Can instant coffee be as good as the real thing? Our taste test says NO.

Packs of instant coffeeThe three instant coffees we tried... Starbucks VIA, Jiva Instant Coffee and Sudden Coffee.

Instant coffee is still very popular in some parts of the world.

Whenever I visit friends and family in Europe, I know I stand a pretty good chance of being served a cup of Nescafé instant coffee.

But here in North America, instant coffee is a lot less popular.

We long ago decided that fresh-brewed gourmet coffee is the only way to go.

Put simply…

Gourmet coffee from whole beans is good.

Instant coffee is not good.

That sounds about right… yes?

So why are companies now trying to sell us “new and improved” instant coffee?

It’s time for a taste test. Are today’s instant coffees any good?

We tried three of the “new wave” instant coffees.

Starbucks VIA - Because it’s been around for the longest and was perhaps the first to make the claim that instant coffee could taste as good as brewed coffee.

Jiva Instant Coffee – Because they were the first company we found that was talking about instant coffee in the language of gourmet coffee.

“We use only the highest quality coffee beans from Colombia that are hand picked when ripe, then lightly roasted and expertly processed to retain all the original flavor and aroma.”

Sudden Coffee – Because they’re all the rage right now.

And because their instant coffee costs $2.50 a cup. (More than fresh brewed coffee at your local Starbucks or independent coffee shop.)

And because the New York Times wrote, “Sudden Coffee is so clean and elegant you get all the floral notes in a coffee such as the Biftu Gudina from Ethiopia.

We conducted this taste test the same way we would with brewed coffee.

My wife and I have been reviewing coffees from all over the world for 13 years now.

We know how it goes, and what to expect.

And she is a better taster than I am.

So I made the coffee, and then served it to her blind. In other words, she had no idea which was which. 

Once she’d had her say, I tasted each coffee myself. And I agreed with her.

Sudden coffee instant coffeeSudden Coffee comes in packs of tubes. No question that these are super convenient and easy to take with you. Biodegradable plastic too.

And the results of our instant coffee taste test are…

First… something that applied to all three coffees.

They all lack the complexity of gourmet coffee made from fresh-ground coffee beans.

Even the most everyday whole-bean coffee delivers different layers of flavor. A little chocolate here, a hint of nuts, citrus fruits, or maybe more like a dark cherry flavor.

Good coffees have a wonderful mouth feel… sometimes soft and satiny, sometimes a little sharper.

The point is, good coffee – like wine – has a beautiful complexity. It’s why we love it.

Instant coffee lacks that. And that’s why it can taste so flat and ordinary.

OK… drumroll time for our results.

Starbucks came in at the middle position. Not the best or the worst. Definitely not as good as a cup of fresh-brewed gourmet coffee, but not horrible.

Jiva Instant Coffee came in as our #1 choice. By quite a margin. No, not as good as fresh-brewed coffee. But it at least had a couple of layers… with a touch of caramel and a hint of citrus fruit… and a reasonable mouth feel.

Sudden Coffee came in last – notwithstanding its high price and New York Times review.

Great packaging. Wonderful sales pitch. But ultimately a triumph of marketing over flavor. It just didn’t taste good at all.

That’s our opinion anyway.

Jiva Instant coffeeWhile Sudden Coffee comes in tubes, Starbucks VIA and Jiva Instant Coffee come in flat packets.

None of these instant coffees were better than a regular cup of joe.

For the longest time everyone accepted the wide divide between fresh-brewed coffee and instant coffee.

Gourmet coffee tastes better. Instant coffee is a whole lot more convenient and a lot less expensive.

But now it seems some companies are trying to turn that on its head.

OK. Go for it. But don’t tell me your instant coffee tastes better or even as good as brewed coffee. Because it doesn’t.

Finally… a kind word for Jiva Coffee.

Thank you for making a better instant coffee. And we appreciate that you didn’t try to over-sell your product by making any outrageous claims.

Where to buy these instant coffees...

Starbucks VIA

Jiva Instant Coffee

Sudden Coffee

Read more of my coffee opinion posts.

In these posts I share my thoughts and opinions on various aspects of gourmet coffee – sometimes thoughtful, and sometimes more lighthearted. Find my posts here...

Shelves full of instant coffeeCheck out the variety of instant coffees available in a typical English supermarket. There are a lot!

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