8 Best Instant Camp Coffee Brands of 2018—Taste Tested & Reviewed

Instant Coffee Score Individual Packet Weight (oz) Serving Size (fl. oz)
Top Pick & Best Value: Nescafé Taster’s Choice
84
0.1 8
Runner-Up: Alpine Start
82
0.1 8-10
Honorable Mention: Voilà
79
0.16 Unspecified
Mount Hagen
64
0.07 Unspecified
Trader Joe’s
63
0.42 4-6
Starbucks VIA
39
0.11 8
Folgers
38
0.07 6
Jiva Coffee Cubes
21
0.5 8

The 8 different brands of instant coffee we taste tested

Nescafé Taster’s Choice is not only the best tasting instant coffee brand, it also provides the most bang for your buck. A blind taste test with 4 individuals has convinced me that this is my new go-to instant coffee for camping and backpacking.

Like most people, I do not function well without caffeine. My worst decisions in life were made under the influence of zero caffeine. This problem has only been made magnified by the fact that, well…I’m a coffee snob.

When camping and backpacking, I often drink instant coffee. But that doesn’t mean I want to drink shitty instant coffee. We tested 8 of the most popular instant coffee brands and I’m here to tell you which one is best.

Keep in mind that we are rating instant coffees, not the fancy nonsense you make with your $3,000 coffee machine. A high-scoring instant coffee may compare poorly to your favorite specialty brew.

Drinking a cup of joe on a sailboat anchored off the coast of British Columbia

Proof of my coffee snobbery: Slurping a cup of joe on a sailboat anchored off the coast of British Columbia.

Top Pick & Best Value: Nescafé Taster’s Choice

Nescafe Taster's Choice Instant Cofffee

As I learned through this assignment, Nescafé (a brand owned by Nestlé) is the OG maker of instant coffee.

While I hate to love big corporations, I can’t deny that this company has got instant coffee down to a science.

The french roast is surprisingly rich for an instant coffee, and each of our four coffee testers named the Nescafé brand as the best tasting in a blind taste test. It also kept me energized for several hours (which is impressive, given my caffeine tolerance).

As an added bonus, Nescafé is absurdly cheap (and the cheapest of all brands tested). We paid just $0.19 per serving. I would drink this both in and out of the backcountry, in a coffee mug, camping mug, or backpacking mug — which is about the best thing you can say about instant coffee.

Runner-Up: Alpine Start

Alpine Start Instant Coffee

Before this project, Alpine Start was my go-to instant coffee. I’ve even written backcountry cocktail recipes with it as a main ingredient.

I still love the robustness and caffeine level of Alpine Start, but it was simply outshone by Nescafé in the blind taste test.

I typically drink two servings of Alpine Start before starting a day of hiking, but it has definitely gotten me up for more than a few sunrise fourteener trips. It tastes great both hot or cold, as advertised on the package.

However, we paid a whopping $1.12 per serving, which is the second most expensive coffee we sampled.

Honorable Mention: Voilà

Voila Specialty Instant Coffee

Voilà is a new instant coffee company that got its start on Kickstarter. They collaborate with top coffee roasters to offer specialty craft brew in an instant package.

The brand launched on November 1st, 2017 and offers full customization options for a monthly subscription of instant coffee. They sent us a sample of different blends to test out.

Some hit and some missed. The Ethiopia blend from Huckleberry was so fantastic that it didn’t even taste instant. However, the Blendo Stupendo from Sterling Coffee Roasters was disgusting. The coffee was a bitter, burnt mess that I actually would wish on my enemies.

I’m a little confused on how to interpret some of their labels, but maybe I’m just not as big of a coffee snob as I thought. The blend is lively with flavors of watermelon, peach and lime? That sounds gross. But it’s also an Ethiopian blend made by Huckleberry? What are you trying to tell me? I don’t know but it’s damn good.

Because we gave ratings based on the overall brand and not specific blends, Voilà earned a 3.75/5 for taste. If you like the idea of an instant coffee subscription, this is your best option.

Voila Huckleberry Ethiopian Adado blend

Reviews of the 5 Other Instant Coffee Brands We Tested

Starbucks and Folgers both scored poorly in taste. Mount Hagen and Trader Joe’s were alright, but not noteworthy when compared to other brands. While the Jiva Coffee Cubes tasted okay due to their high sugar content, they’re expensive and they perked us up about as much as a cup of tea would.

Mount Hagen

Mount Hagen Organic Fair Trade Instant Coffee

I don’t have anything against Mount Hagen. It tastes buttery and smooth and smells delicious. But by comparison, it just has decent flavor.

As a bonus, Mount Hagen coffee is Fair Trade certified and organic. Also, interestingly, this is a freeze-dried instant coffee.

I would drink it for the caffeine if I had to but you won’t see me searching for it in the store.

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe's Instant Coffee packets

Trader Joe’s has generously provided both creamer and sugar in their single serve instant coffee packets.

That’s nice…unless you like your coffee black, bitter and caffeinated like the rest of us.

If you’ve ever had one of those Starbucks bottled coffee Frappuccinos, this coffee tastes very similar to that. It’s a great choice for anyone who likes to ruin perfectly good coffee by pouring sugar in it.

Comparing the color between Folgers, Nescafe and Trader Joe's

Comparing the color between Folgers, Nescafe and Trader Joe’s

Starbucks VIA

Starbucks VIA Instant Coffee

I’ve never believed that Starbucks could produce quality coffee without dumping a pound of sugar in it. A blind taste test confirmed this as true.

At $0.75 per instant coffee packet, you’d think it would taste better. But alas, it tastes watery and a little bitter in a “we only use cheap, burnt beans” kind of way.

We were slightly surprised Starbucks VIA scored so low because a lot of campers and backpackers talk about it fondly online. It’s time to let everyone know, then — there is better instant coffee out there.

Folgers

Folgers Instant Coffee

“Mommy, why does Folgers taste so bad?” I don’t know honey, that’s just the way it’s always been. There are entire reddit threads devoted to answering that age-old question.

If you think making an instant version of this already-watery stuff will improve it, I’ve got some bad news. It won’t.

Little known fact, the first time Donald Trump tweeted, “SAD,” was in reference to Folgers coffee. Don’t research that. Just trust me, its true.

Jiva Coffee Cubes

Jiva Instant Coffee Cubes

What’s the first ingredient in a Jiva Classic Coffee Cube? Panela — unrefined cane sugar.

The Jiva coffee tasted okay because of the sweetness, but it reminded me more of an English tea than a cup of actual coffee. I did not feel properly caffeinated by consuming it.

One cube is 8 grams, and each cube contains 5 grams of sugar. What’s a practical use for this caffeinated sugar cube? Using it as flavoring for a real cup of joe.

While all our tasters, including myself, generally disliked this brand, there is probably some Starbucks sugary-drink fanatic who would find it cool. I don’t.

How to Choose the Best Instant Coffee for Your Needs

I use instant coffee on short camping and backpacking trips and on mornings when I don’t have enough time to be fancy. It’s convenient and doesn’t require me to carry extra tools into the backcountry.

However, if you are preparing coffee for a large group (3+) or planning for multiple days outdoors, it may be more practical — if you don’t mind the weight — to invest in some backpacking coffee tools and carry a bag of grounds instead.

If you’re not sure what to look for in an instant coffee: evaluate your needs as a coffee drinker. Why do you drink/need coffee? Do you like the taste, the social element or are you in it for the drugs?

Flavor

If you already have a favorite coffee brand that you use at home, do a quick google search to see if they make an instant version as well. I found from taste testing all these instant coffees that the quality of a brand’s regular coffee, for the most part, parallels its instant version.

Find out what kind of roast you like before you head out into the backcountry, whether it be a blonde, medium or dark roast. The majority of the brand roasts tested here are dark because I already knew that was my preference.

Caffeine

I drink dark roasts because they often have the most robust flavor. However, dark roasts notoriously have the least amount of caffeine because “the longer coffee beans are roasted, the more caffeine is burned off.

Simply stated, blondes and light roasts pack the most caffeine. Likewise, a Robusta bean has double the caffeine content of an Arabica.

Weight

It always pays to consider the added weight of whatever you take with you on a backpacking trip. The individual packet weight for most brands we tested hovered around the 0.1 oz mark, while the brands that came prepackaged with sugar and/or creamer — Trader Joe’s and Jiva Coffee Cubes — weighed closer to 0.5 oz per packet.

The added weight of a few instant coffee packets won’t be a concern for most people unless you’re going ultralight. And even then, the added tenths of ounces are likely a worthwhile trade-off for habitual coffee drinkers.

Coffee ‘Experience’

I’ve been called both a pretentious coffee drinker and a coffee snob…and that’s okay. Coffee isn’t just a source of caffeine for me, but an experience and part of my social life.

Do you want to drink the same coffee every day or do you want to explore new brands and blends? If you simply see coffee as the vehicle that transports caffeine into your bloodstream, keep it simple and go with a brand that offers a roast you like. If you like enjoy tasting new coffees even on the go, Voilà seems to be bridging the gap between specialty craft coffees and the fast-paced life. Consider a subscription if the idea intrigues you.

How We Tested

I probably have the worst brand bias of all time. You tell me that something is the underdog or the product of an aspiring local business owner and I think, yes, I love this! It’s fantastic and I believe in you!

Obviously, that’s dangerous to quality testing, so we did all testing blind.

Taste testing the 8 different brands of instant coffee

Taste testing the 8 different brands of instant coffee

Blind Taste Test

Four people sampled each of the 8 coffee brands and ranked them from best to worst by flavor. Testers ranged in age from 22 to 79 (because sometimes including your grandfather in your work is fun).

No sweeteners were used, which one person was very upset about (Fine, but you’re carrying your own sweetener in the backcountry). Coffee was tasted both hot and cold, which our oldest tester complained about because, “Iced coffee is stupid.”

Energy Test

Proof of mid-expedition productivity

Proof of mid-expedition productivity

After drinking a cup of a particular brand, we gauged our energy levels throughout the day. We repeated this process for a few days for each brand.

It was a crude test, admittedly, in which I basically drank one cup, tried to function during the workday, and evaluated my success by taking notes. Coffee that made me feel good and productive earned more points.

About the Author:

Alex is a contributing author and gear tester for 99Boulders and has been pushing the limits of what gear can do for the past six years. As a proud weekend warrior, she’s on a mission to backpack, ski, kayak or sail in all the choicest spots across America. You could probably convince her to hike up pretty much anything for a good summit beer. You can read more of her writing on her blog, Wander Writings.