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Best instant coffee 2023: The most flavourful and affordable instant coffees from Nescafe, Illy, Kenco and more

Want a tasty caffeine kick that’s ready in seconds? Our list of the best instant coffee brands will get you through the daily grind

Nothing can replace the taste of a freshly made bean-to-cup brew, but the best instant coffees can fill the gap when you don’t have the time or the budget to use a full-sized coffee machine. And if you haven’t tried instant coffee lately, or have been sticking to the same brand for a few years, you might be surprised at the quality of the options out there.

All the major coffee brands have been competing to produce the best-tasting, most cost-efficient products in a bid to keep their caffeine-fiending customers happy – and some amazing instant coffees have emerged as a result. You also have smaller, independent companies rising up on the instant coffee scene, introducing bold, unusual flavours and whole new ways to enjoy your rapidly made cuppa.

Whether you’re after a more luxurious coffee, a tried and trusted classic or an innovative new brew, our list of the best instant coffees will have you sipping delicious, ready-made java in no time.

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Best instant coffee: At a glance

  • Best standard instant coffee: Kenco Smooth Instant | Buy now
  • Best ground instant coffee: Nescafe Azera Americano | Buy now
  • Best luxury instant coffee: Illy Classico | Buy now
  • Best flavoured instant coffee: Beanies Irish Cream | Buy now
  • Best coffee bags: Moreish Intense Brew | Buy now

How to choose the best instant coffee for you

What are the different kinds of instant coffee?

When most people think of instant coffee, they probably picture the dark brown crumbs inside a Nescafe Original jar, but instant coffee is actually available in a variety of forms. Here are the main kinds to look out for.

Coffee granules: As mentioned, coffee granules (aka coffee crystals or soluble coffee) remain the most common form of instant coffee. Confusingly, not all coffee granules are made equal. There are two main methods of producing coffee granules:

  • Spray-dried coffee: This is a cheap method of turning brewed coffee into instant coffee granules. The spray-drying process is highly economical but results in much of the coffee’s flavour being lost, meaning there’s no point in using high-end coffee beans. Spray-dried coffee can be identified by its dark brown colour and small, rounded particles.
  • Freeze-dried coffee: Freeze-drying preserves more of the aroma and flavour profile of brewed coffee, but the process is more costly and time-consuming. Because the flavour is more integral, coffee companies tend to choose good-quality Arabica beans rather than the cheaper Robusta beans used for spray-drying. Freeze-dried instant coffee has a light brown colour and the particles are larger and firmer.

Coffee powder: This type of coffee, also referred to as micro-ground coffee, has the texture of a silky powder made up of tiny particles smaller than grains of sand. It’s essentially produced in the same way as instant coffee granules and then micro-ground into powder form. However, some coffee powders use a blend to boost the flavours. Nescafe’s Americano Azera, for instance, consists of a blended mix of freeze-dried coffee and roasted coffee beans.

Coffee bags: Admittedly, this coffee isn’t instant – it takes as long to make as a tea – but it’s still pre-made and doesn’t require any special equipment. Coffee bags contain roasted coffee beans that have been ground and then sealed for freshness – the caffeine, flavours and aromas are then released when the bag is brewed in hot water.

How long does instant coffee last?

Instant coffee has a longer shelf life than whole or ground coffee beans due to the way it’s been preserved. An unopened jar should keep for at least a year and, once you do open it, it will be good for another three months. A typical 100g container of instant coffee has around 50 mugs’ worth of coffee inside, so if you’re a daily drinker you’ll finish it well within the best before date.

How much should I spend on instant coffee?

The best instant coffees on the market will set you back around £5-£6 per 100g container, which means you’ll be paying about 10-12p per cup you drink. In our opinion, it’s worth paying that little extra for a coffee that comes closest to the real barista experience. With that said, you can still get excellent freeze-dried instant coffee for about £3-£4 per jar.

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The best instant coffee to buy in 2023

1. Kenco Smooth Instant: The best standard instant coffee

Price: £4 | Buy now from Amazon

Smooth Instant is Kenco’s most popular instant coffee and it’s no wonder why. This freeze-dried blend makes a smooth and well-rounded cup of coffee that’s ready in seconds. There are countless other freeze-dried coffees at this price, but there’s something about the balanced flavour and rich aroma of this medium-roast coffee that keeps a legion of UK coffee drinkers coming back for more. Rather than the 100g jar, we’ve listed the 150g ‘refill’ bag which has 97% less packaging weight. Like other Kenco products, Smooth Instant is produced in line with Rainforest Alliance guidelines.

Key details – Type: Granules; Pack size: 150g; Number of servings: 93 cups; Ethical credentials: Rainforest Alliance

2. Nescafe Azera Americano: The best micro-ground coffee

Price: £5 | Buy now from Amazon

Without a doubt, Nescafe’s Azera Americano is the best micro-ground coffee you can buy. A blend of Nescafe freeze-dried instant coffee and roasted coffee beans that have been ground into a silt-like powder, Azera coffee dissolves effortlessly into hot water to produce a medium-strength coffee that smells and tastes great.

The fine powder makes such a smooth cup that it’s surprising more brands haven’t caught on, although some supermarkets (such as Sainsbury’s) are now putting out their own cheaper micro-ground efforts. Nescafe is partnered with the Rainforest Alliance, so there’s no need to feel guilty as you kick back with your micro-ground brew.

Key details – Type: Powder; Pack size: 100g; Number of servings: 55 cups; Ethical credentials: Rainforest Alliance

3. Illy Classico: The best premium instant coffee

Price: £5.83 | Buy now from Illy

The omnipresent Illy logo is instantly recognisable, normally seen in cafes and hotels across the world. It also comes in an instant canned form, so you don’t need to spend £5 per cup in a fancy coffeehouse to enjoy those distinctive Italian espresso flavours. Of the various instant Illy products on the market, Illy’s Classico Classic Roast flavour is easily the most popular and, once you try it, it’s sure to be a staple of your weekly shop.

Made up entirely of roasted Arabica beans in freeze-dried and micro-ground form, then sealed in a pressurised container, the flavours and aroma are rich and well preserved. As far as instant coffees go, this is about as fancy as it gets – and the price reflects that. But there’s a reason it’s the instant brew of choice for so many: it tastes wonderful, even without the addition of milk and sugar.

Key details – Type: Granules; Pack size: 95g; Number of servings: 50 cups; Ethical credentials: Ethisphere World’s Most Ethical Companies List (9-time honoree)

Buy now from Illy

4. Beanies Irish Cream: The best flavoured instant coffee

Price: £2 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re after a little excitement in your daily cuppa, this Irish cream flavour from Beanies might be the instant coffee for you. Rather than pouring a calorific and alcoholic splash of Bailey’s into your coffee each morning (a fun habit, but not the healthiest), you could instead enjoy this convincing and nearly calorie-free alternative. And even if that flavour doesn’t satisfy, there are over 20 other interesting flavours to choose from, including hazelnut, chai latte and maple fudge. The only real downside is the small jar, which contains around 25 cups’ worth of coffee.

Key details –Type: Granules; Pack size: 50g; Number of servings: 25 cups; Ethical credentials: Not listed

5. Moreish Intense Brew: The best coffee bags

Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon

Every bag of Moreish coffee contains flavourful coffee that has been blended, roasted, ground and then sealed, locking in the freshness of the Rainforest Alliance-approved Peruvian beans. The great thing about these coffee bags is that you can adjust the caffeine content and flavour intensity to your liking by letting the bag sit for a longer or shorter period of time. After three to five minutes of brewing, you can remove the compost-friendly bag and sip away, adding milk and sugar to taste if you choose.

Key details – Type: Bags; Pack size: 400g; Number of servings: 50 bags; Ethical credentials: Rainforest Alliance

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