coffee samples

A selection of prepared instant coffee samples.

Tasting

This taste test was conducted among Voice Your Choice members who regularly drink instant coffee. It was a blind taste test where each participant was randomly assigned coffee samples that had been de-identified. They were 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. 

instant coffee granulated in bowl

A bowl of coffee granules.

Scores

Participants were asked to give an overall rating for each coffee sample on a 7-point scale ranging from 'excellent' to 'terrible', and then we converted these numbers to an overall percentage score. We also asked 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.